This was my entry in the first Writing Trinity poetry competition on the site, for which the challenge was to weave the words mahogany, dreaming, and afterthought into a poem. Although I did not win, I anm happy with the way the poem turned out.
The warmth of your body melts into me
musk and patchouli, your fragrance divine
a cinnamon afterthought wafts from your lips
I lie wrapped around you, at consummate peace
jealous moon watches from October skies
as the world of my thoughts is solely comprised
of mahogany skin, and caramel eyes
The tide of your breathing, a somnolent sea
A moan escapes you as dreaming you lie
You wake for a moment, and grant me a smile
then settle in closer and we both drift asleep
lonely moon watches from October skies
but the world of my thoughts is solely comprised
of your satin mahogany skin,
and your sparkling caramel eyes.
Dialogue is a prominent component in fiction, but is probably one of the least understood, at least in terms of punctuation. Before I dive into this though, I will offer this disclaimer:
The discussion below follows the standards established for US English. In the UK, the roles of the single quote and double quote are often reversed, although the US English convention is still widely offered as the preferred form. Other systems exist as well; a largely obsolete French convention is to begin quoted dialogue with a dash in the left column, then a space, followed in turn with the dialogue.
So far as punctuation within a quoted dialogue is concerned, you should always end the quotation with an ending punctuation before the closing quote. If the appropriate punctuation is a question mark or exclamation point, it remains unchanged, irrespective of what immediately follows the dialogue element.
If the dialogue would normally end with a comma, you will almost certainly be following the dialogue with a tag (e.g. he said, or Eric whispered, etc.), and the comma should remain a comma. If the dialogue ends a sentence, that is it does not flow into a tag, and the dialogue would naturally end with a period, the period is again retained. However, if the dialogue normally ends with a period, and the dialogue has a tag appended to it, then you replace the period with a comma:
When the dialogue ends a sentence, retain the punctuation that ends the quotation, but discard the punctuation that would end the full sentence, even if they are different marks:
The dialogue itself is enclosed in double quotes, as shown above. If the dialogue itself contains quoted dialogue, the inner dialogue should be enclosed in single quotes:
As noted above, it's not uncommon in the UK to see this convention reversed:
Notice that the tag conventions are adhered to for the inner quotation as well, except that the final punctuation for the inner quotation is ommitted if there is a punctuation mark immediately following the inner quotation.
In addition to tags, you should also understand beats. The purpose of a tag is to indicate who is speaking the dialogue item. A beat, on the other hand, is an action taken by the speaker before, between, or after dialogue fragments. It serves to insert a pause, while also connecting the dialogue to the person and to the scene:
Note the absence of a comma. The beat is a separate sentence, unlike a tag, and begins with a capitalized word, even if it isn't a proper name as in this instance.
Thought dialogue is a bit more controversial. The mainstream rule is usually that though dialogue is neither enclosed in quotes nor italicized:
Again, the punctuation rules are still followed for the transition between the thought and the tag, excluding the quotation marks.
In some instances, you may see the thoughts italicized, but that is not the preferred form, and should be avoided:
Again, the preferred style in this case is not to italicize the thought dialogue, nor enclose it in quotes. Just enter it as normal text. The context should make it clear that it is literal thought.
One other comment. Only one speaker's dialogue should appear within a single paragraph. If two or more speakers are conversing, it's important to start a new paragraph every time the speaker changes. You don't have to have a tag for each speaker, but make sure the context makes it clear who is speaking each time. Don't rely on published fiction to guide how often you need to identify the speaker, though. I have encountered many published works in which the author fails to indicate the current speaker often enough. If you find yourself backtracking to try to figure out who is speaking, the author has fallen short in his or her responsibility!
If the same character speaks more than one dialogue fragment, they can go into the same paragraph, as long as the fragments express a single overall idea. If the second dialogue piece is a separate thought, it should begin a new paragraph. In this case you will certainly want a tag to make it clear you are not alternating speakers.
Of course, if the same speaker is speaking a longer section of dialogue, it should be broken into paragraphs whenever the speaker progresses from one thought to another. Use the same rules for paragraphing dialogue you would use for paragraphing narrative. However, with continuous dialogue over several paragraphs, omit the closing quotation mark at the end of each continuous paragraph of dialogue except the last. Begin each paragraph with a quotation mark:
I won't go into the more subjective guidelines of good dialogue here, other than to say, "Keep a good balance between dialogue and narrative."
