1. burlwood
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    burlwood New Member

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    outer dialog within inner dialog stories

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by burlwood, May 30, 2015.

    I was reading something about expressing inner dialog in a story and it said you could use italics to punctuate these sections. But what about when the situation is reversed? What happens when the entire story is one giant inner dialog save for a few small bits of outer dialog? Should I invert the rule and express the outer dialog in italics? This is what I've done in a short story I just finished and it looks right to me, but I have no idea if it's "correct?" Is there a correct way of doing this? Cormac Mccarthy famously omits quotation marks altogether. Surely using italics is more correct than that? Also, I'm assuming that it's okay if I too omit quotation marks, since the dialog is being indicated by italics? It may also be relevant that in my story, the main character for whom the inner dialog belongs, cannot talk. All the outer dialog is either between other characters or one way, from another character to the main (silent) character. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.
     
  2. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Dorothy Parker's "But the One on the Right" deals with this. If you google it, go to the Bucknell site.
     
  3. burlwood
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    burlwood New Member

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    Interesting, thanks BrianIff, but something about this doesn't sit well with me. It seems to blur, if not confuse, the line between first person narration and inner dialog. Something about that whole "he says" "she says" business which makes the author aware of their readership. I think of "inner dialog" more as a person talking to themself, as opposed to telling a story and describing everything that is happening and being said around, to, and inside of themself. For example, when I talk to myself, I don't say "Jim says 'Let's watch TV.'" I don't have to. I heard him. All that I say to myself is "Do what you want Jim. Stop bothering me." Know what I mean? It just seems like an inconsistent way of doing it. With using italics for outer dialog, as I've suggested, I'm basically cordoning off those passages so that they are apart from the main inner dialog passages. Think I can get away with it?
     
  4. BrianIff
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    BrianIff I'm so piano, a bad punctuator. Contributor

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    Yep, text can be versatile, so even though it is unusual, I don't know about anything written in stone about italics, especially for this circumstance. Try it out and post a snippet if you want.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel the need for an example, because I can't work out what the problem is. The example doesn't have to be from your story, just something that's using the same general technique.

    A theoretical sample:

    Third person:

    James poked at his oatmeal. Useless stuff, oatmeal. Wet. No, not definite enough to be called wet. Damp. Colorless. Flavorless. Mom always pushed it, and she always threw out his bowl after breakfast.

    "Done with that?" The waitress was at the edge of the table


    First person:

    I poked at my oatmeal. Useless stuff, oatmeal. Wet. No, not definite enough to be called wet. Damp. Colorless. Flavorless. Mom always pushed it, and she always threw out my bowl after breakfast.

    "Done with that?" The waitress was at the edge of the table.
     
  6. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm with ChickenFreak - I don't understand why you wouldn't just use quotation marks for the spoken dialogue. Are we missing something, or are you trying to be fancy?
     
  7. burlwood
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    burlwood New Member

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    No, I'm not trying to be fancy. But I just feel like the dialogue is so outside the core of the story, which is what's going on inside the character's head. It feels more natural to me to isolate using italics, but I could be wrong. I really have to think about it some more. Chickenfreak's example makes sense to some degree, except the part where he goes "The waitress was at the edge of the table." It's the same as the Dorothy Parker example. There are really two things going on in these examples: one is first person narration, and the other is inner dialogue. I don't like for the character to be aware of the reader by being explicit about what's going on outside of their own head. Here's an example:

    I poked at my oatmeal. Useless stuff, oatmeal. Wet. No, not definite enough to be called wet. Damp. Colorless. Flavorless. Mom always pushed it, and she always threw out my bowl after breakfast. Ah, here's the waitress finally. Lazy bitch.

    Done with that?

    What do you think, bitch? See anything left in the bowl?
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wow, I don't want to spend much time in your character's head!

    But to me, in that example, quotation marks would be clearer than italics. Why re-invent the wheel?
     
  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    This would be fine as

    "Done with that?"

    I can't see a reason to do anything else.
     
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  10. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Quotes for inner dialogue confuses the reader. If your character is talking out loud to her/himself, that's a different story.

    Italics for inner dialogue works best in short bursts. Paragraph after paragraph of italics is distracting and also an issue with many readers (and I'm saying this as an avid defender of italics for inner dialogue).

    I would manage it as if the inner dialogue was narration. The reader will know the narrator is the protagonist and he/she is telling you his/her thoughts. You'll probably do best if the whole book is first person POV. I don't think head hopping works if one person's thoughts are disproportionate, though the trilogy I'm reading currently has extensive introspection of multiple characters, but it's done as a third person narrator.

    A first person narrator can be in present tense. Put the actual dialogue in quotes. The reader will surely read the inner monologue seamlessly without quotes or italics.
     

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