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View Full Version : Dialog - He said, she said and paragraphs.


chuckgalle
01-18-2011, 06:56 AM
I know the rules I believe, but I'm seeking opinions here. My WIP is a mystery, you know, murder. I'm pretty adept at not using "he said" and variations of "said", just getting the reader started and letting the diaplogue flow maybe eight, ten lines, then dropping in a nuancing verb, "sneered", "murmured", something. I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. I see some pretty heavy hitters do that sort of thing - Doctorow, e.g. I wonder what folks here think. Any comments?

IWannaWrite
01-18-2011, 06:58 AM
I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. That might be confusing to me.

MarkA9
01-18-2011, 07:18 AM
Being an "old schooler" (traditionalist?), I believe that following the path of least confusion is the best way for me. Certainly, successful guys such as Doctorow, et al, can do whatever they please. Like you, I to try to keep those "tag lines" to a minimum and vary them whenever possible ("murmered," "chided," etc.) I still think that correct choice of these words helps create the mood and tone of a scene. "And I appreciate your ideas," I complimented.

IceCreamEmpress
01-18-2011, 07:19 AM
I'm pretty adept at not using "he said" and variations of "said"

There's no reason not to use "said". Avoiding "said" is like avoiding "the".

blacbird
01-18-2011, 07:34 AM
I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. I see some pretty heavy hitters do that sort of thing - Doctorow, e.g. I wonder what folks here think. Any comments?

I'd like to see your specific examples of this being done. The only times I've seen it, and it's so rare I can't recall specific instances, is to convey the effect of a bunch of short, maybe argumentative stuff being said by several speakers more or less at once. For ordinary dialogue, as a reader it would drive me nuts.

Among other things, the convention about dialogue is so firmly established that you really have to come up with some compelling reason to violate it. And "I also feel comfortable" writing it isn't very compelling. Your reader almost certainly won't feel comfortable reading it. Massive slugs of long paragraphs just plain tend to be harder on the eyes to read through, and forcing your dialogue into that format would only make things worse. And really, you're not saving all that much paper space. I'd bet 99% of the editors exposed to it will suggest/demand that you turn it into normal format. If they even read it, that is.

Stanmiller
01-18-2011, 07:49 AM
I know the rules I believe, but I'm seeking opinions here. My WIP is a mystery, you know, murder. I'm pretty adept at not using "he said" and variations of "said", just getting the reader started and letting the diaplogue flow maybe eight, ten lines, then dropping in a nuancing verb, "sneered", "murmured", something. I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. I see some pretty heavy hitters do that sort of thing - Doctorow, e.g. I wonder what folks here think. Any comments?

Chuck,
The nice thing about he said, she said (along with asked and replied) is that they do the job of showing which character speaks as unobtrusively as possible. It's said they disappear on the page, which minimizes authorial intrusion and allows the reader to become part of the conversation. Words like murmured, sneered (which is visual, not speech) and others tend to break that illusion.

Used only when special emphasis is needed, tags other than said can work well. But most of the time, emphasis can be shown with the dialog itself, rather than a tag.

And dialog by different characters in the same paragraph is downright confusing. Doesn't matter who writes it.

Stan

ccv707
01-18-2011, 08:37 AM
Chuck, there's no reason for you not to place strings of dialogue together like that, but hear this: whatever you do in your story should have a precise reason behind it. Placing three or four sentences, or nine or ten, just because you want it to go a particular length is rather arbitrary. If you're going to do this, you'll want to read other writers who do this to give yourself a taste of how it's done well. James Clavell does it in Shogun, so does Philip Roth, and Roberto Bolano, I believe. And understand that a paragraph stops because the idea it's covering is through being covered, not because you think it's long or short enough. There's nothing wrong with having short two or three word paragraphs, dialogue or no.

Stanmiller already hit the nail on the head about tags. If you write it real enough, it will be obvious to the reader how said character is speaking and who is speaking it. Remember that each character should speak like themselves, not you or each other. Character A might say, "We should try to get out of here", while B would say, "We're going. Now!" It's a matter of who the speaker really is. If you capture these cadences, it will give the reader subtle hints into the character while helping them know who is saying what without unnecessary denotations on the page.

