The People Speak – Part 4


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 4

By Nandy Ekle

Tag! You’re it! 

That children’s game is an example of what we do in dialogue with tag lines. Tag lines are the little quips that tell us who is speaking. Tradition says to not use the word “said” all the time, but to use a variety of descriptive terms, such as “replied,” or “screeched,” or “blurted.” And then there’s the view that these terms can be distracting, especially if not used correctly. So we should stick with “said” because it’s kind of an invisible tag. But too much of the same word can also be distracting.

I can see the value in both of these points of view. However, there are other ways of making sure your reader knows who’s talking without getting in the way. While we never want our reader to have to back up and work out the order of he said, he said, and we never want to shock our reader out of the story by having our characters whisper when they should scream or purr when they should growl, we also don’t want to bore them with the same words over and over.

One way to do this without being so technical and having to think too hard is to use action during the dialogue. Think about when just and your best friend are having a conversation. One of you grins, the other chuckles. One of you wipes a fallen piece of hair from your face and takes a sip of coffee, the other scratches her ear lobe and sniffles because she has a head cold. Now watch a group of people talking. One speaker raises his hands and gestures the size of the fish he caught. Another laughs because there’s no way that idiot caught that size of fish in that lake. But the guy’s friend stands up in the scoffer’s face to take up for his friend, while another waves her hand in the air at all of them and tells them they’re all a bunch of geeks.

Another way of making sure your readers know your characters’ lines is with voice. I’m going to refer back to Liane Moriarty because I believe she’s a master of this. Each one of her characters has such a distinct voice we know immediately who’s speaking without tons of tags. And that makes a huge difference. Reading her books is like watching a movie. I can hear the difference in each character’s lines as if I’m watching them leave their mouths. 

tag words: n

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Master of Dialogue


Master of Dialogue

by Adam Huddleston

“Master” might be a bit much, but I feel that one of the greats when it comes to writing dialogue in their work is Quentin Tarantino.  I know a lot of people are put off by the extreme violence and subject matter in his movies, when you sit and listen to his characters speak to each other, you see that he has a firm hold on realistic language.

For example, look at movies like “Pulp Fiction” and “Reservoir Dogs”.  The film characters are mostly all criminals, committing dangerous acts that none of us would ever do, but their speech is completely relatable.  They discuss mundane topics like cheeseburgers, tipping waitresses, and a hunger for pancakes.  This dialogue connects the movie watcher with the characters and brings them into the story.  

While some may feel that Tarantino’s dialogue borders on the vulgar, each line is appropriate for the situation and executed perfectly by the actor or actress.  If you have a few hours to spare, I highly recommend the aforementioned films for there plot and especially their dialogue.

Silence is Golden


Outtakes 373

Silence is Golden

By Cait Collins

 

I do love dialogue, but sometimes silence is best.

Two guys loved the same girl.  They were the three Musketeers, always together, always laughing.  She sits alone on a marble bench looking at their pictures.  She traces the features, and pauses as if a memory stirs.  Her head falls back; she closes her eyes and allows the sun to warm her face.

Her thoughts go back to the last time she saw them. They were leaving for boot camp.  Their goofy grins faded when they boarded the bus.

A loon’s mournful song echoes in the coming darkness.  She shivers…

A tear slips down her cheek as she stares at the marble grave stones,

“I miss you both,” she whispers. “I love both of you.”

 

 

DIALOGUE FOR KID LIT


DIALOGUE FOR KID LIT

Natalie Bright

 

When the critique group works on my kid lit stories, I remember how annoying it sounds when I read the work out loud with every bit of dialogue having a “said” after or before. That is normal for most books targeted to beginning readers.  Every spoken line needs clarification and an origin as to who said what. The same rules apply for kid lit as it does for adult, as in ‘said’ is an invisible word.

Most children’s stories are heavy with dialogue. Kids do not like a lot of narrative. Fill the pages with white space. Short sentences, short paragraphs and pithy bits of talking. Chapter books are very important to beginning readers, but remember chapters are short as well.

Don’t use your word count for empty words that do not move the plot along. For example, the phone rings:

“Hello,” Jenn said.

“Hello, Jenn?” Todd asked.

