Discussion in 'Fan Fiction and Writing Resource' started by ProlificWritersSock, Nov 22, 2015.
10.435 words posted
Week 23: Dialogue
How do you use dialogue?Is it to advance the plot and move the story forward, or to pause in the plot and give the reader some breathing space? Do you like to use it as a tool to emphasize a particular point and build the tension, or to drop subtle hints of things to come? How does dialogue play into your characterisation and relationship-building process?
To me, dialogue is part of the whole package and I use it for all of the above. There’s a great short story called “The Open Boat” by the American writer Stephen Crane that uses dialogue to advance the plot, provide exposition, define characters, and define relationships between characters. It’s worth a peek if you haven’t read it yet! Crane was a master at this stuff. Dialogue is often the perfect solution to the “show don’t tell” problem. Have the characters explain what’s happening (in their relationship, in the plot, in their own point of view) through their dialogue.
What type of dialogue do you favour?Do you usually go for light banter, or for more complex, structured discussions between your characters? Does your dialogue more often than not tend to be a confrontation between two characters, or a tool for exposition of information that is necessary to the reader?
Depends on the situation.
How do you decide which approach to go for in a particular scene, and do you find that one is more difficult than the other(s)? How to you handle the balance between what is said and what is left unsaid in the dialogue? How do you handle silences?
I think you have to balance dialogue with action. There’s an interesting dynamic between what a character says and what he does. Do his actions reinforce or conflict with his words? That reveals a lot about the character. If I’m writing light romantic stuff (L/M, I’m looking at you), I try to keep it quick and short and snappy (think Benedict and Beatrice). If I’m writing something more intense or emotionally charged, there may be lengthier sentences, or lengthy sentences interspersed with short bursts of action. When I want to write something that’s scary or intense or something that’s banter-y, I use short “bullet” sentences. When I’m writing an emotional or romantic scene, I use long sentences. I want my reader to be as out of breath as the character when they get to the end of the sentence. It’s a trick, learning when to draw it out and when to punch it. Often I have to read it out loud to get a better feel for whether I’ve paced it right.
Character voice:We discussed a few weeks ago the importance for each character to have a specific voice that the reader can identify. How does that translate in writing dialogue? Do you give each character a particular dialect?
I try to avoid overuse of dialect. You can mess with syntax (Yoda-speak) but if you overdo the dialect then you make it too hard for the reader and it becomes unappealing. A little syntactic manipulation is ok, creating a new language is too much.
Do you choose particular turns of phrase that only one character will use?
Well, old sport, there had better be a good reason to do so. Otherwise I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want to distract my reader from what the character is saying or doing.
Do you use dialogue to emphasise your character’s social/cultural background? Anything else?
Sometimes. JadeLotus did this very well in her epic that she wrote last year. When her character was working in the Senate he spoke standard Basic but when he went back to the underlevels of Coruscant, he code-switched and began to speak with heavy slang. It reminded you that this guy wasn’t to the manor born.
Realistic dialogue vs written dialogue:Dialogue is one of those areas where you don’t need to write complete grammatical sentences, because people rarely speak in complete, strictly grammatical sentences in real life. However, real-life dialogue can also be fairly flat when put in writing – readers will expect something more compact and to the point. How do you handle that transition? Do you write down all the dialogue and polish it later by removing what is unnecessary to make it more concise and adding any necessary description/action elements? Or do you write the scene first and turn it into dialogue later? Do you act out your dialogue to see if it works? Do you rework it to balance one-line zingers with longer replies? Any other dialogue-writing tips and tricks you’d like to share?
I find it’s almost essential to say the dialogue out loud. That’s how I can tell if the dialogue is balanced and paced correctly. Often I will find that the first draft is too wordy – I can cut quite a bit out. Like you said, we rarely speak in elaborated sentences. A lot of communication is nonverbal, too, so that’s another place to tighten up. If my character is breathing hard and biting her lip and keeps glancing at the docking bay door, her sweaty hands clutching her pistol, then she doesn’t need to say “I’m so scared!”
Lastly, here’s the painful subject: dialogue formatting and punctuation. How familiar are you with the rules of formatting dialogue? Are you confident about where punctuation marks and capitals should go, or do you count on your beta to sort it out for you?
I believe I’m pretty good at that.
Do you know when it is acceptable to insert a line of dialogue in the middle of a narrative paragraph, or do you do it by feel?
Again, a balance of action and dialogue. There are no hard and fast rules.
What about dialogue tags? What is, in your view, the right balance/type of dialogue tags, and how do you use them to show what the characters are doing during the scene?