Birol
01-18-2011, 08:42 AM
Chuck, what is the rule you think you know?

seun
01-18-2011, 01:03 PM
You're not writing to be comfortable. You're writing for your reader. Are they going to be comfortable? Are they going to keep reading?

Sentosa
01-18-2011, 01:33 PM
For ordinary dialogue, as a reader it would drive me nuts.

Among other things, the convention about dialogue is so firmly established that you really have to come up with some compelling reason to violate it. And "I also feel comfortable" writing it isn't very compelling. Your reader almost certainly won't feel comfortable reading it. Massive slugs of long paragraphs just plain tend to be harder on the eyes to read through, and forcing your dialogue into that format would only make things worse. And really, you're not saving all that much paper space. I'd bet 99% of the editors exposed to it will suggest/demand that you turn it into normal format. If they even read it, that is.
Right on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I might accidentally buy a book with strange formatting such as Chuck suggests, but it's highly unlikely I would finish the book, and I would not have the author on my list of buy agains.

Chuck, IMHO, you can only write in a way where you feel comfortable (ignoring others) if you are not planning on having your work commercially published.

In other cases, the readers comfort is more important than yours, and standing between you and the reader are people called agents and publishers.

If you persist, all I can say is Lots of luck.:Shrug::ROFL:

dpaterso
01-18-2011, 01:35 PM
I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words.
The obvious thing about starting a new paragraph for a new speaker is that this tells/warns the reader that someone else may be speaking now. Wouldn't doing things as you suggest above require you to use more speech tags to tell the reader another character is speaking in the same paragraph?

Methinks you're trying to invent a square wheel, when the round wheel is already rolling smoothly.

-Derek

bonitakale
01-18-2011, 03:40 PM
the reader's comfort is more important than yours

Oh, God, someone embroider this and frame it. Please!

I find having different speakers in the same paragraph incredibly confusing. In fact, most of the time, I prefer a new paragraph for a new actor, not just a new speaker.

(Granted, that's not possible when two people are wrestling.)

Andy threw himself on Mark's sofa like one exhausted from hay-making. "I've been writing all day, and I've only gotten my main character from Tuesday morning to Tuesday afternoon."

Mark took his coffee cup to the window. He stared out at the dirty snow and the dirty cars.

"So, what have you been doing? Heard from Sue yet?" Andy scrabbled on the coffee table for the travel section of the Times.

dgaughran
01-18-2011, 03:42 PM
This is where reading your text aloud really helps. Especially with dialogue, your ear can pick up things that sound clunky/unnatural that you might miss on a simple read.

Devil Ledbetter
01-18-2011, 05:05 PM
Every time a reader has to study a paragraph to figure out who said what, you yank them out of the fictive dream. Make it easy for them.

Maybe there are some eggheads out there who like to struggle over "difficult" prose because it makes them feel smart, or whatever. This isn't who I write for.

chuckgalle
01-18-2011, 05:58 PM
Thanks everyone, for you time, thoughts and noticing this thread and responding. Much food for thought, andit is likely I'm not so sure I really know what he rules are, so I'll check that out right now. Thanks again.

AllHorsesPost
01-18-2011, 06:02 PM
Chuck,
The nice thing about he said, she said (along with asked and replied) is that they do the job of showing which character speaks as unobtrusively as possible. It's said they disappear on the page, which minimizes authorial intrusion and allows the reader to become part of the conversation. Words like murmured, sneered (which is visual, not speech) and others tend to break that illusion.

Used only when special emphasis is needed, tags other than said can work well. But most of the time, emphasis can be shown with the dialog itself, rather than a tag.

And dialog by different characters in the same paragraph is downright confusing. Doesn't matter who writes it.

Stan

Agreed. In my college creative writing classes and journalism school using any word other than "said" was grounds to be taken out against the wall and shot.:tongue

You can fudge a little with some other words, but Stan's right, it does minimize authorial intrusion and disappears.

Juvela Obi
01-20-2011, 02:25 AM
You're not writing to be comfortable. You're writing for your reader. Are they going to be comfortable? Are they going to keep reading?