In this article, I have used verbs in tags other than said or asked. In practice you should not seek variety in the tag verbs. Tags using said or asked virtually disappear to the reader, and that is desirable. Tag verbs are syntacic glue, like articles and conjunctions, so there is no real need to vary them. Trung too hard not to repeat said or asked invariably backfires and sticks out like the proverbial throbbing swollen thumb.
Another of our members, Terry Ervin (TWErvin2), has written an article on dialogue from a more contextual perspective: Dialogue Basics.
I will post Haiku poems (plural Haiku) in this blog entry. The first one I posted here, however, I refined, and then added three more, to form a four-haiku cycle, one for each season. I submitted it to the Soft Whispers Seventeen Syllables anthology, and it was accepted an 10 April, 2010.
I probably won't title any of the haiku I write. It seems counter to the spirit of the art form to add a title to a poem of 17 or fewer syllables.
Nothing lasts forever. Stars are born of coalescing dust and gases, compressed under their own weight until they burst into nuclear brilliance. They blaze for millions, billions, or even trillions of years, and then they burn low and die, or explode in a last blast of glory. Even the universe itself has a beginning, and will someday wind down like a worn out clock.
His lifetime is as evanescent as a wing beat of a gnat by comparison. He was born in what men call the dawn of civilization, and has seen nations rise and fall, and be forgotten. But he has no delusions of immortality. No one lives forever.
The stars slowly rotated within the viewport as he watched from the bed. He was resting, but not sleepy. He loved the stark beauty of the naked brilliant points in the absolute blackness of open space. Their stark purity spoke to him of simplicity and patience.
Beside him, Sarah stirred. She rolled over and slid a warm arm around him, pulling him close. He kissed her eyelids, and she squeezed him and sighed contentedly. “I love you, Tom Gordon.”
He smiled, and hugged her in return. “And I love you, Sarah Vandermeer. Sorry I woke you.”
She chuckled and leaned close. A lock of her dark hair brushed across Tom’s forehead. “Are you now?” She kissed him, and lazily dragged her nails down his chest. “Show me how sorry,” she whispered.
Research Station 6 drifted around the Sun, almost in Earth’s orbit, in the stable L5 Lagrange point. There it could conduct studies away from the gravity well of any planetary mass. It consisted of a central spindle protruding from a roughly brick-shaped block, with a cylindrical shell rotating around the end of the spindle farthest from the block. Three thick hollow spokes joined the shell to the spindle in a thick coupling hub. Perpendicular to the spindle, a long, narrow boom extended from the “bottom” of the block to the fusion power plant. The rotating cylindrical shell contained the living quarters and other facilities requiring gravity. The block housed a pair of docking bays, several zero-g labs, and the operations center. Several small craft too large for the docking bays were moored to structures mounted around the block.
The Hermes project was conducting research that many hoped would lead to a workable hyperdrive theory, the long sought Holy Grail of interstellar travel. Hermes owed its existence to Dr. Sarah Vandermeer, the mathematician and theoretical physicist whom many considered on a par with Einstein. Thomas was equally sure the comparison was overly generous to old Albert.
Thomas was a supervising technician on Hermes. The position was chosen, like his name, to keep him out of public notice. But his insatiable curiosity drove him to be on hand for what he was sure would be a crucial moment in history, greater than any he had yet experienced.
He was not brilliant, but had over the centuries accumulated a vast body of knowledge. He had loved hundreds of women, and every one different and special. But Sarah was more unique, more special to him than any before. Not only was she brilliant and beautiful, she shared his sense of wonder at the complex variety of the Universe.
That was why he decided it was time to break one of his longest standing self-imposed rules.
The next morning, Sarah woke before the station lighting rose to daytime levels. She cleaned up and dressed for the day, and Tom was still asleep. She sat and studied his face, peaceful in sleep. A stray lock of his sandy hair had fallen across one eye. She was again struck by how smooth and symmetric his face was.
Nearly a year ago, Sarah arrived at the station for the first time. The tech team had arrived several weeks earlier to begin setting up the labs and the computers, so she called a meeting with the Lead Technician. When she entered the tiny conference room, he actually stood up and pulled out her chair for her. As they went over the equipment roster and planned the next phase, she couldn’t help but notice the intensity of his pale blue eyes, and the grace and economy of his movements. He was highly competent, and she came to depend on him not only to keep the experimental schedule, but also to plan the experiments. Hers were the theories, but he had a knack for devising astute ways to test the predictions. As they became closer professionally, a more personal bond developed as well.
She became aware that Tom had awakened, and was looking back at her with amusement as she was lost in her thoughts.
