Friday, March 25, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part three

hey FFFers, I'm back. If anyone out there has an active senior in high school, you know how busy I am with all the end of the year things as well as college applications. Whew!

Okay, we've been talking about dialogue mechanics and have gone over the basics. Before I go on, I wanted to mention something we call an "RUE." That's, "resist the urge to explain." We often do this without thinking. Here's an example:

Sam clenched his fists. He was really angry. "I can't stand him!"

Do you see what I did? I told you "he was really angry" when the clenching of the fists and the dialogue showed it. We do this because we want to make sure the readers knows what's going on, but really, the reader will get it if you show it.

Now, let's talk about making your characters sound natural without writing the way we talk.

Val hugged Sue. "I'm so glad you see you! What have you been up to?"

Sue shrugged. "Well, you know, um, I've been busy with, like, um, working and trying to spend time with, um, Jim."

"I hear ya," Val said. "There's just not enough, you know, time."


When we talk, we hesitate a lot. We use partial sentences and slang words. How we handle dialogue depends on who is talking, their age and gender. But we can't write exactly how we talk. It's fine for talking, but for writing and reading, it can get bogged down.

How is dialogue different for fantasy? Take a look at your WIP (work in progress) and see how many different types of characters you have; elves, dwarves, fairies, etc. Do they all sound different? They should, but not so much that the reader is exhausted by the time a conversation is done.

Some authors write heavy dialects - have you read any of the Redwall series? That's an example of being extreme. Some readers love that. Most don't.

I find the best way is to use certain expressions or a turn of a phrase unique to that character or people. Here's an example from my novel, Fairyeater. This is a conversation between the main character, Akeela, and some new friends, Acadians (forest people.)

Akeela startled and looked up to see two Acadians approaching. A boy and a girl.
“Sapo!” the boy said again.
Hawk closed his eyes and groaned. “Go away.”
The Acadian boy plopped down next to Akeela. “So, this is she, yeh?” He grinned at Akeela and wiggled his eyebrows. Akeela couldn’t help but laugh.
“Aye, it’s she. Now, go away. You’re scraping my branches.”
The boy shouted with laughter. The girl pushed him off the log and sat down. “Pay no mind to my brother. He’s a dupeseed.” She lifted her long, bushy hair off her shoulders and dropped it again. “I’m Ves-rynia, Hawk’s cousin. That--” she jerked her thumb over her shoulder. “—is Vorrak-ira.”
Akeela didn’t exactly understand the Acadian expressions, but she had a good idea what they meant. “I’m Akeela.”

See how I did that? Now, it's your turn. Let's see how you're handling the dialect of different groups of people. If you need help, let us know and we'll brainstorm together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Dialogue Mechanics - part two

For anyone who is just joining us, we're going through the book "Self Editing for Fiction Writers" by Renni Browne and Dave King. I advise everyone to pick it up so you can refer to it when you are writing.

I want to talk about dialogue tags and beats. A tag is the "he said/she said" after a line of dialogue. A beat is a piece of action that typically comes before the dialogue that indicates who is talking without writing a "he said/she said."

Browne and King say: "Your best bet is to use the verb "said" almost without exception." Said is invisible. It keeps the flow going. But some writers get nervous when they see a long string of "saids" all over the page. We remember what we've been taught in school and write something like:

"Give it to me," she demanded.
"Here it is," he offered.
"Is it loaded?" she inquired.

This was popular in the 70s, but it can be downright annoying today. Most editors cringe when they read these kinds of tags.

Then there's:

"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.
"Come closer," she smiled.
"So, you've changed your mind," he chuckled.

To use verbs like the last three examples as dialogue tags will brand you an amateur to most editors. It's physically impossible to grimace, smile or chuckle a word. Grimace is a facial expression. So is smile. And chuckle is, well, a chuckle. You can chuckle while you talk, but words are words and laughing is laughing.

This is why beats are so important. We need to mix up tags and beats in our writing. Like this:

"It's so hot out," Sue said.
Carly fanned herself with the paper. "I know! If it gets any hotter, I'll melt."

We know Carly is talking because of the beat in front of the dialogue. And that makes it unnecessary to use a tag. There are times when you can use other tags like asked, shouted and whispered, but think of them like cayenne pepper - sprinkle sparingly. What you want to do is make it clear by the dialogue itself or by a beat.

Sam clenched his jaw. "Get out of here!"
Megan rolled her eyes. "I hate doing dishes."
Trish smiled. "We had the best time."

Can you tell how Sam, Megan and Trish are feeling? And you didn't have to say, Sam growled, Megan sighed or Trish sang out.

How are you handling diglogue tags? Do you anything you need help with? Put it in the comments and we'll take a look.