1. MassThinker
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    MassThinker Active Member

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    I need advice on writing dialogue

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by MassThinker, Feb 3, 2012.

    I never been writing a lot of dialouge, recently I read a book where the author write his dialouge's something like this.

    He glanced back at the boy » Why aren't you in school? « Jake didn't really know what to say, » I... felt... sick « he replied studdering, then he started to prepare for the next question.

    I try to break up the monotony of the "he said, she said", by inserting action but I sometimes struggle to do this.

    I just feel like a complete newbie at the subject, advice?
     
  2. AmyHolt
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    AmyHolt Contributing Member

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    My first piece of advice is that "he said" "she said" are invisible. They disappear into the story and so they are good because they don't jolt the reader out of the story the way other dialogue tags would.

    What you are talking about is called a beat. Example:

    "When was the last time you saw her?"
    "Friday afternoon." Her voice rose and caught. "She drove me to the train station." Her eyes were welling.

    A beat is where you insert a beat of action in place of a dialogue tag. It works very well and I use it often in place of a tag.
     
  3. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    First of all, Cogito has a post on writing dialogue, and I'm hoping he'll post a link to it on this thread.

    I would give these guidelines:

    1. Avoid long strings of dialogue. It can be tedious to read, even without the "he said, she said". I try to keep dialogue in short bursts, for the most part.
    2. Dialogue should not be a recreation of normal conversation, it should be a digest of it. Normal conversation is full of side comments, mundane matters and routine expressions of politeness that are part of social interaction but are irrelevant for your story.
    3. Only use dialogue to advance your story or to deepen the reader's understanding of the character. Don't use it as filler.
    4. Use quotation marks for dialogue. If you use "(s)he said" at the end, you may continue the paragraph with narrative directly related to the dialogue: "I refuse to let you talk to me that way," she said. She turned and stalked out, slamming the door behind her. If you don't use the "(s)he said", I believe any narrative has to start a new paragraph.
    5. You don't need "(s)he said" when it is obvious to the reader, and it's not uncommon to find a page of dialogue between two characters with nothing but the quotes. In my own writing, though, I tend to break these up with action. You have to find what works best for you.

    There is more, but this should get you started. As always, it is helpful if you read more widely to see how published authors do it.

    Good luck.
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first of all, the word is spelled 'dialogue' or 'dialog'... not 'dialouge'...

    that example is totally wrong in many ways... should be done like this [a line break is used here instead of the proper indent, since indents don't work in posting]:

    the best way to learn all the ways there are to break up dialog and avoid the overuse of dialog tags is to just open novels by several good writers and see how they do it...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Here's the link Maia mentioned. I just posted it in another thread as well, and the link is in my sig, too.

    He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue
     
  6. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Someone already said, Cogito has great blog posts about dialogue, very useful.
    Otherwise, my advice is, focus less on the "fillers" (like trying to change he/she said into something more creative but intrusive, just there to qualify who is speaking) and more on what is actually said. I don't mind long monologues but I can't stand when a tiny sentence of a dialogue is surrounded on both sides with unnecessary descriptions, like.

    "What do you want to do?" she whispered.
    "Let's get outta here" he shuddered and went towards the exit door.

    Ok, I'm not totally hating this snippet :D but yes, if there was no "and went toward the door" it would read really badly, imo.

    The best way to see if your dialogue is good is to read it out loud. Always works for me.
     
  7. MassThinker
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    MassThinker Active Member

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    Thanks a lot everyone! This is extremely helpful, excellent thread Cogito.
     
  8. UberNoodle
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    UberNoodle Senior Member

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    I'm no professional, but to respond to the rule above that dialogue should be the digest of conversation, I agree yet, consider what a Tarantino written novel might be like. Without rhythmic and melodic dialogue, what does he have? As we move deeper into a multimedia age, I think that writing will change to incorporate that. The trick is balance. I enjoy writing the 'mundane' in dialogue when it has a rhythm and melody that's fun to read. To me, the greatest prose is that which can only be read aloud and creates music and vision. Dialogue plays a large role in that. Off topic slightly, but just my thoughts.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Reading John Green's dialogue is brilliant. He sticks to ordinary conventions, but occasionally has two different speakers in the same paragraph. A poor example off the top of my head:

    He said, "Hey, how are you going?" and I just grinned and said, "Yeah, I'm alright."

    It's not quite orthodox and most of his dialogue is just ordinary, but when he does fall into paragraphs like this, it just feels really natural with the way you can read it.
     
  10. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Talking about having two different character's dialogue on the same line reminds me of a clever lil trick Jasper Fforde used in one of his Thursday Next novels. When trying to figure out whether someone was a real person from the real world, or a 'page runner' (fugitive fictional character on the run from their own fictional book) all they had to do was ask the character to speak at the same time as someone else. They couldn't, see? Coz you can't have simultaneous dialogue in a book, can you? Therefore fictional characters always speak consecutively, and have to stop speaking when someone else talks ;)

    I was rolling with laughter :D
     

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