She answered, “Yes, this is Jenn. Is that you, Todd?”

People do not talk in long sentences, especially here in Texas. Make your dialogue ring true for the era and for the setting of your book.

Read your dialogue out loud. Is it believable for that age of character? On occasion my critique partners will point out that my twelve-year-old character would never say that word, for example, and they are always right. Stay true to the age of your characters.

Since I write historical westerns, I have to be careful about modern day lingo that can sneak into my writing. I have caught myself using “give me call when you get there.” (Ugh.)

Still having trouble? Go to a local gaming center or sports facility and listen to kids talk. My office is right next to the high school, and my son and his friends sometimes stop by to hang out and grab a Dr. Pepper from the fridge I keep stocked. Honestly, I have no idea what they’re talking about most of time. It’s amazing how fast they can move from one topic to the next and everyone seems to keep up with the conversation, except me. Their use of slang terms are more than interesting, and highly educational, to say the least.

Happy writing, and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

Natalie

 

A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES


A LESSON FROM THE MOVIES

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Sometimes I think I should write screenplays instead of novels. Screenplays are mostly dialogue, and dialogue is my favorite part of writing. You can learn a lot about dialogue by watching movies: flow, tension, emotions. The main difference between it and a book is that the audience can see who’s speaking and their reactions, which help convey the emotion of the scene. In a book, you don’t have that luxury. You convey emotion through tags and action beats. And stories are all about emotion.

Here’s an exercise for you: take a piece of dialogue from a movie and write it as if it was in a book by adding tags and action beats. Write so that a person who hasn’t seen the movie can get the emotion of the scene.

Let’s Talk


Let’s Talk

By Nandy Ekle

 

“Hi. My name is Main Character.” He raised his hand in a wave.

“Hi, Main Character. My name is Nemesis.” He nodded toward Main Character.

Main Character smiled. “It’s good to meet you.”

“Thank you. It’s good to meet you too.”

Main Character looked past Nemesis’ shoulder and Nemesis looked down at the floor. The clock ticked an awkward moment.

Main Character jerked his face back to Nemesis’ face as a flash of thought passed through his mind. “We’re supposed to inspire writers to write a believable dialogue.”

A light snapped on in Nemesis’ eyes. “Oh. Do you mean, like, actually sounding like two people having a conversation instead of sounding like two sides of the same person?”

“Yes. That’s right.” Main Character smiled while his head moved up and down.

“I see.  How do you think a good writer does that?”

Shrugging his shoulders, Main Character said, “Well, I think they have to just almost actually hear two different people speaking and write what they say exactly the way it’s said.”

Nemesis’ eyes darken slightly. “Ya’ know, Mainy, I do b’lieve you jes’ hit da nail rat own its big ol’ head.”

“Yes. And that means the writer needs to know his characters very well.” He took a coupe of steps backward.

“Yore galdern rat ‘bout dat dar rule.” Nemesis took a couple of steps forward toward Main Character.

Main Character turned his head and looked over his shoulder for the door behind him, then he looked back at Nemesis. His brow was lined with worry. “So, do you have any advice to add to that?”

Nemesis stopped moving and lookd up into space as if an idea would appear like a light bulb. “Well . . . yeah. They prolly need to make shore dem readers know who’s tawkin’ when. ‘Cause, like us? We ain’t just standing still flappin’ our gums. We’re acchully doing’ sumpin’”

“That’s right,” Main Character said.

Nemesis grinned a dark toothy grin. Yeah.” He turned to look at the person reading their dialogue. “Got that, reader? Now.” He paused and leaned forward until his nose nearly touched the reader’s nose. The dark light came back to his eyes. “Go do it!”

Congratulations. You have just received a post card from the muse.

A Conversation With Your Characters


Outtakes 372

 

 

A Conversation With Your Characters

By Cait Collins

 

 I’ve found that one of the best ways for me to get to know my characters is to talk with them.  I mean have real talks with them.  These conversations give me insight and allow me to create more believable dialogue.  For example, Dalton heard from his friend Kate that her former boyfriend abandoned her when he learned she was pregnant by her rapist.  She returned to her hometown to bury her grandmother and there was no possible way to avoid running into him.  He’s the town’s doctor and it is a small town.  After a violent encounter with her rapist, she has to allow her former beau to treat her injuries.  Daltons was not happy.  Our conversation went something like this.

