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AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 06:15 PM
Got some feedback on my manuscript from a beta in regards to the reader getting lost in dialog without attributions. I find this happens to me also a LOT of times when I'm reading books.

Seems like there are several ways to fix it.....


direct attribution (which gets tiresome for everyone after a while)
attribution by name of other character in 2-person dialog i.e. "Sue, you know that I've wanted to kill you for years."
Attribution by context - i.e. character talking about how he wants to kill Sue "I think that slow poison would be the most pleasureable."
What else? And, is there a rule of thumb on how long you can go with a dialog without attribution? Seems like it's pretty dependent on the reader.

Mr Flibble
01-13-2011, 06:30 PM
Action tags?

AllHorses wrinkled his nose. 'Ewww attribution!'

As for how long - it really depends on the distinctiveness of the voices and what they are talking about. But with only two people present, um, how long is a piece of string? The rule of thumb is 'attribute before the reader gets confused', which kinda depends on the reader :D

Bufty
01-13-2011, 06:31 PM
The best way to solve this problem is really to read more and see how successful authors do it. It's writing without clarity that is your problem.

And if it happens a lot when you're reading books it could be you are reading the wrong books.

seun
01-13-2011, 06:35 PM
Funny this should come up now. I skimmed through a Tess Gerritsen book earlier. At a random page, I read a conversation between two people that had almost no attribution. It worked due to the dialogue and characters. Even without reading the preceding chapters, I knew who was speaking after the first line of the scene. It worked perfectly.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 06:35 PM
The best way to solve this problem is really to read more and see how successful authors do it. It's writing without clarity that is your problem.

And if it happens a lot when you're reading books it could be you are reading the wrong books.

Yeah - those Pulitzer prize winnning novelists are certainly not the right ones to study.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 06:43 PM
Funny this should come up now. I skimmed through a Tess Gerritsen book earlier. At a random page, I read a conversation between two people that had almost no attribution. It worked due to the dialogue and characters. Even without reading the preceding chapters, I knew who was speaking after the first line of the scene. It worked perfectly.

That's interesting - I'll have to check out that author.

As far as I knew my dialog attributions were working - I only had one reader complain about it - and her complaint was more against most dialog she reads now, not just mine. The other 8 or so other betas didn't have any trouble apparently.
<<shrug>>

This is something I would like to study more - but even the best authors have moments where I get a little lost if dialog goes on too long without some type of reference.

zegota
01-13-2011, 06:46 PM
How many people are speaking? If it's more than two, nearly every line needs to be attributed. Mix "he said, she said" in with action tags ("I hope you die!" Mary made a cutting motion across her neck.). I wouldn't worry about overdoing it. I seriously can't recall ever making the comment "You have too many dialogue tags," (though I can imagine such a situation) while I've often made the comment "You have not enough dialogue tags."

EDIT: If it's only two, and they trade back and forth, you don't need to worry as much. Readers should be able to follow. You should be putting in some action every once in a while anyway (I love dialogue, but pages with nothing else tend to wear readers down), and you can throw in a ("he said") near any action blocks.

KyraDune
01-13-2011, 06:54 PM
Got some feedback on my manuscript from a beta in regards to the reader getting lost in dialog without attributions. I find this happens to me also a LOT of times when I'm reading books.

Seems like there are several ways to fix it.....


direct attribution (which gets tiresome for everyone after a while)
attribution by name of other character in 2-person dialog i.e. "Sue, you know that I've wanted to kill you for years."
Attribution by context - i.e. character talking about how he wants to kill Sue "I think that slow poison would be the most pleasureable."
What else? And, is there a rule of thumb on how long you can go with a dialog without attribution? Seems like it's pretty dependent on the reader.


I don't know about anybody else, but when authors do #2, it makes me want to throw things (like the book). My best advice is to mix tags with action, so that sometimes you have 'she said' while others times you might show what's she's doing while she says it. Personally, I wouldn't go more than four lines without some kind of tag.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 06:59 PM
So I guess you are saying #2 is #2......? :-p

I think it can work as long as it's not overused and it is like a natural dialog. When most people are talking to someone else they might use the name if they want to get someone's attention or emphasize a point.

