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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-15-2006, 05:53 PM Penguin Queen (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=7886) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649042", true);
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He said, she said....
I have noticed, whilst reading Agatha Christie of all poeple (I keep my on-again, off-again addiction to her works a strict secret), that most of her dialogues read like parts of a screenplay. They start with,

Inspector Blunt said:

and then you just have the dialogue between the two characters, without any narrative text.

Re-reading my own scenes of dialogue from my almost-finished mystery novel, it struck me for the first time that I have some sort of author-comment after almost every sentence someone says. I have since deleted a few dozen "I said", "she said" etc., but there are quite a lot left, because I describe how a character says something, or what they do with their hands or how they answer (shout, whisper etc.)

Example:

'Now you remember,' Anna's voice said from far away.
I shook my head from side to side, slowly. Something struggled inside my mind, like a fish writhing on dry land.
'The wine cellar,' I said, despite myself.
Anna let out a deep breath.
'The cellar...' She almost whispered it. 'And do you remember what happened in the cellar, Ceri?'
A curtain fell across my mind. Enough, a voice in my head said, enough, enough, I've had enough....
I opened my eyes and looked at her.
She smiled. To my eyes, she looked triumphant. 'You remember.'
'No.'
'You do. I can see it in your eyes. You're starting to remember.'
'No need to sound so ****ing smug about it.'
'You need to know, Ceri.'
'Cerys,' I shot back.
She nodded. 'Cerys. It is much better to know what happened, to remember. It's the only way you can move on, deal with the past, and have your own life.'
'I don't remember having asked your advice. Or having asked you to **** me around and play mind games with me.'
'You need to know,' she repeated.

Are there any (for want of a better word) rules re. how good dialogue shoudl be written, or is this more a matter of personal taste?
I belong on the whole to the school of thought that holds that the more words you can cut without harming the flow of language/narrative, the better (except when I let myself go while posting on here), but I don't know how else to convey the info re body language etc.
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-15-2006, 06:09 PM MikeAngel (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=6565) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649067", true);
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I have often recommended Tom Chiarela's book on Dialogue. There are many others. Here's my take on tags--

You only need a tag for one of two reasons. First, to let the reader know who's speaking, if it isn't clear from the dialogue itself. This last condition is important, and allows one to cut many of the he said/she said from the text. Second, you may want to use a tag as a "beat." That is, as an implied pause in the middle of a sentence. For example:

"I don't think," Roger said, "it's a good idea."

This implies a pause in Roger's speech and also might identify the speaker as Roger if needed.

"I don't think . . . it's a good idea." Is a bit more explicit in hesitation, but does not say who is speaking. Maybe it's not needed. Some writers eschew the ellipsis. I've seen it even at the beginning of a line of dialogue, although I don't use it that way:

" . . . I don't think it's a good idea."

I've evolved into using more action lines with no tags:

Roger massaged his goatee. "I don't think it's a good idea."

This omits the tag and characterizes Roger. It's possible to do this with nearly any tag. It's important to keep the action and the dialogue in the same paragraph.

You might want to look at Hemingway's dialogue--he could go on for a page or many pages without using tags. I try to designate who is speaking by the dialogue itself.

Lastly, except for volume and tone perhaps, I avoid all those "hack" tags. I even think "asked" after a ? is redundant and to be avoided. Replied, chortled, responded, retorted, rejoined, blah blah blah. All hack stuff.
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-15-2006, 06:16 PM Sarah Skilton (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=2395) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649081", true);
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Penguin Queen

Are there any (for want of a better word) rules re. how good dialogue shoudl be written, or is this more a matter of personal taste?
I belong on the whole to the school of thought that holds that the more words you can cut without harming the flow of language/narrative, the better (except when I let myself go while posting on here), but I don't know how else to convey the info re body language etc.


I personally found myself distracted by the extra adverbs/descriptions in your example post. "Almost whispering", "despite myself," "a curtain fell across my mind" "deep breaths" and the opening and closing of eyes all halted the flow for me, and I found myself losing the thread of what the characters were actually saying.

If you edit down as much as possible, as it seems you are considering doing, people will infer the body language, tone of voice, and movements from the words spoken. That's not to say every single character tic, tell or motion needs to go, but ask yourself why you need to express so much movement during dialogue exchanges. Do we absolutely need to picture the way they breathe, glance, and speak between each phrase? I would say no. For me, great, tense dialogue speaks for itself. I struggle with this issue myself, but that's the conclusion I've reached.

Best of luck!
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-15-2006, 06:21 PM MikeAngel (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=6565) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649094", true);
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Example:

'Now you remember,' Anna's voice said from far away.

Anna's voice was distant. "Now, you remember."