 Cait:“She’s over him, you know.  I mean she really resents having to accept his help.  She’d prefer to kick him out.”

 Dalton: “I know.  He’ll hurt her again.  He dumped her.”

Cait:They lied to him. King, your mother, his mother.  They let him believe she’d gone with him willingly.”

 Dalton: “He told Kate he loved her.  A man doesn’t abandon someone he loves.”

 Cait:“You wouldn’t.  When you love, you give your heart and your soul.  Truth is you love Kate.  You’ve loved her for fifteen years, and even now that she’s a widow, you shield her from your feelings. That’s a bit cowardly.”

 Dalton: “I’m not a coward.  I’m giving her space to mourn.”

“So are you”re just going to sit here and let him work his way back into her life.  He’s almost as good looking as you.  As you said, she’s mourning.  Jon’s death hit her hard.  She’ll need someone to lead her through the tough days.

 I vanish from the scene.  Dalton is waiting on the front porch for word on Kate’s injuries.  When the doctor comes out to talk to him, Dalton looks up, snorts and returns to the report he’s been studying.

“I’m Doctor Mike.  I know you’re Katie’s friend but she didn’t tell me your name.”

 Dalton doesn’t acknowledge the man.

 Mike:“I sorry, but what do I call you.  I prefer to have a name when I discuss a patient’s injuries with the friends and loved ones.” 

 Dalton: “I’m Pissed.”

 Mike: “Well, Mr. Pissed, …

Trust me; Dalton remained Mr. Pissed until he realized that Kate and Mike were having problems with their friendship.  And if they couldn’t be friends, how could they be lovers.

 

Dialogue Tags


Dialogue Tags

Natalie Bright

Dialogue is spoken communication between characters. The purpose of a tag line is to let your reader know which character is speaking.

Most commonly used dialogue tags:

Said

Asked

Yelled

Hollered

Whispered

As a reader, we hardly notice the tag lines. “He/she said” is boring, and our eyes are used to reading said. We want to know what’s between the quotation marks.

Seriously, can a person “screech” or “Sigh” or “acknowledge” words? Can you “laugh” a sentence? Instead use descriptive words to create motion or response in your characters. Over use of anything besides “said” can be annoying. Think of how you can use narrative in place of tag lines.

One of the best resources for an explanation of dialogue is the book WRITING REALISTIC DIALOGUE AND FLASH FICTION by Harvey Stanbrough. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your writing reference library.

Here’s an example from Mr. Stanbrough’s book:

She approached him cautiously. “Come on now, Baby,” she cooed. “You don’t want that knife. What are you going to do with that?”

He swung the knife in a wild arc. “I just can’t stand it anymore!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had it?”

If you read the same passage above out loud omitting the tag lines, it reads the same. In fact, we might even say that the tag lines of cooed and exclaimed are somewhat annoying. You could add a he said or she said if you want, but the action and narrative helps us know who is talking. The imagery is still the same no matter what tag lines you use.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!

natalie

SAY WHAT?


SAY WHAT?

Lynnette Jalufka

 

Characters are supposed to sound different from each other, but if your readers have to reread the dialect to understand what’s being said, you’ve taken them out of the story. But how can you write a dialect and still make it readable?

One way is shown in Sharon Ewell Foster’s novel, Ain’t No River. In this example, Garvin, a female lawyer in Washington, D.C., is having a conversation with Miz Maizie, a janitor, in the ladies’ restroom:

“You let me know, now. I’ll call for some help.” The “I’ll” sounded more like “Iya” and the “help” sounded more like “hep.”

“No, Miz Maizie, I’m still above rim.”

“You know, Garvin, I heard of lots of little children—” Garvin heard chirren—”falling into them old-fashioned outhouses, and you ain’t too much bigger than they were.”

Foster does not spell out what the words sound like in the dialogue. Instead, she describes how certain words sound to Garvin. Otherwise, she uses word placement to convey Miz Maizie’s southern dialect, and this technique continues throughout the book. This way makes the dialogue easier to read while still maintaining its uniqueness.