I try to avoid them if I can. Their purpose is to keep the reader straight as to who is talking. They should be fairly invisible, so I tend to keep it simple. “Said” often does the trick. I prefer to use action instead to indicate the character who is speaking. For example:
Han slammed his hand on the lever then glanced at the display. His eyes narrowed and he scowled as the data appeared on the screen. “We’d better get that converter working soon, Chewie, or this will be a short trip!”
Is much better than
Han slammed his hand on the lever then glanced at the display. His eyes narrowed and he scowled as the data appeared on the screen. “We’d better get that converter working soon, Chewie, or this will be a short trip!” he said nervously.
We already know Han is nervous. His actions are abrupt and he’s scowling. However, this is infinitely better than
Han slammed his hand on the lever then glanced at the display. His eyes narrowed and he scowled as the data appeared on the screen. “We’d better get that converter working soon, Chewie, or this will be a short trip!” he said in a nervous voice.
The whole “he said in a _______ voice” thing is a pet peeve of mine. What the heck IS a quiet voice, for example? Why not write that she said quietly? Or better yet, that she muttered?
There’s a time for descriptive tags, such as “she whispered” or “he retorted” because that helps to set the tone of the scene. But don’t over use them. (My other pet peeve is when people think the dialogue tag is somehow a separate sentence.)
Do you have a useful primer about formatting dialogue that you’d like to share?
I think a lot of people have trouble telling when to break the lines and start a new paragraph. I try to think of it as a camera shot. Whenever there’s a new camera shot, a new angle, make that a new paragraph. Are we looking at Han? That’s a paragraph. Are we looking at Chewie now? That’s a new paragraph. Back at Han? New paragraph again.
These are incredible examples for decent and better dialogue, divapilot!
I must hop in before I fall asleep...Things Fall Apart has been updated with Chapter 3, and my total word count is now 8,030.
<mumbles> "...I will get to answering this week's questions..."
I just sent the PM reminders to everyone about the deadline to update by the end of the month. If you've already updated, just ignore the PM and keep writing (Oh, and if someone could send a kick in the backside reminder to me too, I'd be grateful -- I'm late once more )
In the plot-driven sort of story I write and given my style of writing, dialogue is pretty much the only place where I can do some character and relationship-building, so I tend to use it a lot. Which is not to say that I don't use dialogue to advance the plot as well, obviously -- everything I write is meant to advance the plot -- but when you avoid introspection like the plague, dialogue is very much all you have left to show who your characters are, what they think and how they interact with others.
My favourite type of dialogue to write is a scene where everyone is lying to everyone else, or at least withholding information from everyone else, and I'm particularly happy when I feel that I've written the scene in such a way that I don't need to interrupt the dialogue to tell the reader that someone is lying. However, I find that writing these scenes here on the boards is a challenge, because it's much more difficult for the reader to keep track of all the clues and details when they can't read the entire story in a single go, so I've often inserted a reminder here or there of things that were said before.
The most difficult type of dialogue for me is the sort of light banter that's focused on character development without any implications for the plot and that is meant to give the reader a breather in the course of the story. This is the sort of scene that's absolutely necessary in a densely packed narrative IMO, but writing it while remaining relevant to the story is not easy at all.
Another difficulty in writing dialogue for me is to balance longer sentences with shorter sentences or to intersperse the dialogue with description or action. My natural tendency is to strip the dialogue to its bare minimum, but I also find that you quickly get a ping-pong feel when you go for a succession of one-liners so you need to flesh out the scene through other means. I don't act out my dialogue but I do spend a lot of time trying to imagine the scene and to visualise the characters as they speak, but also to picture their surroundings and how they can be distracted by the vase on the table or any other object/sound that might be there.
About dialogue tags, as I said above I tend to follow the Greek rules which are extremely different from the English rules, so I'm infinitely grateful for my beta-reader who fixes my text all the time In Greek dialogue tags are (among other things) a good way to lengthen your sentences and give them more rhythm and musicality -- add to it that Greek adverbs are often extremely long words, and you get the equivalent of "he said in a nervous voice" that divapilot was talking about
Some elements that make dialogue tags unnecessary IMO (in addition to action descriptors such as She banged her fist on the table. "I don't care!") are characters who address each other by name in a two-person conversation (e.g. when Leia says, "Luke, you're wrong", there's no need for a dialogue tag because we know Luke isn't speaking to himself) and characters who have a very distinctive voice. The latter can be a particular style or level of language, a dialect or specific turns of phrase that only one character uses (e.g. only Han calls Luke "kid", or only one character ends all his/her questions with "eh?", etc.)