I shook my head from side to side, slowly. Something struggled inside my mind, like a fish writhing on dry land.
'The wine cellar,' I said, despite myself.

I shook my head from side to side, slowly. Something struggled inside my mind, like a fish writhing on dry land. "The wine cellar."

[ugh for this simile, but okay]

Anna let out a deep breath.
'The cellar...' She almost whispered it. 'And do you remember what happened in the cellar, Ceri?

Anna exhaled. "The cellar..." she whispered. "Do you remember what happened in the cellar, Ceri?"

A curtain fell across my mind. Enough, a voice in my head said, enough, enough, I've had enough....

Enough, a voice in my head said, enough, enough, I've had enough.

I opened my eyes and looked at her.
I opened my eyes.

She smiled. To my eyes, she looked triumphant. 'You remember.'
She smiled. She looked triumphant. 'You remember.' [single quotations for Brits, double for Yanks]

'No.'

'You do. I can see it in your eyes. You're starting to remember.'

'No need to sound so ****ing smug about it.'

'You need to know, Ceri.'

'Cerys,' I shot back. [hack tag]

"Cerys." My answer was like a rifle shot.

She nodded. 'Cerys. It is much better to know what happened, to remember. It's the only way you can move on, deal with the past, and have your own life.'

'I don't remember having asked your advice. Or having asked you to **** me around and play mind games with me.'

'You need to know,' she repeated. [hack tag]
"You need to know."

"You've said that." (or, "You're repeating yourself." )


--note, "repeated" is redundant because the text SHOWS that it's repeated. But, it's fine to have the other character point that out.

Now, here is the suggested combination with a few more compressions:

Anna's voice was distant. "Now, you remember."

I struggled with images. "The wine cellar."

Anna exhaled, intensity etched on her face. "The cellar..." she whispered. "Do you remember what happened in the cellar, Ceri?"

Enough, a voice in my head said, enough, enough, I've had enough.

I opened my eyes.

She looked triumphant. "You remember!"

"No."

"It's in your eyes. You're starting to remember."

"Why so smug about it?"

"You need to know, Ceri."

"Cerys!" My answer was a rifle shot.

She nodded. "Cerys. It is much better to know what happened. It's the only way you can deal with the past, move on, have your own life."

"Did I ask for your advice? Jack me around? Play mind games?"

"You need to know."

"You've said that."
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Last edited by MikeAngel : 06-15-2006 at 06:35 PM.
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dialogue
Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeAngel

Roger massaged his goatee. "I don't think it's a good idea."


.


I think this works well, but like anything else, it can easily be overdone. When it happens line after line, or just too close together, I find it highly annoying. It gets old very fast.

But when done in moderation, I think it is a good technique.
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-15-2006, 07:08 PM reph (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=12) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649197", true);
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Definitely too many stage directions in the unedited excerpt in the first post. I liked Mike A.'s illustration of how to cut. You might also ask how often you need such a long conversation. Some fiction uses only a few lines of dialogue at a time, with narration in between. If you seldom have a full-page stretch of dialogue, you'll have fewer occasions to worry about the awkwardness of characters who constantly massage their goatees, look over their shoulders, drop their voices to a whisper, cross their arms, brush their hair out of their faces... Too-frequent inconsequential actions make characters (or the writer) look nervous.
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I second Tom Chiarela's book.
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-16-2006, 01:26 AM smalleststar (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=7148) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649876", true);
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For what it's worth, my opinion is to keep the stage directions. They slow the pace of dialogue at the start, where you've got a character being unwillingly dragged through a conversation. They depict the character's internal struggle as she's made to remember, and so I think they add something to the tone. If your dialogue is described like this all the way through your novel, it would make for heavy reading. But you drop the stage directions in the later phase of conversation, and that seems well judged. If it comes and goes like that throughout, then I think it's fine.

That said, I would edit a few phrases: (almost) whispered; (to my eyes) she looked triumphant. And I'm not too keen on: Anna's voice said from far away. Is it just me? I never like voices saying things. People say things, not voices. It's not like the voice has volition. I would go with: Anna said. Her voice was far away.

