Friday, July 18, 2014

Dialogue - Keeping it Fresh

Happy Friday, good people of the blogosphere! Today, I'm talking with you about dialogue again. I started writing this post yesterday, but life took over and killed it. Ha! Great how that works, isn't it? But! The kids go back to school soon, so things around the blog will settle down as they were before. Anyway, today we're gonna talk about keeping your dialogue fresh for readability and comprehension. I'll also give you a little exercise to do afterward. Grab those pens and notebooks and let's get going!

Let's start with things you shouldn't do.
  • Make every line of dialogue begin the same way.
  • Break several lines of dialogue in a row with an action.
  • Confuse your dialogue tags with action tags.
  • Make everyone sound the same.
In keeping your writing fresh, you want to use dialogue, action, and dialect in a way that keeps them harmonious.

Example time!

Shouldn't do:
Pat elbowed her way through the crowd. "Can you believe how many people are here?"
I grabbed her hand before leaning toward her ear. "It's always like this on Friday night!"
Lucy made her way to us and joined the circle. "I'm so excited to be here! I can't believe our parents let us come."
I put my free hand on her shoulder. "This is once in a lifetime, kid."
Music pumped through the speakers, and my insides rattled.

Better:
Pat elbowed her way through the crowd. "Can you believe how many people are here?"
"It's always" someone jostled me, and I grabbed Pat's hand to lean toward her ear "like this on Friday night!"
Lucy made her way to us. "I'm so excited to be here, y'all! I can't believe our parents let us come." Her eyes sparkled.
"This is once in a lifetime, kid," I said.
Music pumped through the speakers, and my insides rattled.

Frequent name restatement is often necessary when there are several people in a discussion. Watch your pronouns. Let's look at one more example; then I'll turn you loose with an exercise.

Shouldn't do:
"I wanted to go to the store with Mommy," Lisa whined.
Her father's mouth turned down. He said, "You didn't want to stay with me?"
She crossed her arms and shook her head.
"I thought maybe we could play your favorite," he said, pulling out Chutes and Ladders.
She clapped her hands and said, "Yay! Yes, Daddy. I want to play."
"But you wanted to go to the store with Mommy," he teased.
"I was just kidding," she said.
He roared with laughter.

Better:
"I wanted to go to the store with Mommy." Lisa threw her tiny figure face-down on the couch.
Her father frowned. "You don't want to stay with me?"
She rolled over, crossed her arms, and shook her head.
"I thought maybe we could play your favorite," he said.
When Lisa saw the Chutes and Ladders game in his hands, she clapped. "Yay! Yes, Daddy. I wanna play."
"But you wanted to go to the store with Mommy."
"I was just kidding."
He roared with laughter.

Not only is the second passage easier to read, it's correctly punctuated. Remember to ditch the dialogue tag when giving the character an action. If you use a dialogue tag, there should be no action. Change it up so it doesn't get stale. No one wants to read: he said, she said, he said, he said, she said over and over again.

Time for your exercises!

#1:
Write a few quick paragraphs of dialogue with four characters: Paul, Mike, Anna, and Frank. Start each sentence the same way, pay no attention to punctuation, and no attention to pronoun usage.

Use the tips above and this post to correct your writing. Feel free to send it to me if you want someone to check it.

#2:
Using the ideas above, craft one line of dialogue for each of the following:
  1. Starts with an action, ends with dialogue.
  2. Uses a dialogue tag at the beginning.
  3. Uses a dialogue tag at the end.
  4. Break the dialogue with an action.
  5. Stars with dialogue, ends with action.
  6. No dialogue tag; no action tag.
  7. Interrupted speech (remember your em-dash!)
  8. Trailing off of speech (don't forget the ellipsis!)
  9. Starts with action, then has dialogue, then another action
You may feel free to post your attempts in the comments below.

What do you think? Helpful?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

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