1. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Narrative and dialogue formatting.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Okon, Oct 11, 2013.

    Newb question!

    I'm having trouble with regards to inner narrative and dialogue. Should they be separated with line breaks, even if the line of narrative relates directly to the dialogue?

    Here's a random example:

    Without separation.
    Lisa hated it when Nathan lectured her about her driving. "Shut up! I'm sick of hearing about what you would do here, and what I should have done there."
    "It's nothing personal," said Nathan, "I was just-"
    Lisa interrupted him, "Leave my motor skills alone, or you can save your comments for the bus driver." She had sounded more threatening than she intended, but maybe that was the only way he would listen.
    "Sorry," he said, looking away.

    or

    With separation.

    Lisa hated it when Nathan lectured her about her driving.
    "Shut up! I'm sick of hearing about what you would do here, and what I should have done there."
    "It's nothing personal," said Nathan, "I was just-"
    Lisa interrupted him, "Leave my motor skills alone, or you can save your comments for the bus driver."
    She had sounded more threatening than she intended, but maybe that was the only way he would listen.
    "Sorry," he said, looking away.
     
  2. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should start a new line anytime there is a new speaker or a major shift in subject matter. (How you define a "major shift" is subjective and entirely up to you.) I think you already know this, but I'm saying it anyway, as a starting point. :)

    IMO, your first example works best. You have four "chunks" here. The first has Lisa's thoughts, followed by her speech. The second has Nathan's speech. The third has Lisa's speech, as well as some narration regarding her tone and intent. The fourth has Nathan's speech. As long as you're not mixing Lisa's speech/thoughts/narration with Nathan's speech/thoughts/narration, you're fine.

    Either is correct, but if you repeatedly use line breaks each time you transfer from speech to thought to narration or vice versa it will not only needlessly drive up your page count, but will also make things harder to follow. Putting a character's thoughts/narration with that character's dialogue can also reduce the need for multiple tags.
     
  3. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks for the help, Antony. I will stick with the first method like you suggested.

    On a slightly unrelated note: I think I might have goofed; was I supposed to post this in the Word Mechanics section?
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    okon...
    i don't know what you mean by 'inner narrative'... what would you consider 'outer' narrative to be?

    am...
    i don't see any 'thoughts' in that excerpt... just narrative from what could be either lisa's pov, or a neutral/omniscient observer's... can't tell from such a short example what the pov is meant to be...

    check out the link cog provided and study published fiction by well-respected authors to see how it's done...
     
  6. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Actually, bookmark Cog's article. I still refer to it alot when writing up dialogue. There's another one on how to write thoughts too that's pretty damn good.
     
  7. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's a good point. I thought that sentences closely relating to the protagonist's feelings could be defined as an 'inner' narrative, but that's not true. Now that I think about it, the type of narrative wasn't pertinent to the original question, anyway. Thank you for enlivening me.:D

    You said that you don't know what I mean by 'inner narrative,' so why were you looking for thoughts? It's my fault for wrongly calling it 'inner narrative' in the first place.

    Well-respected authors? Does that mean I should italicize all of my character thoughts, like Stephen King? Or should I forgo separating my dialogue with paragraph breaks, like Jack Kerouac? What's a well-respected author? When do they get the badge of well-respectedness? (It's a word, trust me) In my opinion, if somebody's fiction is being sold in book stores right now, it's worth a little deconstruction; it doesn't have to be freaking Hemmingway. Sorry, it was just that minor detail that bothered me.

    Cog's article is very helpful. Thank you for suggesting it. Cog mentioned it first, and it's his article, but I don't want to thank him for some reason...
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree that your first example is better.

    One comment not directly related to your question: I think that it's best to cut out narrative that communicates the same information as the dialogue. For example, your first paragraph says that Lisa hates being lectured, and then Lisa says that she hates being lectured. In the second and third paragraph transition, Nathan's sentence is clearly interrupted, and we're told that Lisa interrupts Nathan. I feel that in both cases we're being told essentially the same information twice.