In general I'd say that it's difficult to find a balance with dialogue tags. Use too many and they drown the dialogue, use too few and the reader is lost (this is especially true of dialogue in ensemble scenes). As a reader I want the dialogue tags to keep me on track and to "punctuate" the dialogue properly, but then since I read the whole lot with a Greek accent my sense of rhythm is probably not what a native English speaker would find natural. #work_in_progress
Chapter 2 has been up since May, kind of just forgot to post here, and I haven't had a chance to read everyone's updates yet either. Much dishonor. Word count now sits at 6,691
After having read @Chyntuck's response, as well as revisiting earlybird-obi-wan's, I was wondering what it would be like if native speakers would tell the rest of us if we're doing it "right" or not. Especially given that some languages encourage things that others discourage and all. I would be super-curious to know how foreign I actually sound in my dialogue!
Week 23: Dialogue
How do you use dialogue?
I use it to say things without having to tell the reader directly or also to give a break when I have to do a lot of exposition. I don't think I use it very often for hints...but definitely for relationship building. I love to show a relationship changing or growing through a conversation, because that's how it does in real life, a lot of times.
What type of dialogue do you favour?
I like light banter and fun, light conversation. Also, I enjoy "good" conversations that move easily between the participants. Deep conversations tend to give me the jitters (as they do in real life!). I'll use them when I need to, but I try to keep it short. I tend to like to describe the emotions happening between the words, rather than use the conversation to show emotion (if that makes sense). Silence is very important...and I like to talk about what someone is thinking about in the silence. For example, if Leia and Han are talking, and Han say something that makes Leia mad and she looks away with pursed lips, I like to take that moment to talk about what Han's feeling in that silence. Is he frustrated that he can fly the kessel run but he can't say five words without making his wife mad? Is he sad that he grew up without love, so it's hard for him to show it? Is he ticked that her highnessness is as touchy as a rudder because she's hungry? Etc.
I love using nicknames to give each person a bit of character, especially when you're trying to show familiarity. I wouldn't say I use particular turns of phrase for a certain character (honestly not smart enough to keep track of that!) but I do like showing different ways of speaking. Does this person use a lot of short sentences? Long speeches? Let their words all tumble out in a huff of feeling, or are they more measured?
Realistic dialogue vs written dialogue:
I rework a lot of my dialogue once I've written it. But mostly I just try to base my dialogue around someone I know. I think about how one of my coworkers or friends frames their words, and that's usually what I'll use as my stepping-off point. Instead of Han saying "Good morning, how are you today?" I'd rework that as "Morning! How's the day treating you so far?" To me that feels more natural. But I'll usually start with wayyyyy to long speeches and then chop them down from there.
Lastly, here’s the painful subject: dialogue formatting and punctuation. How familiar are you with the rules of formatting dialogue? Do you know when it is acceptable to insert a line of dialogue in the middle of a narrative paragraph, or do you do it by feel? Are you confident about where punctuation marks and capitals should go, or do you count on your beta to sort it out for you? What about dialogue tags? What is, in your view, the right balance/type of dialogue tags, and how do you use them to show what the characters are doing during the scene? Do you have a useful primer about formatting dialogue that you’d like to share?
I think I do okay? But I'm just bumbling around with what looks right, trying to remember all the things my old Master Jade_Pilot told me (I can hear her now..."Annndd that's another POV switch") and try to be like JadeLotus and divapilot when I grow up. I try to show what's going on through the way I use tags or describe...but I've definitely fallen into what Diva said about "spoke quietly" I have a hard time though with formatting...when should I break a new line? Even if it's the same person speaking, but I want it to have emphasis? I guess I just go with what feels/looks right, and hope it makes sense!
(reserved for week 23 summary -- yeah, I know, there are lots of these)
My muse is still being impossibly stubborn. It has all sorts of things it wants to work on... except my fic for this challenge. On that, it doesn't even want to think about it, and I'm powerless to do anything about it.
I may end up dropping out of this challenge if I can't get my muse to cooperate. If that happens, I will put something (unrelated) together for a post in the fanon thread as punishment.
Week 24: Introspection
We discussed last week how we get our characters to interact with each other through dialogue, let’s discuss now how we get them to express their intimate thoughts – the thoughts they don’t share with other characters. This is linked to the discussion about narrative POVs we had earlier this year; depending on the POV strategy you chose for your story, you have more or less leeway to delve into your characters’ thoughts.
When do you choose to go for introspection? What motivates you to choose this specific approach to exposing your character’s thoughts over dialogue or action? Is it to expose elements of information that only this character knows? Or is it because you want to alternate genres and atmospheres from one scene to the next? What is it that you can do with introspection that you couldn’t do with other approaches?
How do you write introspection? Do you go for a monologue that breaks the fourth wall, a soliloquy where a character speaks to him/herself, a couple of paragraphs of stream-of consciousness? Do you insert bits of introspection in the middle of a dialogue scene or an action scene, or do you reserve a large chunk of text just for this? What strategies/markers do you use to insert a piece of introspection in your story?
