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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The People Speak – Part 2


POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 2

By Nandy Ekle

How many of you readers out there never talk to yourselves? You never have a running conversation in your head, never ask yourself questions, never tell yourself your opinion, never remind yourself of your to-do list? 

The inside of my head sometimes sounds like a throng of voices. I don’t mean, like, hearing voices telling me to do bad things, as in schizophrenia or psychosis. I mean it’s like the two sides of my brain talking to each other, so much so that I need to listen to music with lyrics while I work my day job, just to keep the creative side out of the analytical side’s business.

Our characters, who we want our readers to believe are real people, are exactly the same. They have inner thoughts the same as we do. And these inner thoughts can be very important to our story. It can tell us more about the character, it can move the story along, it can even be a fantastic vehicle for flashbacks and important back story. 

There are some types of story where inner dialogue is critical. I read a story once about a woman with a mental syndrome causing her problems. She desperately wanted to heal from that, so she took a trip in order to come to terms with this. The problem I had with the story was there was very little inner dialogue to show her healing, her metamorphosis. The author didn’t set the problem up very well as far as symptoms in the beginning, and suddenly, at the end, she was well. I didn’t feel like had made that emotional journey with her.

Another thing to remember when using inner dialogue is to keep your character’s voice, speech, personality, and view of the world intact. If your character has a secret side to them, that’s wonderful, but give us a clue to this secret in their outside layers. Then, with the inner dialogue, you can let it out flamboyantly. But always remember their view of the world.

Back to Liane Moriarty. In Big Little Lies, one of the main characters has this secret side to herself. She’s seems a little scatter-brained on the outside, a little, like, “whatever . . .” But through her inner dialogue, we learn she is guarding a terrible secret that she doesn’t know how to handle. For excellent examples of all kinds of dialogue, read Big Little Lies. 

The People Speak – Part 1


POSTCARDS FROM THE MUSE

The People Speak – Part 1

By Nandy Ekle

Believable characters have believable dialogue. Your characters should sound like real people, not the narrator. The narrator (you, the writer) has their own voice, rhythm, and way of putting words together; the characters do too.  

This is critical. Without effective dialogue, the characters remain paper dolls. And this is another place where your people watching skills and whatever knowledge of psychology you have is key.

We are writing words for people to read. And since those reading our words cannot hear the words as they come out of our mouths, we have to rely on the readers’ imaginations to fill in the sound. And this is why it is critical to make the characters sound like real people.

Each character has a distinct and personal way of speaking. You may have someone who speaks boldly enunciating each syllable of each word as if they are on a stage and want the entire theater to hear everything said. You may have a character who is timid and hates to be seen or heard. You may have a comic who turns everything into a joke. 

For excellent examples of distinct dialogue which reveals the characters deep down, read anything by Liane Moriarty. Ms. Moriarty is an Australian writer, and her culture and language are different from mine, but humans are humans. Her stories are about characters who act, react, and speak to each other. And they are all very different. And there is never any doubt who is talking when they talk. 

In Big Little Lies, you have the older, brasher, standing-on-a-stage character; the timid, shy, don’t-look-at-me character, and the strong, intelligent, caring character who carries a terrifying secret. Even though this is printed word instead of pictures, we know exactly who is speaking as soon as they open their mouths.

Next week we’ll look at the importance of inner dialogue.

Your homework: Watch and listen to people having a conversation. Pay attention to body language, words, dialect, facial expressions, and tone of voice. These are just some of the things that makes every person’s speech unique.