    In the third paragraph the fact that Lisa may not have intended to be as threatening as she sounded is information that we don't get from the dialogue, so it does belong, IMO. (Although it may be information that the reader doesn't need to know with absolute certainty--sometimes a little ambiguity is good.)
     
  9. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good points, @ChickenFreak. The interrupted bit is a huge flaw on my part. But it's hard to say about the first line of narrative there. You're right that it is unnecessary, and I agree that things like that should be limited, but I'm not sure that they should all be cut out.

    To broadly describe my view of it: the purpose of stating someone's feelings in a narrative is to A: fill gaps in motivation, and B: connect the protagonist to the reader, helping them lose themselves in the story. Perhaps I should have used thought instead of narrative if I still want that connection to the reader, without saying the same thing twice. Would the following seem a bit more natural, or should I just do more cutting?

    Lisa heaved a sigh. I'm doing him a favour, she thought, and all he has to say is that I forgot to shoulder check? "Shut up! I'm sick of hearing about what you would do here, and what I should have done there."
    "It's nothing personal," said Nathan, "I was just-"
    "Leave my motor skills alone, or you can save your comments for the bus driver."
    "Sorry," he said, looking away.
    Great, now I've hurt his feelings.


    That's more personal thoughts in one place than I am comfortable using, but I'm giving an example for example's sake.

    On a side note: if this wasn't an example story, it'd be cool if she actually crashed the car, got two broken legs, and he ended up caring for her. Okay, maybe a little cliche...

    Edit: I just realized that Mia was addressing Anony when character thoughts were mentioned.
    Anony, though using Lisa and Nathan as an example, was speaking in more general terms with regards to separation of paragraphs.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2013
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That works much better, IMO. Her dialogue doesn't make it clear that she's doing him a favor, so that's new information. And the "shoulder check" adds detail to what she says, instead of just rephrasing it at the same level of detail. You've eliminated the redundancy in the thought. BTW, you don't need the "she thought"--it would be just fine as "...doing him a favor, and all he has to say...". It's clear that it's a thought.

    Edited to add: Well, technically the "bus" remark does make it clear that she's doing him a favor, but that's a couple of exchanges later. Plus I feel a sort of miniature plot progression in her thinking it in her own voice and then working up the annoyance to say it aloud in very different words, as opposed to the earlier version where the narrator told us how she feels and then she immediately spoke the same thing in similar words.

    (Editing again because I said the same thing twice. Sheesh.)
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2013
  11. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...no... i was referring to how to separate, not what font to use... good writers don't have to resort to fancy fontery to let readers know when someone is thinking...

    ...no, again... going beyond the accepted 'norm' is not a good idea, for a new and unknown writer... once you're famous, you may be able to get away with such stuff...

    ...lots of really terribly-written stuff is sold in book stores, so their books just being on sale does not mean the author is a good or well-respected writer... as i think you know, but are just quibbling...
     
  12. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Just food for thought . . .

    "I'm doing you a favor. Quit lecturing me about my driving."
    "It's nothing personal," Nathan said. "I was just—"
    "Just shut up and leave my motor skills alone! Or you can give your comments to a bus driver."
    Had she sounded more threatening than she intended? Maybe that was the only way to make him listen.
    "Sorry," he said, looking away.
     
  13. Okon
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    Okon Contributing Member Contributor

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    @mammamaia
    You're right; I'm yelling at shadows and anthills for no constructive reason. Posting harsh, specific exceptions to attack your post was probably less than mature. I'm going to try and catch myself next time.:)

    And to The Chicken...
    This gave me just enough confidence to go ahead and eliminate all italics and thought tags from my first person thoughts. Okay, the confidence if fading now, but I'm going to stick with my choice!

    Thanks to everyone.
     
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2013
  14. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    It's not inner monolog, it's you, stepping on stage with an editorial comment. But it gets in the way.

    I eliminated the "she" in "she intended," because with it in it comes from you. Without it comes from her. Small things like a superfluous "she" and "her" can have a great effect on POV.
     
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