What do you use introspection for? Is it mostly to develop a character’s thoughts and motivations, or do you also find introspection useful to summarise/analyse what happened so far in the story from a particular character’s perspective? How does introspection fit in your overall character/plot development strategy?
Is there such a thing as too much or too little introspection? How do you avoid telling (rather than showing) when writing introspection? If you avoid introspection, how do you expose your characters’ thoughts? Do you use introspection for multiple characters? For only one? What positives and negatives do you see to either approach?
Anything else you’d like to discuss about writing introspection?
I'd be curious to know too, although I have to say that I'd find it impossible to write something that goes by the rules if it doesn't "sound" right to me. There are habits that I dropped in English (e.g. inserting a bit of dialogue in the middle of a paragraph) but some other things, such as the right feel for the pace and rhythm of the dialogue, are just non-negotiable. I know that some elements of my approach will change only when I get a more subtle understanding of the English language, not when I'm told "this is how it should be done".
Do you want a list of alternate muses? I've become quite good friends with the staring-at-the-ceiling muse lately (although that also has to do with the fact that I've been really tired).
This is where I ask why do you think that your understanding of the language is not what it should be. How do you describe that? Do you not think in English or am I completely missing something?
Edit: I do not mean to drift away from this week's topics at all, I am just interested in the ways people think, if it's intuition-based or sense-based etc etc.
I rarely (if ever) think in English, but most importantly I don't "hear" in English. There are masterpieces of English poetry that sound impossibly flat to me because I can't hear them in the right way; I feel that the lines don't scan properly but they actually don't scan in Greek, you know what I mean? The same goes for prose and especially for dialogue -- I often add a dialogue tag because I feel that the sentence doesn't end in the right place, but I know that, going by the book, the dialogue tag is superfluous.
Believe me, I've tried everything. I have no problem getting my muse to think; it just wants to think about everything but this fic.
I think there's two problems. First, I think the muse has concluded (along with me) that the story I had developed may very well be too far-fetched to be plausible, and having posted the prologue already and with the first deadline come and gone, it's too late to blow it up and start over try something else. Second, in April, I began working with a job placement specialist in hopes of getting a job to get off of disability, and that is throwing all kinds of hydrospanners into my free time schedule and sleep schedule. Which means that I don't have time to write any of the things that my muse DOES want to think about, much less the fic it DOESN'T want to think about.
Speaking of screwing up my sleep schedule, it's currently 4:22 AM and my normal bedtime is around 6 AM, but I needed to be in bed half an hour ago because I have a 1 PM meeting today with the job placement specialist, which requires my alarm to go off at noon (and I got up at 3 PM the past few days). Good night.
Posted ch 3, now at 7,924 words posted.
I wish Darth Real-Life hadn't intervened when I was supposed to write my story for this challenge. I had such a great title too!
You can still write, outside of competition!
That's true, my friend but I was looking forward to the challenge.
I think I'm still going to write the title I was given though, outside of the competition... 'Z' has so many possibilities!
I use introspection to show what a character is thinking
For instance this in chapter 8 of Flowers of Evil
‘I hope he remembers the old commands from hospital squadron.’ Mick had to cut through the haze troubling his friend.
Monologue is used and thoughts from the character.
Introspection is used to develop thoughts and motivations and when a character is alone. I use mostly dialogue to move the story.
Introspection - I adore it!!!!!!! I fell in love with it when KnightAragorn seemingly invented it for Luke and Mara I love using it in the midst of a situation when a character is at a crossroads or crucial decision point or is feeling happy or nostalgic and wants to ponder over something that is contributing to their mood.
Watching the sunset on a quiet beach, Mara contemplates how she never expected to find serenity and acceptance.
Hey guys and gals, should I assume that you're not so interested in discussing introspection, or that my questions sucked or that most of us were too busy this week to participate in the discussion? Should I leave the topic open for another week, or is it time to move on to something different?
Been doing RL things. Not fun RL things.
I am awful at two things in regards to writing (Other than writing itself huehue) and that's dialogue and action. So... introspection is kind of my default for character development. Like anything else, too much of this will kill your story. I believe it's best done in moments of self-doubt, since we do this alot in our own day to day lives anyway. Maybe sprinkled here and there elsewhere to color their motivations or thought process. Kinda hard to explain since I've never had to sit back and think about how I actually do it.
The late-night muse played its classic trick on me again. I had insomnia last night, and at around 3 in the morning I had built in my head the perfect opening paragraph for the second chapter of my fic. I didn't get up to put it in writing right there and then, and of course now that I'm trying to type it up the words are gone