Tom watched the blush spread from her strong cheekbones. Sarah’s features were strong rather than soft, yet the sum effect was an intensity that complemented the brilliant intellect within. Her green eyes were always keenly aware and lively. Sarah was lean and athletic, and always moved as if in a hurry. Tom often teased her for bumping into corners that didn’t move out of her way quickly enough.
Sarah stood up and turned to hide the blush. “I’m glad you decided to finally wake up. We have a full schedule today.”
“Good morning to you too,” he teased. You go on ahead. I’ll catch up in a few.” He remembered his decision from last night. “Dinner’s in my quarters tonight.”
She turned and raised an eyebrow. “What’s the occasion?”
He stood and put his arm around her. “We need an occasion? We always come to your quarters. I can cook too, you know.”
She smiled, and slipped out of reach. “Ok, then, don’t tell me. Tonight then. Nineteen hundred ok?” He nodded and she was out the door.
Sarah pressed the call button on the keypad, and heard the chime sound on the other side of the door. The door opened, releasing a savory aroma,, and Tom welcomed her in with a tender kiss. Sarah entered, and saw a candlelit table set for two. She looked at him, the question clear in her eyes.
“I do have a surprise,” he replied, “but not until after dinner.”
She opened her mouth in protest, but he smiled and placed a lobster shao mai between her parted lips. They dined at a leisurely pace, and he watched her curiosity grow along with her impatience. Finally, he sat beside her on the sofa. She could contain her curiosity no longer.
“You’ve been holding out all evening. What’s the big surprise?”
“It’s something I’ve wanted to share for as long as I’ve known you. But you’ll have to promise that no matter what, this stays between us, always.”
She nodded uncertainly, then again, decisively. “No matter what. I promise.”
He looked down and took a deep breath. “I’m older than I look, Sarah. A lot older.”
She watched him and waited. He talked about growing up in a nomadic tribe, becoming a man when he speared his first boar, and his shock at waking up intact after being mauled by a raging bear. He spoke of savage hordes, and of farms and villages. He spoke of lords and kings and shifting borders, and she listened silently. Then they both sat in silence. Then she asked questions. They talked throughout the night, then exhausted, slept side by side all morning. She woke to find him watching her intently. He held her gaze silently for a long minute. Finally he spoke.
“You’re taking this pretty calmly.”
“I honestly don’t know what to say, or think,” she began, and paused. “I believe you, but I can’t explain why. It all fits, somehow. But it’s a lot to absorb.” Another long pause, and she stood. “I don’t even know if I should call you Tom. It’s just a made up name.”
Tom held up his hand. “No. That is my name, in this chapter of my life. “ He saw doubt in her eyes. “Look, If a woman takes a new name when she marries, it’s her real name all the same.” He gazed intently into her eyes. “Sarah, Thomas Gordon is who I am.”
She returned his look. “So, why me? You’ve kept your secret for millennia, Am I the only one you’ve ever told?”
Thomas shook his head. “No, not the first. I told people the truth when I was younger, in the first couple centuries. They either laughed and called me a liar and a fool, or lashed out in fear, and I swore never to tell anyone again. But I decided I needed to tell you the truth. I felt you would understand.”
She smiled. “That’s one hell of a compliment, Tom. And one hell of a burden, too. I won’t let you down.” She sighed. “But Tom, give me some time for this to settle in, please?”
“Of course.” He kissed her, and she left. He sat silently for a while, then left the cabin to meet with the rest of the tech team.
(Continued in part 2)
One of the prevalent scourges of beginning writers, and also some more seasoned ones, is the endless sentence which tries to tell entire chapter of a story, or at least fully describe a scene, all at once, even though it contains several independent thoughts which should be split into separate, simpler sentences.
Are you breathless yet? We are taught to despise simple sentences. See Dick. See Dick Run. See Jane laugh. Dick is silly.
But simple sentences needn't sound like baby talk. A simple sentence has impact. A punch delivers.
Sentence length affects the pace of a story. Short sentences convey action and urgency. Longer sentences roll along, taking their time, so work better during periods of rest or waiting. Save longer sentences for when your characters are tossing and turning, trying to find sleep while thye day's events are keeping them awake. When characters are waiting in the lounge while a close friend is undergoing surgery, they will notice the scuffed dirty carpet and the cracked celing tile.
But not during a fight. They shoot. They dive for cover. Your hero parries, then stabs.
Regardless of the pace, though, sentences should end. A sentence should convey a single idea or action. At most it should contain two closely related actions, joined in a sentence to emphasize their relationship.
So don't subject your readers to a sentence longer than OJ or Robert Blake has had to endure!
Separate names with a comma.