Pages of Awesome

Friday, October 2, 2009

Let's Chat...Chatting

As it seems that blog post number one was a success I will begin posting on a regular basis. You can expect three to four posts a week from me. On what topics? Humph, I can't help you with that question!

Today I decided to write about dialogue. I've been reading a good many stories and such from aspiring writers, as well as reviewing some of my own writing, and have come to the realization that millions before me have long known.

Dialogue is hard.

Yes, it's true. I've nearly given up trying to master writing conversations that are both enjoyable, realistic, and helpful to a story. It's so hard! You've got speaker tags, punctuation, characters that you know just have to interrupt each other, oh...and let us not forget those villains and their monologues. I mean really, am I the only one who's encountered things like this?

Anyway, it's difficult, and I think this is partly because there is so much to it and so much that needs to be learned to write it effectively. So, I had this brilliant idea while at school today.

What if I tried to solve some of these problems?

Now, don't get me wrong, I'll never claim to compare to some of the giants of Fantasy (CS Lewis, Tolkien, etc) and I also wouldn't claim to be any better than most any of you. I do think, however, that I can say something on the matter that might help out someone somewhere.

That's what I'm here for is it not?

So, here's what I've got for you today.

Speaker tags.

They're often short and yet I believe that the correct, or improper, use of speaker tags can make or break a story's dialogue. And a book's dialogue can make or break a book.

I think it'd be best to start out with an example of what not to do. But you say, "Nathan, which writer will you slam? Who could be horrid enough for you to criticize?" Well my friends, have no fear. I have the perfect example of the wrong thing from your very own--Nathan Petrie.

Have you eaten anything Josh?" Nerp interrupeted.

Josh shook his head, “No sir, breakfast would be great.”

Glorf hopped into the room, “Hey Josh!”

The boy waved, “Hey!”

Glorf smiled, “You staying for breakfast?"

Josh nodded.

“Cool, you want some milk?” and he hurried about to get some for him.

And again

“Thank you,” Josh took a bite, swallowed, and then asked, “So how’s your birthday going so far?”

Glorf laughed, “For the full five minutes of it,” he paused, “I have had a very good time.”

Josh smiled, “How ‘bout we go shooting after we eat.”

“You already up to it?”

Josh grinned, “Even in this condition you don’t stand a chance.”

Glorf looked at his sister, “He’s probably right.”

Zark turned her head and smiled, “But you still won’t turn him down.”

Glorf grinned, showing his teeth, “Not a chance.”

After they finished eating Josh thanked Nerp for the meal and asked, “Do you think we should have Tir come over too?”

Glorf shrugged, “Why not, it’ll give me somebody to beat.”

Josh chuckled, “Let’s go.”

“Hang on a sec I have to get my tackle.”

Josh waved his hand, “Nah, you left it at my house last time.”

Glorf paused, “Oh really? Good.”

Pretty bad if I say so myself. Don't believe me? Let me show you why.

It would take a lot of explaining, a lot of lying, and a lot of cookies (as bribery) to make me believe that that doesn't sound choppy. It bounces way to fast for the scene and honestly ruins the whole point of the conversation, assuming there was a point to begin with.

The dialogue tags are messed up.

What a coincidence, that's what we're talking about!

So, if that's a bad example of dialogue what would be a good example?

Speaker tags are the key. Dialogue demands it. Speech just doesn't read right when it's;

"Hey Sally!"
"Hi Billy!"
"Are you going to the game?"
"Not yet."

It's just not right. There is a LOT to be done with an example like this.

First off, what on earth is a speaker tag to begin with? I seem to have failed to mention that. Speaker tags are the lines following or beginning a line of dialogue. The most common tag is "___ said".

But here's what I'd suggest. Why not show the reader what is happening in this scene? Would "Sally said" help this scene? Sure. But I don't think it would improve it much at all.

Writing is all about showing. You show the reader a new world, show him its culture, show the stories, show the characters. So why can't dialogue be the same?

What's Sally doing? What does Billy look like? The reader doesn't know this from the above example, and it robs the story of its meaning.

Here's my idea on how to fix the Sally-Billy scene;

Billy swallowed and bit his lip. "Hey Sally!"
She turned, cheeks flushed. "Hi Billy!"
"Are you," he traced his name in the dirt, staring intently at his creation, "are you going to the game?"
Sally thrust her hands into her pocket and stared at the ground. "Not yet." She peaked one eye up at Billy.

Sounds better to me. But hey...I'm just one person.

So that's the WHY of speaker tags. But what do they actually DO for a story.

Speaker tags, for me at least, work as drawn out commas. They cause readers to pause. I see a lot of "..."'s in stories that I read, and I admit that I fall prey to them as well. Sometimes, yes, they are necessary but most of the time they can be replaced with something better. What's this you say?

Speaker tags.

