Saturday, April 14, 2012

Week 16 - Dialogue

15 Apr - 21 Apr: Talking the Talk

"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause." Mark Twain

In, So You Want to Write, Rosier-Jones relates to dialogue in terms of the three R's.  That is, it must be;
1. Realistic - without being real;
2. Relevant - it should serve a purpose; and,
3. Revealing - about the characters and how they handle different situations.

In This Year You Write Your Novel, Walter Mosley expands further.  He advises that, through dialogue, a character should be;
1. Telling us something about themselves;
2. Conveying information that advances the plot;
3. Adding to the mood of the scene or story;
4. Providing a different point-of-view; or
5. Giving the novel a pedestrian feel

Here is a list of common recommendations, gleaned from my reading so far:
  • Read dialogue aloud to see if the voices of each character are unique;
  • Don't use stammers such as, "W..w..where are you going?" or um's and ah's in the dialogue, instead, say, '"Where are you going?" he stammered;'
  • Use contractions, eg. can't, don't, because that's how people talk;
  • Drop words and vary punctuation to suit the characters, eg. 'Can't do it.'
  • Beware of phonetic spelling to indicate dialect.  It can detract from the piece if inaccurate and is distracting if overdone;
  • Avoid descriptive tags, eg. 'he expressed,' 'she declared,' in favour of 'he said,' 'she said;'
  • Avoid descriptive tags with adverbs, eg. 'he exclaimed vehemently.'  (Using elegant variation that results in a pun is called a Tom Swifty, after the author Tom Swift, eg. '"I'm dying," Bill croaked.')
  • Avoid tags altogether if the reader can easily identify the speaker.
  • Unless they serve a particular purpose, speeches and monologues are boring;
  • Drop the small talk;
  • Introduce or allude to conflict.

With respect to layout and punctuation, Rosier-Jones provides some concise advice:
  • Single or double quotation marks are both acceptable, but be consistent.  Use the alternative for a quote within a quote, or for proper nouns that would usually have quotation marks;
  • Quotation marks (speech marks or inverted commas) enclose the punctuation;
  • A comma within the speech marks, comes before the tag;
  • Each change in speaker has an indented paragraph;
  • Each new speech begins with a capital letter, even if it is in the middle of the sentence, eg. 'He called to her, "Don't go."'
  • A sentence of speech can be broken by action, in which case, the second part of the speech begins with the lower case.
  • Action can replace tags. eg. '"Leave me alone." He turned away;'
  • Thoughts do not generally have quotation marks.
Note that these are general ideas and recommendations, and individual preferences and styles vary. I have noticed some authors, for example, using quotation marks for thoughts, and others that insist on avoiding the word 'said' wherever possible.

And remember that describing body language can compliment, provide important contrast, or act as a substitute for dialogue.  Those moments of silence, too, can be a powerful component of dialogue.

Exercise 31.  Write a piece of dialogue between a wife who is having an affair and a devoted husband who owes money as a result of a secret gambling addiction.  Make the topic of conversation relevant to their secrets (eg. the wife wants to spend a weekend at an exclusive resort because she knows her lover will be there, but the husband knows they can’t afford it).

Exercise 32.  Write a short piece of dialogue between (your perception of) any of the following: a) Sigmund Freud and Hannibal Lecter, b) David Beckham and Marie Curie, c) Zsa Zsa Gabor and Albert Einstein.  Don’t worry about inaccuracies or time discrepancies (unless it is relevant to the conversation), make the exchange plausible, try it without using tags, and ensure that the conversation has a point.

Week 17 will look at Setting the Scene.

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