Susan Littlefield
01-13-2011, 07:42 PM
I don't know about anybody else, but when authors do #2, it makes me want to throw things (like the book). My best advice is to mix tags with action, so that sometimes you have 'she said' while others times you might show what's she's doing while she says it. Personally, I wouldn't go more than four lines without some kind of tag.

Why such a strong reaction over using a name in dialogue?

dangerousbill
01-13-2011, 07:43 PM
direct attribution (which gets tiresome for everyone after a while)

direct attribution
attribution by name of other character in 2-person dialog i.e. "Sue, you know that I've wanted to kill you for years."
Attribution by context - i.e. character talking about how he wants to kill Sue "I think that slow poison would be the most pleasureable."

What else?

4. By the use of 'beats', or snippets of action that are going on at the same time as the dialogue. eg.

"In the meantime, I'm going to make coffee." He took the beans from the cupboard.
He looked up from the bloody corpse. "Looks like she's been dead for less than a day."

Susan Littlefield
01-13-2011, 07:45 PM
So I guess you are saying #2 is #2......? :-p

I think it can work as long as it's not overused and it is like a natural dialog. When most people are talking to someone else they might use the name if they want to get someone's attention or emphasize a point.

It works fine, especially when used sparingly in long pieces of dialogue, especially in heated discussions. That's how people talk at times.

Devil Ledbetter
01-13-2011, 07:46 PM
Why such a strong reaction over using a name in dialogue?
If I may answer, because it's unnatural. People rarely call each other by name in the middle of dialogue. ETA because we cross posted. Sparingly. Yes.

A good guideline for attribution is the reader should be able to follow who's talking, and it shouldn't be tedious.

maestrowork
01-13-2011, 08:45 PM
Using names in dialogue is fine as long as it sounds natural:

"Mary Sue, you come back here, now!"

People don't usually use names in casual conversation especially between two friends: "Mary, don't you look lovely today."


But if you do that a lot and only for attribution purposes, then no:

"Mary Sue, how are you today?"
"I'm doing great, Gary Stu. And you?"
"Not bad. Here comes Joe Average."
"Hey, Joe, it's a great day, isn't it?"
"It sure is, Gary Stu."


Back to the OP... if you write the character and dialogue right, often you don't need tags or attributions. We gather from the voices and context who is saying what. When more than two characters are speaking, seldom do they take equal turns talking, so the occasional tag is fine. You can also use action. I'd suggest keeping the "name" thing to the minimal.

ChaosTitan
01-13-2011, 08:51 PM
4. By the use of 'beats', or snippets of action that are going on at the same time as the dialogue. eg.

"In the meantime, I'm going to make coffee." He took the beans from the cupboard.
He looked up from the bloody corpse. "Looks like she's been dead for less than a day."

I'll add:

5. By making each character's dialogue, inflections, and word choice as unique as possible (without overdoing it). Real people don't speak exactly the same, so your characters shouldn't all sound alike.

rainsmom
01-13-2011, 09:29 PM
4 and 5 are my favorites.

Last year I read a debut novel by someone who ran an unrelated-to-writing forum I enjoy. I loved the setting of her novel, and thought it would be a fun read. Several times I had to stop and reread pages because it wasn't clear who was speaking. One time the back-and-forth had gone on for so long without attribution that I had to actually COUNT to figure out who was talking.

I finished the book, but I won't be buying another. It bugged me that much.

Devil Ledbetter
01-13-2011, 09:33 PM
4 and 5 are my favorites.

Last year I read a debut novel by someone who ran an unrelated-to-writing forum I enjoy. I loved the setting of her novel, and thought it would be a fun read. Several times I had to stop and reread pages because it wasn't clear who was speaking. One time the back-and-forth had gone on for so long without attribution that I had to actually COUNT to figure out who was talking.

I finished the book, but I won't be buying another. It bugged me that much.That was me reading Angela's Ashes. Great book, lousy dialogue attribution.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 09:36 PM
4 and 5 are my favorites.

Last year I read a debut novel by someone who ran an unrelated-to-writing forum I enjoy. I loved the setting of her novel, and thought it would be a fun read. Several times I had to stop and reread pages because it wasn't clear who was speaking. One time the back-and-forth had gone on for so long without attribution that I had to actually COUNT to figure out who was talking.