Let's take a look at another line of text.

"Honey can we talk?" the man asked.
"I'm a little....busy at the moment," she frustratedly replied.

This isn't terrible. But if one writes a story with constant repetitions of "asked" "said" "smirked" "replied" "remarked" and anything else that can be conjured up to replace "said" the book is going to stink.

Why not replace both these and the grammatical pauses (ie "..."s) with action on the part of the character? Develop the character, add to the scene. Show the reader what the characters are feeling. Let them make their own deductions. Readers don't like it when they see us telling them that the character is angry, happy, glad, frustrated. They want to make their minds up themselves.

You know...make them think it was their idea.

Mr. Smith loafed into the room, dropping the groceries on the table with a clatter. He sighed. "Honey, can we talk?"

Missy straightened her back and turned to the sink, lifting up a stack of dirtied plates. "I'm a little," she moved to set the plates down, but she missed the sink. The plates shattered on the floor. Bending down she sighed, "I'm a little busy at the moment."

See what I mean?

So, I've done a lot of talking. And one cannot "chat chatting" unless it is two sided. I want to hear what you have to say about dialogue. How do you write it? What about it do you like/dislike? And for you readers, what makes good dialogue?

Let's chat chatting.


Seth said...

'"No comment." Seth let out a nice long laugh while he typed another part of the sentence,"good job explaining dialogue, I often have trouble with that as you know." Finishing his thought Seth switched the browser to The Underground.' *laughs*

Nathan R. Petrie said...

haha Seth. Nice comment ;)

Storyteller said...

Storyteller laughed at Seth's comment, and then began to type, hoping to get the dialogue right. The words scrolled across the comment box. "Nathan, you are very right...." Frowning, Storyteller backspaced over "right" and replaced it with "correct."

*laughs* And if I continue with this type of commenting, I shall take up far too much room!

Nathan, this is a wonderful post. I must admit that I have not thought very deeply about dialogue, but everything you say makes sense.

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Glad you both liked it! (and your humor is always welcome...long or short ;) )

I was curious as to how such a post would work. Whether or not people would enjoy it.

You found it helpful then? I had a LOT more to say...probably should have edited the might have been too long then lol

Anna said...

Hah, I finished writing a rather long dialogue scene earlier today. Now I see where the problems were. Thanks

Chris said...

That was good, I think that will help me improve my writing a lot (or at least the dialogue)

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Thanks Chris and Anna!

So do you guys think that more posts like this would be a good thing?

I'm planning on having a mix of randomness, writing, theological thoughts, etc.

Brenna said...

Wow, that's really good, Nathan. I plan on using those pointers in my writing.

Ben said...

this definitely helped. i'm able to write dialogue with long stuff said by both but i can't seem to get the short stuff down.
Mucho Gracias senor!

Nathan R. Petrie said...

You're good with the villain monologues Ben? ::laughes::

I am honestly surprised that so many liked this.

Looks like the writing posts shall stay in the future lol

Thanks for reading guys!

Anonymous said...

I liked it. If you do more, it will defidently help with my writing, as WTB's posts on this sort of thing has.

(lol That first example reminded me of my writing!)


Nathan R. Petrie said...

Thanks DOL! You should be able to expect one post like this every week....that's the plan at least lol

Give or take of course.

Madeline said...

"Very impressive," Madeline mused. She scrolled down until she hit the previous post. "I'll have to keep my eye on this blog," she concluded with a smile.

I like. =D

ben said...

i mean long talking in general. if its more than a couple lines in length i'm on it.

Rien Takhid said...

I actually find dialogue the easiest thing to write. My characters like to talk! Sometimes they say the wierdest things.

"Tags" can be tricky at times but I find that if I watch people talk and make note of how they use expressions and also read excellent writers for ideas, it makes things easier. It is amazing how a little description can completely alter a conversation. For example, in the original Billy-Sally snippet, I imagined a casual meeting that in my head played out like this:

"Hey, Sally!" Billy waved at his friend as she came around the corner.
A delighted grin spread across the girl's face. "Hi, Billy!"
"Are you going to the game?"
Sally shrugged. "Not yet."

Obviously, that's not how you imagined it, Nathan. So dropping descriptions is extremely important. One just has to make sure one does the right amount. I have found that reading something aloud can reveal a lot of flaws--and occasionally the good stuff too!

Nathan R. Petrie said...

Hey Rien! Thanks for checking the blog out! I've been slow lately in posting lol

Which is kinda what I was trying to get at. Tossing in bits of description often change the entire meaning of a piece of dialogue.

Your version of Billy-Sally had a different meaning and purpose than mine...and had the same dialogue. So clearly it's important.

Yeah...I read my REAL stuff aloud a lot... ::whispers:: people think I'm weird lol

"Stand tall now and proclaim what you have seen, speak in whispered roars..."