1. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 Contributing Member

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    Phone Conversations

    Discussion in 'Plot Development' started by Jessica_312, May 21, 2011.

    I have a random question involving the writing of phone conversations in a story. Do you tend to only show the MCs side of the conversation, or do you reveal what the person at the other end is saying, as well? Or, do you skip writing phone conversations all together and just reveal what was said, after the fact? Is there any preferred method of doing this?
     
  2. TheSpiderJoe
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    TheSpiderJoe Senior Member

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    I actually wrote both instances that you described in my first novel.

    Showing only the MC's side of the conversation is more fun to write but having both parties speaking is easier. I like only showing the MC's feelings because it adds a bit of mystery to what is going on. Granted, the conversation I was writing had to leave out a few key details but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

    Writing with both parties speaking is fairly standard. Sometimes I like to add little mental dialogues about smashing the phone after hearing bad news or so forth. I don't think there's a preferred method but just go with what sounds best.
     
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  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it depends on the needs of the story... just write what the readers needs to know...

    go browse through some well-written novels to see the various ways it can be done effectively...
     
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  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In particular, it depends on your choice of POV or POV character for the scene. If your POV is the party on this end of the phone (or a virtual sprite sitting on her shoulder, espacially one privy to her thoughts), include both ends of the conversation. If your POV is another character or a detached POV within the room, only report what the POV can perceive directly.

    Always know who and where your POV is, and stay in character for that POV.
     
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  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd say it doesn't depend on the POV at all. An incredibly close first person could still skip over it, like, "I said, "yeah yeah yeah" as she rambled on, outlining her plans..." or something. It depends on what's interesting. If the person on the other end is saying nothing important then summarising why they called but giving the MC's final word is totally acceptable - maybe, "she called to say where we were meeting" isn't important, but the next line, "Okay," I said, before she could hang up. "But don't let Jeremy know." may be the key piece of speech in the scene. POV says nothing about how much you want to summarise - it's not like a close POV has to follow second by second the tedium of life and phone calls can be tedious :p

    Basically, I will use the conversation as a whole if the scene, like any other, depends on there being a conversation. If the phone call is unimportant save to establish one key point that can be got from a single line from the main character, there's no point writing everything else when the emphasis is on that one point.
     
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  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not really the same thing. With any discourse in a scene, the writer has the choice of representing it directly or indirectly. But the POV still determines how much of the conversation can be communicated to the reader.

    You should always be true to your narrative point of view, regardless of how much detail you present to the reader.
     
  7. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    Many scriptwriters tend usse 3rd person omniscient. They allow the readers to see the other person talking on the phone by using the INTERCUT or CUT TO: method. In a novel, some writers only show one person talking on the phone whenever they are using 1st person or 3rd person limited.

    If the writer is writing in 1st person, it may confuse the readers if he or she show the person on the other end of the phone, but it can be used successfuly if the writer is skilled enough to switch POVs. Sometimes, when it is written in 3rd person limited, the writer may indicate to the readers that they swich to the other person by using the *** symbol. But as Cogito said, it depends on what POV the writer is using.
     
  8. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it was 3rd person limited or 1st person with the narrator listening to someone else on the phone then you wouldn't say the other side of the conversation almost a rule since the narration wouldn't know it, but every other form of narration allows for only summarising the other side as well. Maybe not the whole conversation for a dozen lines of dialogue, but then if it was that dull/unimportant it shouldn't be written anyway. But there's no reason you can't present a shortened conversation in any form in first person narration, from the narrator's point of view. I've read To Kill a Mockingbird and made some progress through Emma by Jane Austen in the last week, and both frequently skip the speech part of a speech - TKAM might be more relevant as it's first person - but there are conversations in them where only parts of the dialogue are recorded, even when the narrator is involved in them. And even not considering those, I've definitely written more than a few times a shorthand for pleasantries in narration before letting my characters get to the plot. Granted neither of those involve phones, but since the people are involved in the scene itself it makes it more present an issue how one does not have to write every word of a conversation.
     
  9. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    It's true there's a choice between direct quotations/dialog and reported dialog, but it's still highly dependent on POV.

    And nobody is making the argument that because you're in a limited third or first person, you have to report everything that is said on the phone. You should never report everything, only what's relevant and urgent and the things the character is noticing, hearing, seeing, etc.

    And there's a difference between a direct and reminiscent narrator in first person. A reminiscent narrator is looking back at things that have already happened and essentially retelling them. So sentences like 'that's when she told me all about her plans.'

    In a direct first person that's unfolding as if for the first time (meaning there isn't some literal or presumed narrator from the future recounting events), the MC/narrator of the story doesn't know what will happen, so can't report on events, and instead it seems highly contrived as as if the writer is stepping in to just summarize and provide exposition that is outside of the character. Meaning, if the phone rings in this scenario, the character doesn't know how it is, much less that it's some other character whose going to divulge plans, so the character must sit there and listen along like the reader and as if the action is happening for the first time.

    There really isn't such a thing as a reminiscent third person, as that just usually becomes a reminiscent first person told in the third, but instead the danger is the writer stepping into the story to rush things along (usually when rushing isn't needed and comes off as sloppy and distracting).

    But yeah, just because something is happening in the story, doesn't mean you have to include it in the prose (otherwise every other line would be about character's breathing, kind of like the romance novels I've read heh). You trim it down to be a representation of the action, and can even report dialog instead of delivering it directly.

    So there's really two filters. 1 = can the POV character even hear or have after-the-fact knowledge of the conversation and 2 = is what's being said relevant enough to be included in the prose.
     
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  10. Trish
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    Trish I've been deleted.. again Contributor

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    Just would like to add something here since it seems that here lately nearly everything I read for people has a phone conversation in it. If you decide to show both sides of the conversation don't forget that you're reader can still only "see" one character and is only hearing the other (unless it's a cellphone commercial, heh). It seems that all the stuff I read lately has the person who can only be heard through the POV character moving their arm, putting their hair behind their ear, crossing their legs, sitting up straighter. Your reader (through the POV character) can't see that. If you need to focus on that character that much do a scene break and switch POV so you can.
     
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  11. Reggie
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    Reggie I Like 'Em hot "N Spicy Contributor

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    I didn't think that last post I wrote made any sense. I think that the scene break is a good method to switch POVs, but I'm not sure how often it should be used though.
     
  12. Jessica_312
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    Jessica_312 Contributing Member

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    Thanks everyone, for the feedback. I'm writing in 3rd person limited and I think I've decided to keep it the way I have it (showing both sides of the conversation, since what is being said is important).

    Thanks :D
     

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