I finished the book, but I won't be buying another. It bugged me that much.

Makes me wonder what the editors are doing.

ChaosTitan
01-13-2011, 09:55 PM
Makes me wonder what the editors are doing.

It's an editor's job to point out the flaws and make suggestions on changes.

It's the author's job to actually implement those changes in the manuscript.

maestrowork
01-13-2011, 09:57 PM
It does make me wonder why the author insisted on writing pages of dialogue without any attributions.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 10:00 PM
It's an editor's job to point out the flaws and make suggestions on changes.

It's the author's job to actually implement those changes in the manuscript.

Isn't this a flaw in a manuscript? If the reader can't follow the dialog?

ChaosTitan
01-13-2011, 10:04 PM
Isn't this a flaw in a manuscript? If the reader can't follow the dialog?

Absolutely. It's possible that the editor pointed this out to the author as an area to fix. But authors don't have to take every single suggestion that an editor makes, and sometimes authors ignore things that really will make a book better.

My point was that we can't always blame the editor for a poorly edited book, without seeing the work the editor actually did and comparing it with what the author chose to listen to. All we see is the finished product.

AllHorsesPost
01-13-2011, 10:08 PM
Absolutely. It's possible that the editor pointed this out to the author as an area to fix. But authors don't have to take every single suggestion that an editor makes, and sometimes authors ignore things that really will make a book better.

My point was that we can't always blame the editor for a poorly edited book, without seeing the work the editor actually did and comparing it with what the author chose to listen to. All we see is the finished product.

Thanks for clarifying.

When I was a journalist the editor's word was law.

ChaosTitan
01-13-2011, 10:10 PM
Thanks for clarifying.

When I was a journalist the editor's word was law.

No problem. :) Publishing is an odd little world, especially fiction.

rainsmom
01-14-2011, 12:13 AM
It does make me wonder why the author insisted on writing pages of dialogue without any attributions.

In this case, I'd guess it was to foster a quicker pace and sense of urgency. They were trying to solve a murder. Clock was ticking.

I can see the point -- writing rapid-fire sentences without attribution or action *does* make for faster reading. But clarity is king, in my opinion, and I think the work could have stood to have a couple of short actions like "He leaned forward" (or other things people do when having intense conversation) just to keep the speaker clear.

Susan Littlefield
01-14-2011, 12:46 AM
If I may answer, because it's unnatural. People rarely call each other by name in the middle of dialogue. ETA because we cross posted. Sparingly. Yes.

A good guideline for attribution is the reader should be able to follow who's talking, and it shouldn't be tedious.

Thank you. And, yes I see we cross-posted and agree on the using it sparingly.

Susan Littlefield
01-14-2011, 12:48 AM
Using names in dialogue is fine as long as it sounds natural:

"Mary Sue, you come back here, now!"



Excactly what I am talking about. This kind of brings back memories of when my mother used my full name in a sentence...I knew I was in big trouble.

maestrowork
01-14-2011, 12:50 AM
Susan Littlefield, you ought to know!

RobJ
01-14-2011, 01:00 AM
Why such a strong reaction over using a name in dialogue?

If I may answer, because it's unnatural. People rarely call each other by name in the middle of dialogue. ETA because we cross posted. Sparingly. Yes.

A good guideline for attribution is the reader should be able to follow who's talking, and it shouldn't be tedious.

Using names in dialogue is fine as long as it sounds natural:

"Mary Sue, you come back here, now!"

People don't usually use names in casual conversation especially between two friends: "Mary, don't you look lovely today."

But if you do that a lot and only for attribution purposes, then no:

"Mary Sue, how are you today?"
"I'm doing great, Gary Stu. And you?"
"Not bad. Here comes Joe Average."
"Hey, Joe, it's a great day, isn't it?"
"It sure is, Gary Stu."


I agree that using names to the level in the above example sounds unnatural most of the time. There are rare exceptions when even using names as often as in that example can sound natural, though they're relatively rare. One such is the following, from Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day:

She came in holding a large vase of flowers and said with a smile:

‘Mr Stevens, I thought these would brighten your parlour a little.’