And I'm with Mike A on finding the fish in the mind business a bit unsavoury.
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http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/images/statusicon/post_old.gif 06-16-2006, 02:17 AM Rod Munch (http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/member.php?u=7989) vbmenu_register("postmenu_649896", true);
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Is 'replied' really hack writing? A character chortling, nodding, grinning or smiling their reply is annoying and at the risk of sounding snobby, it belongs in Mills & Boon books, but replied seems OK.
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My WIP has a whole lot of dialogue, often going on for several pages before there's any substantive break for narration, which has made tag-juggling a fun excercize in how to stress myself out. The word 'said' and action tags are my best friends right now, as are conversations between only two people, because then it's really easy to follow who's saying what even with minimal tagage.*

As far as the whole 'words other than said' debate, the thing I most worry about are tags that draw attention away from the dialogue. My goal is to get readers to follow the conversation-- the tags are just there to make it easier. Strong words like snarled, whined, growled, and panted can easily upstage the dialogue they're attached to and pull readers out of the conversation. I find it easier to imply those things with word choice and syntax. For example, let's say I've got a character who's just run a long distance and is out of breath. Short, choppy sentences and words that favor unvoiced consonants are going to get his breathlessness across much more invisibly than telling readers he 'panted' his dialogue. I think of it as an extension of the 'show, don't tell' rule.

*it's a word now...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rod Munch
Is 'replied' really hack writing? A character chortling, nodding, grinning or smiling their reply is annoying and at the risk of sounding snobby, it belongs in Mills & Boon books, but replied seems OK.


I hope it is, because I abuse the heck out of it. 'rejoined' is over the line for me, but I've got no problem with asked, answered, or replied.

The three you've listed always make me chortle, because you can't really 'grin' something. It's like 'nodding' or 'laughing' something. You can nod and then say something (Bob nodded. "Go ahead."), but barring some sort of advanced head-bobbing code language, you cannot 'nod' something. Same with grin and chortle.

I think the reason that I've got no problem with replied is that just like said, it's a fairly common word that doesn't tell me anything. My eyes slide right over it and back into the dialogue where they belong-- it's only there to complete the sentence (I've seen people use just names as tags before, and talk about jarring: "Hi!" Katie. "Sorry I'm late..." Ugh. Can you imagine reading a whole book like that? In the name of all things lovely, complete the sentence!).

If a tag is necessary after a question, I prefer asked to said because seeing said after question mark is wierd to me. But if it doesn't need a tag at all, or if it's already got an action tag, than I agree that it's redundant.
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When would "replied" be needed, though?
"What time is it?"

"Ten-thirty."Clear enough without a tag, isn't it?
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Fair point, reph, but what if there are more than two characters in the scene? Using that example, Character 1 asks the question but how do we know who replies without the tag?
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Quote:
Originally Posted by reph
When would "replied" be needed, though?
"What time is it?"

"Ten-thirty."Clear enough without a tag, isn't it?


When there's more than two characters involved in the dialogue, you generally need a tag to let the reader know who's responding to the question, barring very stylized speaking from a particular character (a stylized speech that has been already set up) or allowing the "responding" character to move/act (Bob checked his watch. "Ten-thirty.").

I tend to use "said" 99% of the time. But when one character asks a question, and one of the other characters in that scene answers, I have no problem using "replied". When there are only two characters in the scene, then yeah, you don't need "replied" at all since it's obvious.
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If you have a lot of heavy prose, thick paragraphs describing action or character introspection, then the dialogue can be one of the few spots to let the reader move quickly. As such, if you follow the big, thick paragraphs with dialogue loaded with narrative, I can see the reader thinking "this is a slow read." Give 'em some space to go from a walk to a run with their eyes by just letting the characters talk without interrupting them for a while. It's also a nice way to vary the rhythm of your entire piece I think.

But sometimes you want to slow certain passages of dialogue for emphasis sake, like Mike Angel mentioned; in this case varying the rhythm of that particular passage. In that case, giving one or more characters a bit of "business" during their conversation is a good way of relating who's speaking without using so many tags. For instance, if one character is cooking, then any action associated with cooking can be used as your tags:

"I don't know what you're talking about," Barney said.

Betty removed the brontosaurus roast from the oven. "You weren't with Fred last night."

"Of course I was."

"Fred was with Wilma. I just spoke with her."

"She's a lying, ****ing bee-atch."

Betty grabbed the meat cleaver. "You're full of ****, Barney." Phlunk! She buried the cleaver into the bronto roast. "So full of ****."

Of course, I always found it more interesting when the bit of "business" had some kind of relevance to the plot, instead of being just an ordinary, everyday event like cooking.

Okay, I'm sure someone will add onto my loopy Bedrock scene. Be kind.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by maestrowork
I second Tom Chiarela's book.


Okay, I'm going to read Chiarela's book, because Maestrowork's really good at dialogue.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rod Munch
Is 'replied' really hack writing? A character chortling, nodding, grinning or smiling their reply is annoying and at the risk of sounding snobby, it belongs in Mills & Boon books, but replied seems OK.