Wow, less than halfway down the first page, and I've already found someone who said something to peeve me. While yes, it needs to be interesting for the readers for it to get published and sold, saying you aren't writing to be comfortable is, in my opinion, a very bad bit of advice. If you aren't comfortable with what you are writing, you will produce crap. Every time. This is why I will never write a lusty romance; my skin would crawl the entire way, I might puke a few times, and it will show in the finished product. The readers won't like it because my personal severe distaste will come across in the writing. Keep your audience in mind, but make sure you find the line of comfort for you that you are unwilling to cross. Every writer has a personal style. You may have to find some leeway and bend a bit to get a really brilliant piece of work, but make sure you stay true to your style.

JohnnyGottaKeyboard
01-20-2011, 02:38 AM
I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. I see some pretty heavy hitters do that sort of thing - Doctorow, e.g. I wonder what folks here think. Any comments?
I'd like to see your specific examples of this being done. I was hoping someone would comply with this request. A few of you seemed to be saying you'd seen it. I can't even imagine how it would look on the page. (Or, I can imagine... And the image is not a pretty one.)

maestrowork
01-20-2011, 02:45 AM
Every writer has a personal style. You may have to find some leeway and bend a bit to get a really brilliant piece of work, but make sure you stay true to your style.

Don't confuse style with clarity and readability. These "rules" (guidelines, really) are there to make it easier. It's not there to make you uncomfortable or stifle your voice and style.

Personal style doesn't mean you can just do whatever you want without regard to the readers, to the industry standards, or guidelines. If the writer says, "I want to use *!@#@ as quotation marks and CAPITALIZE every word and not use even one dialogue tag. It's my style!" I'd just laugh and say, "Good luck."

richcapo
01-20-2011, 08:40 AM
And dialog by different characters in the same paragraph is downright confusing. Doesn't matter who writes it.Safran Foer does that in Everything is Illuminated, and it drives me bonkers. He also largely writes dialogue in italics, which also aggravates me.

_Richard

Kenra Daniels
01-20-2011, 06:04 PM
Just because established Big Name authors occasionally veer outside industry standards doesn't mean a new writer can get by with it. IMHO, every time a new writer disregards the long established conventions, they decrease the likelihood they will ever be published, and if they ever are, they might be condemning themselves to low sales.

The majority of readers read for entertainment. Not to have to read something several times in order to understand it. Again, that's just my opinion. Personally, if I picked up a book with dialog from several speakers in one paragraph, I wouldn't read past the first conversation. It's just too much work to follow.

As for 'he said' alternatives, IMO, they should be used very sparingly, and only when the tone or emotion of the dialog absolutely cannot be conveyed in another way. I believe those kinds of tags interrupt the story for the reader.

There are a lot of threads here about dialog and tags. If you choose to write more conventional dialog, I'd suggest reading those threads. Lots of great information there.

Susan Littlefield
01-20-2011, 06:42 PM
He said, she said are fine phrases, and so invisible the reader doesn't know they are there.

Winterwind
01-20-2011, 06:48 PM
This is why I will never write a lusty romance; my skin would crawl the entire way, I might puke a few times, and it will show in the finished product.

This made my day!

You have to be comfortable in what you are writing. Whether or not it will be marketable is an issue you will have to deal with when the work is finished.

Bufty
01-20-2011, 06:53 PM
Mosty of the folk who think bending all the rules or creating new styles of punctuation and spelling and whatever usually do so because they haven't sold anything yet, haven't been writing long enough to discover their 'style' and/or think that sort of tomfoolery will give them a saleable one.

....Every writer has a personal style. You may have to find some leeway and bend a bit to get a really brilliant piece of work, but make sure you stay true to your style.

maestrowork
01-20-2011, 07:46 PM
Picasso didn't start bending the rules until he'd mastered his skills and probably painted a thousand still life and portraits, conventional style.