‘I beg your pardon, Miss Kenton?’

‘It seemed such a pity your room should be so dark and cold, Mr Stevens, when it’s such bright sunshine outside. I thought these would enliven things a little.’

‘That’s very kind of you, Miss Kenton.’

‘It’s a shame more sun doesn’t get in here. The walls are even a little damp, are they not, Mr Stevens?’

I turned back to my accounts, saying: ‘Merely condensation, I believe, Miss Kenton.’

She put her vase down on the table in front of me, then glancing around my pantry again said: ‘If you wish, Mr Stevens, I might bring in some more cuttings for you.’

‘Miss Kenton, I appreciate your kindness. But this is not a room of entertainment. I am happy to have distractions kept to a minimum.’

‘But surely, Mr Stevens, there is no need to keep your room so stark and bereft of colour.’

‘It has served me perfectly well this far as it is, Miss Kenton, though I appreciate your thoughts. In fact, since you are here, there was a certain matter I wished to raise with you.’

‘Oh, really, Mr Stevens.’

‘Yes, Miss Kenton, just a small matter. I happened to be walking past the kitchen yesterday when I heard you calling to someone named William.’

‘Is that so, Mr Stevens?’

‘Indeed, Miss Kenton. I did hear you call several times for “William”. May I ask who it was that you were addressing by that name?’

‘Why, Mr Stevens, I should think I was addressing your father. There being no other Williams in this house, I take it.’This constant use of names is consistent with how we might expect these two characters to address each other given the time period and their status, so in the context of the novel it sounds natural.

Susan Littlefield
01-14-2011, 01:06 AM
Susan Littlefield, you ought to know!

:roll:

Susan Littlefield
01-14-2011, 01:07 AM
Rob, excellent example!

lizbeth dylan
01-14-2011, 01:10 AM
I'm going to keep watching this thread because this is one of the things I'm working on right now.

I personally don't mind reading a page or two of dialogue with little or no tags and often find myself skipping over the tags and just reading what's in quotations...I like reading dialogue.

So I'm finding when I write, it's hard putting in tags here and there so it doesn't bog down. I tend to write it all out in the first draft as they say it, then add tags on the edits so the back & forth becomes clearer.


Also, attribution by name-dropping could be a good characteristic for certain characters. I personally don't use people's names alot in conversations, but always notice it in people who do...especially the ones who do it in nearly every sentence.

Juliette Wade
01-14-2011, 01:20 AM
If I may add,

6. By supplying internalization from the POV character.



The Ishiguro example is great. Status makes a huge difference in how people address each other (further thoughts and examples here (http://talktoyouniverse.blogspot.com/2011/01/point-of-view-triangulating-pronouns.html)).

ccv707
01-14-2011, 01:52 AM
If the writer captures the particular cadences of each character's speech, this likely wouldn't be as large a problem as AllHorsesPost may feel. However, if we're talking about a scene where only two characters are talking, I have to believe it's more of the reader's fault for not being able to follow along.

maestrowork
01-14-2011, 02:08 AM
One such is the following, from Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day:

This constant use of names is consistent with how we might expect these two characters to address each other given the time period and their status, so in the context of the novel it sounds natural.

It's natural for that period and that class of people, in the context of that story.

That scene probably wouldn't work well at a police precinct in Brooklyn.

quicklime
01-14-2011, 02:20 AM
Yeah - those Pulitzer prize winnning novelists are certainly not the right ones to study.


it seems bufty was trying to help, and offered that as a single possibility; I'm not sure he did anything to deserve that sort of douchery.


since you seem big on the assumption someone with awards is clearly a genius, Hills like White Elephants comes to mind as a story that is basically ten pages of dialogue (if I remember correctly). Go see what Ernest did. When you're through, come on back, and remember if you're seeking input there are constructive and "other" ways of soliciting it.

quicklime
01-14-2011, 02:28 AM
i will say as an add-on I recently read a Koontz book where the dialogue got long and tedious, and because of that, it got confusing (after three pages with few or no breaks from beats, narration, scenery, action, etc. I was losing concentration out of boredom as much as anything, perhaps)...a few tags would have helped, but the other thing is when people talk, they rarely do it and it alone--the characters were just exchanging lines instead.