The thinking here is that "replied" is obvious--of COURSE the line of dialogue is a reply! So, why say it's a reply? Same with "asked"--the ? shows that it's a question, and questions are asked, right? That's the thinking behind "replied" being a hack tag. You may disagree, and there are plenty of good writers who use it, or asked. The current theory is that "said" is "invisible" to the reader. It isn't LITERALLY, but when "said" is the primary tag, it doesn't register high on the conscious scale. Some writers worry about how often "said" appears--but readers aren't supposed to notice unless it's thrown at every dialogue line. Again, why use ANY tag if the dialogue itself is clear or if it's connected with the action of a particular character by being on the same line/paragraph.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rod Munch
Fair point, reph, but what if there are more than two characters in the scene? Using that example, Character 1 asks the question but how do we know who replies without the tag?


"Hey, Maggie, can you answer that phone before it Uh-oh. I have a meeting this morning. Bubba, can you see the wall clock from there? What time is it?"

"Ten-thirty."But the underlying question is whether, when you need a tag, it's to be "said" or "replied." I don't, offhand, see an advantage for "replied" over "said." In this example, "said" works better:
"What time is it?"

"Ten-thirty," someone in the crowd said.In another context, "replied" might work better. Maybe you can think of an example.
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aertep
Okay, I'm going to read Chiarela's book, because Maestrowork's really good at dialogue.


Especially helpful is Tom's take on "jabber" or useless dialogue, which we do so much of in real life; "directed dialogue" in which the writer is attempting to manipulate dialogue for the purpose of setting up tensions needed for the longer work; "interpolated dialogue," which explains or deals in the implications of the dialogue lines allowing for "direct connection from the external world of event to the internal world of the character; "misdirected dialogue," where the characters talk past each other or don't answer each other, subjects changing without warning, etc.; and what Tom sees as the highest level of dialogue, "modulated dialogue." To quote Tom : "In modulated dialogue each piece of dialogue becomes a point of entry for the writer to drift toward other details. Memory can be moduclated into a dialogue easily and clearly. A character's words call up a forgotten moment, a flash-back ensues and at its close, the dialogue begins again." Not only flashbacks, but other thoughts or directions can be inserted. For examples of each, you'll have to buy the book, Writing Dialogue, by Tom Chiarella, Story Press, 1998.

When I first started writing fiction, my dialogue was stilted and awful. I'd imagined dialogue should be a close representation of real speech. So, I made all the dialogue errors possible, or so it seemed. Tom's book helped tremendously. Now I make a pass through several chapters reading aloud ONLY ONE character's dialogue. I want it to be consistent for that character.
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Wow, lots of useful stuff, thanks all :)

I have been tending towards the Roger massaged his goatee. - way of avoiding tags (I find a lot of 'said's really jar with me, & I prefer more variety, ideally where it ocnveys meaning).
Thats probably the thing to aim for anyway -- use tag where it says something, try to find a way around it when it doesnt.

MikeAngel, I like your reworking , & I'll take up some of those suggestions. :D
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MikeAngel
Same with "asked"--the ? shows that it's a question, and questions are asked, right?

But questions aren't said. So "What do you want?" he said. looks wrong to me.
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When all else fails, I pick up the nearest contemporary novel from a major house and thumb through it until I find an example of what I want. If I'm still unsure, I pick up the second nearest.

Usually, seeing something in action and in context helps alleviate that doubt.
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My take on words like "Replied", and etc.:

Useful when you otherwise wouldn't automatically know a character had replied or asked. Example:

"Billy," said Martha, "Are you going to the country fair?"
"Then fish are bitin' real good," he replied. He wiped the sweat off his forehead with a handkerchief. "Real good fishin' today."

A great way to use "Ask" is when you don't know which character is being asked the question.

Billy, Martha, and Fidelio dug nightcrawlers out of the black bayou mud. Fidelio asked Martha, "Are they always this long?"

"Nope," said Billy.

Thus, in the example, we wouldn't know Billy had cut in on the question without using the directionaly ability of "Asked". Note that unlike the tag "Said", "Asked" does not require the addition of the word "to" at the end. Shorter is better in tags.

That's how I do it. Of course, my latest project is extremely verbal, and I've really had to play with tags to get it right.
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I've seen dialogue tags other than 'he said, she said' used to good effect in many books. Granted, the writers don't over-use them, but to say that only hack writers use other tags is rather snotty, methinks. As a writer, you use what works.

Then again, some one should really have stopped JK Rowling from using 'Ron ejaculated' as a dialogue tag...
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sharon Mock
But questions aren't said. So "What do you want?" he said. looks wrong to me.


I see your point. I go either way on this question, he said. How is it that some get so darned stubborn on one way or the other, he said, which is to say he asked, and when he asked he talked so you might say he said the question.

Slightly related is the habit some have of asking a question without the inflection of a question--does one drop the ? or point out that the speaker said it like it wasn't a question?
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