1. sparty
    Offline

    sparty New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0

    Question about writing dialogue.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by sparty, Feb 17, 2015.

    Hello, I am a beginner. I read a few articles that I found through google and yet I haven't gotten an answer. The question is this: When writing dialogue, is it best to start a new line every time next person speaks? I have been writing it without it but now I am not really sure what the correct way is. It does look cleaner but it also takes up a huge amount of space and leave a lot of white on the page. All and any suggestion are highly appreciated! Thank you.
     
  2. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    "Do I start a new line for each person who speaks?" Asked Sparty.
    "Well, you really start a new paragraph." Said the old-timer. "I guess it looks like a new line."
    "But doesn't that mean you end up with loads of white space on the page?"
    The old-timer took a moment to reflect on this. He pulled out his pipe and began to pack the tobacco into the bowl with his gnarled and tobacco-stained fingers. His eyes seemed to drift away to another place and another time.
    "Old-timer? Are you paying attention?"
    His gaze returned to his youthful interlocutor, and his face cracked into a grin. "Hell, I guess I was away with the fairies for a moment there. What was it you were saying?"
    "About the white space."
    "Oh, yes. The white space. Good thing, white space on a page. Makes it easier on a poor reader than having to see a solid page of words. Besides, you can stick in some description to fill it up a bit. You know, like talk about the kind of chair I'm sitting in, or how the time's getting on and the shadows are growing."
    Sparty stamped her foot. "But that's not what I meant."
    "I know, I know. I was young once, too." The old-timer took another pull on his pipe....

    Does this help?
     
  3. sparty
    Offline

    sparty New Member

    Joined:
    Jan 10, 2015
    Messages:
    3
    Likes Received:
    0
    kind of, can I pm you?
     
  4. Shadowfax
    Offline

    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Aug 27, 2014
    Messages:
    2,504
    Likes Received:
    1,337
    sure
     
  5. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,780
    Likes Received:
    7,294
    Location:
    Scotland
    I think that's excellent, @Shadowfax ! You've demonstrated exactly how dialogue builds when it's written in a clear fashion. At no point reading this passage was I in the least bit of doubt as to who was speaking. Yet you varied your speech tags and attributions, and weren't afraid to leave some of them unattributed, when the speaker was clear because of what they were saying. You made the whole thing work beautifully.

    I've broken it down, below. Speaker attributes in red. My comments in blue:

    "Well, you really start a new paragraph," said the old-timer. "I guess it looks like a new line."

    "But doesn't that mean you end up with loads of white space on the page?" Change of speaker is clear from context.

    The old-timer took a moment to reflect on this. He pulled out his pipe and began to pack the tobacco into the bowl with his gnarled and tobacco-stained fingers. His eyes seemed to drift away to another place and another time.

    "Old-timer? Are you paying attention?" This could be confusing, if the writer had just started with 'Are you paying attention?' As this is an unattributed speech, it could have been either of them saying these lines. However, starting with "Old-timer" makes it clear it's NOT the old-timer speaking, because it's a direct address to him. Clever.

    His gaze returned to his youthful interlocutor, and his face cracked into a grin. "Hell, I guess I was away with the fairies for a moment there. What was it you were saying?"

    "About the white space." Context - answering the old-timer's question - makes it clear this is not the old timer speaking.

    And here the old-timer answers the question, so again, context makes it clear so no other attribution is needed.
    "Oh, yes. The white space. Good thing, white space on a page. Makes it easier on a poor reader than having to see a solid page of words. Besides, you can stick in some description to fill it up a bit. You know, like talk about the kind of chair I'm sitting in, or how the time's getting on and the shadows are growing."

    Sparty stamped her foot. "But that's not what I meant."

    "I know, I know. I was young once, too." The old-timer took another pull on his pipe....


    I've noticed that pieces in the Workshop often suffer from bad dialogue attribution. Nothing wrong with the dialogue itself, it's just that often the readers can't be absolutely sure who is saying what. It's incredibly distracting to get to the end of a dialogue paragraph, move on the the next ...only to discover after a couple of sentences that it was said by the same person who said the previous one. Even worse when the paragraph contains an action from one speaker and dialogue from another.

    "But doesn't that mean you end up with loads of white space on the page?"

    The old-timer took a moment to reflect on this. He pulled out his pipe and began to pack the tobacco into the bowl with his gnarled and tobacco-stained fingers.

    His eyes seemed to drift away to another place and another time. "Old-timer? Are you paying attention?"

    His gaze returned to his youthful interlocutor, and his face cracked into a grin.

    "Hell, I guess I was away with the fairies for a moment there. What was it you were saying?"


    Notice the subtle change. I only changed the layout of two sentence, but the reader will be unable to say for sure who was saying what, despite the very strong context in this passage. It's so important to link actions and attributions with the actual speaker in any paragraph of dialogue. Not because there is some hard and fast rule about it, but because it's the way we are used to reading dialogue. Messing with this convention can be especially annoying and distracting when there are three or more people having a conversation. Even a second or two of confusion yanks the reader right out of the story.

    It's natural to assume, while reading, that every new paragraph in a dialogue passage denotes a new speaker.

    Of course you CAN separate one paragraph of dialogue from the next, even if they are both the same speaker. You simply start the first paragraph with a quotation mark, but don't put an end quote at the end of it. Instead you move to the next paragraph and start THAT one with a quotation mark. And you carry on in this manner until the speaker has actually finished his speech. This fact is made clear with punctuation, and it's a correct 'rule.'

    However, the issue isn't as clear as all that, when it comes to actual reading. When readers are galloping through a tense bit of your story that contains a lot of dialogue, they can easily miss the fact that a paragraph starts with a quote, but doesn't end with one. If it's obvious that the speaker is telling a lengthy, uninterruped story to the other characters, you can probably get away with just using the punctuation. But if there are lots of interruptions, it's best to tag each paragraph in some way.

    Uniting speech with speaker in a dialogue passage is a trick to learn, but smooth writers have learned it. If you, as a reader, always know who is saying what in any story—as in Shadowfax's example above—then the writer has mastered the trick.
     
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2015
    Haze-world and Lifeline like this.
  6. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    Taking up a huge amount of space is nonconsequential. As for white space, also nonconsequential. But if you mean white space in terms of blank lines between text, then that's not standard manuscript format anyway - there should be no blank lines between the text anywhere in the manuscript, except for chapter breaks.

    You need a new paragraph every time a different person speaks. If you don't follow this rule, then it's basically poor grammar and structure and you'll certainly be seen as an amateur. Not to mention that it'd damn unclear when 2 or more people speak in the same paragraph!

    So, this is wrong:
    John said, "Hey, Mary!" Mary smiled back and said, "Hey. Where you off to?" "Oh, just the shop," John said.

    ^And you noticed I felt the need to put "John said", "Mary said" at every instance to clarify the speaker. That also makes for clunky, bad writing.

    This is correct:
    John said, "Hey Mary!"
    Mary smiled. "Hey. Where you off to?"
    "Oh, just the shop."
     
    jannert likes this.

Share This Page