In your work, what are your folks doing? Toeing the ground? Cracking an egg for breakfast? biting their nails, or resisting the urge to grab a pencil and stab the pretentious windbag in the throat? lighting a cigarette? looking into the darkness?

Storyteller5
01-14-2011, 02:30 AM
I am reading Self Editing for Fiction Writers (Browne & King) which had a chapter talking about this. It discusses said vs exclaimed/yelled/etc and attribution/tags vs beats. It's a good read. :)

Buffysquirrel
01-14-2011, 03:47 AM
I hate the 'he said she said' game where you have to put your finger on the page and go 'okay, that's x speaking, so that's y speaking, so that's x again....' One time when I was doing that, I discovered the author had left a line out. No wonder I was confused.

What was worse was No Country For Old Men, where there were several male POVs and McCarthy would start a scene in one POV but only use pronouns for about half a page, so you couldn't be sure which POV you were in. The number of times I had to read back.

Similarly, in The Road, I wasn't always sure whether the father or the son was talking. It was a tad annoying.

All the suggestions here are good.

AllHorsesPost
01-14-2011, 04:40 AM
When I read The Road I was so depressed I didn't care who was talking.

heza
01-14-2011, 10:22 PM
Also, attribution by name-dropping could be a good characteristic for certain characters. I personally don't use people's names alot in conversations, but always notice it in people who do...especially the ones who do it in nearly every sentence.


I agree that it can really add to a scene when used right.

Personally, I say people's names if I'm trying get their attention--they're standing far away and I'm calling to them or my statement or question is meant specifically for them in a group of other people who are also listening. In those cases, it's totally natural to name drop.

I don't know about other people... but when someone uses my name IRL in an unnatural manner, it really unnerves me. When everything they say to you has your name in it, it feels like a power play, and if your fictional conversation is a power play, then you definitely want to show that as much as possible through the dialog.



It's natural for that period and that class of people, in the context of that story.

That scene probably wouldn't work well at a police precinct in Brooklyn.


I agree that the casual back and forth name dropping, as styled in the TROTD example, would not fly in a precinct, but I just want to add that situation and players are as important to whether it works as location and period are.

It could work given the proper set up. Say you have a tense moment between an FBI investigator and a precinct detective--the FBI guy might repeat the other's rank and name in an effort to remind him he's in lesser authority. If you have a really cool, collected suspect in interrogation, he might keep repeating the detectives' names to throw them off balance. And it doesn't necessarily have to be an antagonistic interaction; maybe it's a rookie trying to ingratiate himself with the top-dog cop on the beat and he keeps saying his name over and over again when he talks to him because he's so star struck.

Hannibal Lecter repeats Clarice's name a lot in the Silence of the Lambs series, and that helps establish both a weird familiarity and a formal distance.

maestrowork
01-14-2011, 11:14 PM
Hannibal Lecter repeats Clarice's name a lot in the Silence of the Lambs series, and that helps establish both a weird familiarity and a formal distance.

I think it's just to establish how creepy Lecter is. :)

AllHorsesPost
01-14-2011, 11:21 PM
I think it's just to establish how creepy Lecter is. :)

LOL.......

However, in dialog between lovers, the use of a name can be very much like a caress.........

maestrowork
01-14-2011, 11:22 PM
LOL.......

However, in dialog between lovers, the use of a name can be very much like a caress.........

Eeekkkkk. Not for me. I never say their names, especially not during intimate moments. That's just creepy.

AllHorsesPost
01-14-2011, 11:26 PM
Eeekkkkk. Not for me. I never say their names, especially not during intimate moments. That's just creepy.

There was a time in my life I may have had trouble remembering the names.........:evil

maestrowork
01-14-2011, 11:33 PM
There was a time I didn't even know their names... :evil

mirandashell
01-14-2011, 11:35 PM
There has been a fashion recently in office situations to repeat the name of the person you are speaking to. Some bright spark thought it would bring the two parties closer, establish a bond. Errrr.... no.