Splendad
01-20-2011, 09:37 PM
I personally love writing dialogue. I seriously recommend NOT varying substitutions for the word "said" strictly for the purpose of variation. If somebody murmurs or chides or preaches or snaps some words, I have to pause, picture them in said decor, then re-hear the words, then decide if it fits, then move to the next sentence (and more often than not, my immediate impression is that the substitution added nothing to the story and readers are smart--they will know when you're just trying to mix it up). "Said" is invisible. Three or four sentences can go, np, without a pronoun ref or char. ref. As long as it's clear as so many have said here.

Ultimately, when people are reading dialogue, they wanna be "there." Don't rob them of that with trickery.

bearilou
01-20-2011, 09:54 PM
Gonna be honest here.

This is why I find the advice 'read what your favorite authors/authors today are doing and follow that' a little problematic at times.

So, I read my favorite author who is thought by most as being a horrible writer but I think he's the cat's pajamas. I start emulating him. I'm now in danger of repeating the same mistakes he makes, not knowing any better. And how has this helped me?

I'm to follow the 'rules'. What are the 'rules'? Read what other authors are doing. And if what they do differs from each other? I'm sorry...what were the 'rules' again? It's just showing me that 'other authors' are getting away with what I want to get away with and can become my battering ram at breaking down the hallowed doors of publishing with my sheer creative writing genius voice!

After all, I was told to read my favorites and see how they're doing it. If they're doing it, it must be ok to do it, too!

Except not. Heavy hitters, big time authors, big names in the biz, even the classics, they are what and who they are because they have staying power. Proven sales under their belt. He has the big name and can get away with that. I'm a no one (at this point. you just wait [shakes fist]), I need to know what the writing conventions and accepted standards that will get the agent/editor to read past the first paragraph and prove to them I know the craft.

[takes a breath, has some coffee]

Splendad
01-20-2011, 10:14 PM
Gonna be honest here.

This is why I find the advice 'read what your favorite authors/authors today are doing and follow that' a little problematic at times.

So, I read my favorite author who is thought by most as being a horrible writer but I think he's the cat's pajamas. I start emulating him. I'm now in danger of repeating the same mistakes he makes, not knowing any better. And how has this helped me?

I'm to follow the 'rules'. What are the 'rules'? Read what other authors are doing. And if what they do differs from each other? I'm sorry...what were the 'rules' again? It's just showing me that 'other authors' are getting away with what I want to get away with and can become my battering ram at breaking down the hallowed doors of publishing with my sheer creative writing genius voice!

After all, I was told to read my favorites and see how they're doing it. If they're doing it, it must be ok to do it, too!

Except not. Heavy hitters, big time authors, big names in the biz, even the classics, they are what and who they are because they have staying power. Proven sales under their belt. He has the big name and can get away with that. I'm a no one (at this point. you just wait [shakes fist]), I need to know what the writing conventions and accepted standards that will get the agent/editor to read past the first paragraph and prove to them I know the craft.

[takes a breath, has some coffee]

Bingo. Regarding rules, I recommend and oldie but goodie (and it's not just for young writers as the title suggests--and the Boston Globe agreed): The Art of Fiction (Notes on Craft for Young Writers) John Gardner, 1983, Random House

Sentosa
01-21-2011, 03:19 AM
You have to be comfortable in what you are writing. Whether or not it will be marketable is an issue you will have to deal with when the work is finished.
My main motivation for writing is fun. Being published is a secondary motivation. I enjoy the challenge of writing the best that I can (which might lead to publication) but getting into print really doesn't drive me.

jaksen
01-21-2011, 05:04 AM
This is why I will never write a lusty romance; my skin would crawl the entire way, I might puke a few times, and it will show in the finished product.


It will show in the finished product?

There might be a few us of here who'd like to read something like that. Horror-romance-erotica with a bit of pukiness thrown in.

Nice. :D

francist44
01-21-2011, 05:13 AM
I believe if you're dialogue is strong/clear enough, it will need few tag-lines and even fewer insertions of the word said. You can also let the action and such make it known as to who is saying what to whom.

I understand that 'said' is supposed to be invisible, but using it demands a ID-attachment, John said, Jane said. So now I'm asking the reader to read words that really don't need to be there, and they add to the word count. Just do a search on the word said in your work and you'll see. Whereas, I also tend to write long stories with lots of dialogue, all those unnecessary words can be a problem.

