1. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Too many nods?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Magnatolia, Apr 21, 2014.

    Hi guys,

    I'm finding a recurring problem in my dialog writing. I get these patches of dialog with no extras. No, he said, she said, he chuckled, etc. No behavioural notifications such as 'He ran his hand roughly through his hair'. Maybe I'm wrong but it feels like there should be something to break up the dialog.

    I find when my character is agreeing I will have him nod. Example:

    'I reckon we could make a run for it."

    Thomas nodded. "Yeah, it's our best chance." He pointed to the treeline. "If we can get over there we should be safe."


    Do you think nodding and those sorts of simple things can be overused?

    Thanks!
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    They can be overused, yes. In your example, I see the nod as redundant, because Thomas is also saying yes. So I would cut the nod and use the more interesting pointing action:

    "Yeah." Thomas pointed to the treeline. "If we can get over there, we should be safe."
    I'd also say that you don't always need those "extras"--sometimes just the occasional 'said' to reset the back-and-forth is just fine.
     
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  3. blinkstun
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    blinkstun Member

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    Anything can be overused. It's better not to reiterate mundane habits like 'nodded' or 'stroke his chin' too many times.
     
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  4. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I remember Garrison Keillor saying that when he started writing, every time there was a pause in the action his character lit a cigarette. When he forced the guy to stop smoking, his writing improved a lot!
     
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  5. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks guys, is there a rough estimate of how many back and forths before you need to put something in? What I mean is, sometimes we don't need to mention anything other than the dialog. Maybe it's a 'narrative in a dialog' for the benefit of the characters. I usually only have my character nod as a reference to the agreement, or when I feel like it adds to the emotional strength of that piece of dialog. Such as below:

    “You know, it’s so nice and peaceful out here. Nothing around but the sun and the waves.”

    Carl nodded. “Yeah man, it’s just nice to know there aren’t any zombies out here.”

    Thomas chuckled. “Yeah, and these waves make me want to go to sleep. Come on, let’s chuck this net overboard and see what we can catch.” (I felt that chuckle was appropriate because he found the comment funny)

    They each grabbed an end of the net and threw it overboard, watching as it sank deeper into the water. They sat back, pulled their hats over their eyes and waited.

    “So, how are you and your sister doing?”

    Carl shrugged. “Yeah okay I guess. I’ve lost my Dad before so it wasn’t as hard this time, but Sasha was too young to really remember.” (Added shrugged to give the idea that he's not too comfortabl talking about it)

    “Yeah, plus even though it was an accident she probably still blames herself.”

    Carl found the water under them fascinating for a moment. “I blame her, you know. Not completely, I know it wasn’t really anything she could have done. But if she hadn’t been trying to shoot-“ The rest of his words trailed off and he stared out into the deep expanse of water. (I actually had another nod here but got rid of it. Would what I changed it to show that he's uncomfortable with what he's about to say?)

    Thanks!
     
  6. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You can either tag and beat the dialogue or you can leave some of it out, but it's pretty much based on your own judgment (you are the writer after all, you make the calls). Now if you don't use enough tags, other writers readers will go "too many talking heads, this is confusing" and if you tag everything, it becomes repetitive and possibly a bit less smooth. I think what you have there is ok.
    Think about the content of the line. If the words carry, say, an affirmative, you don't need a nod (like ChickenFreak pointed out), so you can leave that line without a beat that describes nodding. Tag it if it's not clear who's speaking etc. Use common sense, and you should be fine.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    there are alternatives, y'know...

    'gave a/two thumbs up'

    ''shrugged his assent'

    ''winked in agreement'

    ...and so on.................................
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    People are rarely just talking. They are always doing something that fleshes out their character. Good actors speak their dialogue well. Great actors use their whole bodies to enhance the personality of their character. Are they nervous, confident, distracted, focused, busy, lazy, bored? They fidget and twitch and look around.

    So make reference to what your characters are doing while they are talking, even if it's fidgeting with a pen or glancing as a passing camel walking a mule.

    As for how many? Use your gut.
     
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  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think you've done this quite well, actually. I certainly 'got' Carl's discomfort. Shrugging could also be a clue that Carl isn't really bothered, but that idea doesn't tally with what he says. And certainly when he breaks off saying 'trying to shoot—" That's a definite clue that he's not comfortable even finishing his thought, as well as his staring into the water before and afterwards. I think this piece works fine, as is. You've done it, but not overdone it.
     
  10. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    @KaTrian Thanks, yeah I tend to try and not have too many, but just enough especially if there's more than two people in the scene.

    @mammamaia Thanks, yeah that's a really good point to remember.

    @Selbbin Thanks, yep I do add things like 'X turned and glanced over his shoulder. "Bye," he muttered, disappearing through the door.

    @jannert Thanks, glad to know the underlying message was received :) Yeah I had him shrug a though he's trying to brush off the importance or the depth of the conversation.

    I have a question. Let's say I have He nodded. "Yeah, it's just that everything looks really far away. Can I change this to He nodded, lips pursed tightly as he let out a small breath. "Everything just looks so far away."? (He's about to climb out a four-storey window).
     
  11. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    After sitting for a few seconds, trying to picture him letting out a small breath with tightly pursed lips, I think maybe not. How about 'He nodded, then let out a small breath.' Or maybe a small sigh? I think tightly pursed lips is not only too gymnastic for this scene, but actually conjures up an entirely different emotion. Annoyance or something like that?
     
  12. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I think it depends on if the character is the POV character or not. Movements observed by the POV character on other characters can be important. If the other character keeps turning away while talking, the POV might conclude she's shy or anxious. The POV doesn't need to describe that he's turning away. Instead, there could be more description of his mood. For example, if he's anxious, describe the watch (the time) he keeps looking at.
     
  13. Magnatolia
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    Magnatolia Active Member

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    Thanks guys, some good examples from @ChickenFreak in another post have helped me to delve deeper into what my POV character is seeing/thinking. Its helping me to write out the questions he's asking himself. I've always steered away from this as it felt too relaxed/casual, but I think it might actually improve the writing even more, or rather the characterization.

    As an example I wrote something similar to this today - Thomas grabbed the binoculars and looked at the street below. The car was tearing up the road. He scanned the area behind them. Nothing. Why were they in such a hurry? He couldn’t see any zombies. Why the heck were they going so fast? Something was wrong. He dropped the binoculars and ran back inside the building.

    Whereas I would probably have written Thomas grabbed the binoculars and looked at the street below. The car as tearing up the road. He scanned the area being them, but there was nothing. He dropped the binocular and raced inside.

    The first one is meatier, it really makes the POV pop I feel. Although I have a question. When I'm in my characters head, should I be writing in 'present'. If you write a thought with a thought tag you write the actual thought in present tense right? So should it be the same when I'm writing out his thoughts as I've done? So it would read Why are they in such a hurry? He couldn't see any zombies. Why the heck are they going so fast? Something was wrong.

    Are there other ways to delve deeper into the characters POV? I don't want to overuse the thoughts in the characters head.

    Thanks!
     
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  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you are marionetting the characters. Everything I bolded is doing your narrative a disservice (except perhaps for 'They each grabbed'). Overtly explanatory, jarring tags are a classic sign of novice insecurity about the reader perspective. If I were you, I'd take a piece you wrote and remove every single instance of marionetting. Then have a look and see how it reads. Nine times out of ten, you'll see great improvement.
     

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