It annoys the crap out of me. A recent dialogue between me and someone I'd never spoken to before:



Hi Miranda,

I wonder, Miranda, could you tell me what time the engineer is due? You see, Miranda, I do have an appointment on that day and it would be useful to know, Miranda, what time I should be here. Thanks, Miranda, that's very helpful.



By the end of that, my eye was twitching......

AllHorsesPost
01-14-2011, 11:35 PM
There was a time I didn't even know their names... :evil

:ROFL:

(me too)

mirandashell
01-14-2011, 11:39 PM
:ROFL:

(me too)


If I said that, you'd call me a tart..........





:ROFL:

AllHorsesPost
01-14-2011, 11:47 PM
If I said that, you'd call me a tart..........





:ROFL:
I usually just say ho

IceCreamEmpress
01-15-2011, 12:22 AM
Don't go nuts with the beats, though.

I reviewed a mystery recently--the umpty-umpth in a series from a major publisher, too--that was too full of beats.

I swear, every page was like this:

"You don't look well." Susan's face wrinkled as she looked at her mother.
"I'm just fine." Granny O'Leary banged the table for emphasis.
Susan straightened out the old lady's cardigan. "Mother, you need to take it easier. You do too much for someone in her nineties."
Granny pursed her lips. "Don't lecture me!"
"I'm not." Susan busied herself with arranging the flowers.
Nurse Johnson shoved the door open. "It's bingo time, Mrs. O'Leary!"
Granny frowned. "I'm visiting with my daughter, Nurse."
"I can see that." The nurse's smile was hardly believable. "But the other residents are waiting for you."

And on, and on, and on. It made me tired, what with the constant fidgeting.

AllHorsesPost
01-15-2011, 12:36 AM
That is over the top.

heza
01-15-2011, 01:47 AM
I think it's just to establish how creepy Lecter is. :)

I think that he eats people is what establishes him as creepy.

AllHorsesPost
01-15-2011, 02:00 AM
I think this deserves another thread. The art of creepiness.

maestrowork
01-15-2011, 02:45 AM
If I said that, you'd call me a tart..........





:ROFL:

I'd just say, "Hello there..."

maestrowork
01-15-2011, 02:47 AM
Don't go nuts with the beats, though.

I reviewed a mystery recently--the umpty-umpth in a series from a major publisher, too--that was too full of beats.

I swear, every page was like this:

"You don't look well." Susan's face wrinkled as she looked at her mother.
"I'm just fine." Granny O'Leary banged the table for emphasis.
Susan straightened out the old lady's cardigan. "Mother, you need to take it easier. You do too much for someone in her nineties."
Granny pursed her lips. "Don't lecture me!"
"I'm not." Susan busied herself with arranging the flowers.
Nurse Johnson shoved the door open. "It's bingo time, Mrs. O'Leary!"
Granny frowned. "I'm visiting with my daughter, Nurse."
"I can see that." The nurse's smile was hardly believable. "But the other residents are waiting for you."

And on, and on, and on. It made me tired, what with the constant fidgeting.


Ugh.

Unfortunately, that is not uncommon. I've read enough manuscripts and published stories where there is action or internal thoughts in EVERY line of dialogue. Drives me crazy.

Don't do that.

ccv707
01-15-2011, 09:14 AM
I hate the 'he said she said' game where you have to put your finger on the page and go 'okay, that's x speaking, so that's y speaking, so that's x again....'

I'd say that has less to do with the lack of dialogue tags than with the fact that the dialogue was not written as well as it should have been. If two people are talking to each other, two people that are written as two different people, it shouldn't be difficult to follow unless it's not done well enough.

But I agree that it sucks when I'm reading a book and I realize the dialogue feels all mixed up and you go back to count the lines...ugh. An easy way to avoid this (which I think happens more with longer conversations) is to understand that people generally don't just stand still and talk for five minutes. Showing a character's "blink" or flinch is a good way to give insight into how the person feels about what they're hearing without having to spell it out.

MikeGrant
01-15-2011, 04:50 PM
It's easy to tie yourself up in knots with this kind of thing. All you need to do is to make sure the reader knows who's speaking each line. If you're in a back-and-forth between two people, you'll barely need any dialogue tags at all. If there are more participants in the scene, then a combination of dialogue tags and scene direction will keep the reader informed.