Brandt
01-22-2011, 12:53 PM
Don't confuse style with clarity and readability.

I agree with this.

Express what you will, but if no one is there to read it, what purpose does it serve? Like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear. If the reader tires of trying to get through a confusing paragraph and puts the book down, the writers expression has failed to be heard. Keep it as reader friendly as possible. You shouldn't have to sacrifice style to do that.

RobJ
01-22-2011, 01:07 PM
I know the rules I believe, but I'm seeking opinions here. My WIP is a mystery, you know, murder. I'm pretty adept at not using "he said" and variations of "said", just getting the reader started and letting the diaplogue flow maybe eight, ten lines, then dropping in a nuancing verb, "sneered", "murmured", something. I also feel comfortable including three or four sentences by both parrties within a paragraph instead of sprawling the page out with new paragraphs every time some one says two or three words. I see some pretty heavy hitters do that sort of thing - Doctorow, e.g. I wonder what folks here think. Any comments?
You've had a lot of general advice in response to your question. For anything specific, you'd need to post an example or two of dialogue from your WIP. Might be worth doing.

Receding Waters
01-23-2011, 12:41 AM
I'm reading a lot of advice and questions regarding the formatting of dialogue, but are accents and dialect off the table in this thread? I may be in the wrong place? I'll just shoot, and if I get shot back I'll know I should search elsewhere...
I have an Irish character. I'm not Irish. I don't know any Irish people that speak in the regional dialect of the island...William is a strong character, but he's freaking me out with the way he sounds semi-Irish on one page, and like a drunken American on the next...Thoughts or pointers on how to remedy this unfortunate issue?

IceCreamEmpress
01-23-2011, 04:00 AM
I have an Irish character. I'm not Irish. I don't know any Irish people that speak in the regional dialect of the island...

There are several quite different regional dialects in Ireland. That said, it's easy enough to find books written by people from the specific region from which your character hails. Even better, audiobooks read by their authors!

Bufty
01-23-2011, 03:59 PM
What is the problem? That you don't know how he is supposed to sound or that you don't know how to put it on the page?

Icecream express covers the first point.

Re the second, it's fairly simple. Let me know he's Irish either through the enquiring and reactions of another character or whatever, then concentrate on word choice and sentence construction in his dialogue, remembering less is best.

Once I know he's Irish and his voice has an attractive lilt or whatever I will interpret his dialogue as such from then on.

Please don't wander into the swamp of phonetic dialogue or think this Irish issue has to be reinforced with every word he utters.

I'm reading a lot of advice and questions regarding the formatting of dialogue, but are accents and dialect off the table in this thread? I may be in the wrong place? I'll just shoot, and if I get shot back I'll know I should search elsewhere...
I have an Irish character. I'm not Irish. I don't know any Irish people that speak in the regional dialect of the island...William is a strong character, but he's freaking me out with the way he sounds semi-Irish on one page, and like a drunken American on the next...Thoughts or pointers on how to remedy this unfortunate issue?

Lil
01-24-2011, 12:05 AM
I recently read an ebook that had not been formatted properly. Short lines of dialogue were run together with only quotation marks separating them.

Gotta say, it was driving me crazy.

Receding Waters
01-24-2011, 11:56 PM
What is the problem? That you don't know how he is supposed to sound or that you don't know how to put it on the page?

Icecream express covers the first point.

Re the second, it's fairly simple. Let me know he's Irish either through the enquiring and reactions of another character or whatever, then concentrate on word choice and sentence construction in his dialogue, remembering less is best.

Once I know he's Irish and his voice has an attractive lilt or whatever I will interpret his dialogue as such from then on.

Please don't wander into the swamp of phonetic dialogue or think this Irish issue has to be reinforced with every word he utters.



Thanks for the advice. It was the getting it on the page part that was tripping me up, but I was doing some more research and I think I'm on the right path now. I'm definitely going for "less is best," and using descriptions early on to cement his inflection/accent. When I read heavily accented writing I recognize the reality of it and that the author did his homework, but it's undo work for me as a reader...so, yes, less is best. Thanks guys.