Divas On Dialogue

Divas On Dialogue: Creative Narrative

Posted by on Mar 28, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 6 comments

Divas On Dialogue: Creative Narrative

So what is creative narrative, you ask? Well, it’s basically descriptive narrative that is used in conjunction with dialogue. It identifies who is speaking. Naturally, the next question is: why is creative narrative better than using a dialogue tag? After all, tossing in a dialogue tag is much easier. That answer is not so simple. The truth is it’s not always better to use creative narrative. In fact, if used improperly, creative narrative can cause all kinds of issues with dialogue such as: stilted, unoriginal, and repetitive text–which ironically is what you are trying to avoid by replacing those dialogue tags. When used correctly, it improves the flow and tone and adds showing to your story. This showing improves your characterizations, descriptions, and settings. It also fosters emotional connection with your characters. Instead of spending the bulk of this article trying to argue the benefits of creative narrative, I’m just going to show you through the genesis of a scene. Take a look at the sample below. –Dialogue without creative narrative “What are you up to?” Tom asked. “Not much,” Tina replied. “You going out later?” she queried. “I was thinking about it,” he said. “Want company?” Tina asked. “Not really,” Tom replied. “Oh,” Tina mumbled. So, what’s wrong with this dialogue? Well, for one it’s stale–really, really stale. Second, it is hard to infer much about the interaction between these two. We could use creative dialogue tags to liven it up a bit, right? (Creative dialogue tags are dialogue tags that are not necessarily indicative of speech but are seen in novels anyway. For more on this check out our article on this.) –Dialogue using creative dialogue tags instead of creative narrative What are you up to? Tom cross-examined her. “Not much,” Tina pointed out. “You going out later?” she interrogated. “I was thinking about it,” he postulated. “Want company?” Tina bombarded him. “Not really,” Tom teased. “Oh,” Tina sputtered. Yeeeeeaaaaah…No. Moving on. The creative dialogue tags didn’t work, so perhaps it’s time to dial it back a bit, use some of those boring old dialogue tags, and add a dash of a tried-and-true author crutch: adverbs and adjectives. –Dialogue tags + adverbs/adjectives “What are you up to?” A happy Tom asked curiously. “Not much,” Tina pointed out. “You going out later?” she inquired, hopeful. “I was thinking about it,” he said nonchalantly. “Want company?” An all-too-eager Tina asked in a overly subdued manner. “Not really,” Tom replied in a deadpan tone. “Oh,” a heartbroken Tina sputtered sadly.  That doesn’t quite work either, does it? Creative narrative to the rescue. But first we need to discuss when creative narrative goes wrong. Below, I’ve listed the primary elements that wreck creative narrative: the BIG Four 1. Repetitive or narrowly focused body language Action/descriptions involving sight: looking, gazing, staring, glancing, eyeing, eyes, etc. Actions/descriptions involving the mouth: smiling, frowning, smirking, grinning, lips, kissing, lip biting, etc. Sounds that express emotion: chuckling, laughing, guffawing, chortling, sighing, huffing, sniffing, snorting, exhaling/inhaling, etc. 2. Telling emotion that should be shown (e.g. telling the reader that a character is nervous rather than showing) 3. Disembodied motion (For more on this, check out Candace Johnson’s Guest Post) 4. Telling what has been shown (also explaining what has been shown or stating the obvious) Since an example of this is worth a 1000 words of description, here you go.    Tom strolled up to the counter, whistling happily. “What are you up to?” His eyes twinkled and there was a huge smile on his lips.    Tina’s hand ran through her hair, and she stared at him in shock with a dumbfounded look. “Not much.” She’d loved Tom for many years. This was her chance. “You going out later?” she inquired, hopeful, her heart almost beating out of her chest.    He shrugged, his smile fading to a slight smirk. “I was thinking about it,” he said nonchalantly. Perhaps too nonchalantly.    Tina blinked. “Want company?” She slapped her hand over her mouth, hating that she’d just given away her eager interest in him.     “Not...

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Divas on Dialogue: Direct and Indirect Narrative

Posted by on Mar 21, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 0 comments

Divas on Dialogue: Direct and Indirect Narrative

Direct and Indirect Narrative   The difference between direct and indirect narrative is pretty straightforward. Direct narrative is basically describing everything in a scene, including all the action and detail. For example, say you’re writing a scene about pitcher throwing the winning strike in the game. Direct narrative allows you to describe everything from what the pitcher is feeling and  seeing to how he pitches the ball, the crowds reaction, and how green the grass on the field is. Indirect narrative is the opposite. It doesn’t describe all the details or the action, instead it’s used as point A to point B in terms of moving a scene along. For example, take the same baseball analogy I used with direct narrative. Indirect narrative would only call for the pitcher to throw a strike, causing the batter to strike out. No emphasis is placed on how the ball was thrown or what the batter felt like, the scene is only significant to propel it to the next scene. Either one of these narratives are used in any novel or manuscript. Oftentimes when writers are in draft mode of their manuscript, indirect narrative is more useful. You simply can write and write, getting the bulk of your story down. Once you go back over your rough draft, this is where direct narrative can really come into play. A writer is able to delve into more detail, research more thoroughly, and build scenes more brilliantly the second time around. Or the third. Or the fourth. Another difference between direct and indirect narrative doesn’t have to involve just actions in a scene but what the character thinks as the actions take place. Emma Darwin explains it well with her article, “Free Indirect Style: what it is and how to use it,” from her website, This Itch of Writing. Take for instance this example of direct narrative: Bob lived twenty blocks away from Sue. It’s so far, he thought to himself. Taking a cab is so expensive, but he said heck with it and hailed a cab.  Indirect: Bob lived twenty blocks away from Sue. “It’s so far,” he said. Taking a cab is so expensive. As he hailed a cab, he said, “Heck with it!”  The direction in the narrative is in the first example, while the direction is in the dialogue in the second. Either style is fine and acceptable to you. But knowing the distinction can be helpful for your craft. How do you use direct and indirect narrative?...

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Divas on Dialogue: Accents and Dialects

Posted by on Mar 14, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 6 comments

Divas on Dialogue: Accents and Dialects

Accents and Dialects   Who doesn’t love listening to an accent or an entertaining dialect, especially one delivered by a sexy model or actor? Accents and dialects make people more interesting, probably because the sound is interesting to listen to and offers a fresh perspective to the words being spoken. It also adds another layer to the character, makes them feel authentic, and gives clues to the background of the speaker. But does that same auditory experience translate well to the written word? Depends on how you handle it. As a writer you depend on the reader to do a lot of things while they read your book. One of those things is how the characters sound in their heads. This is as individual as the readers themselves are. Just as every reader has an image in his or her head of the characters, there is a voice to match. So is simply saying, “he spoke with a heavy Italian accent” enough for the reader to go on if you don’t infuse that character’s dialogue with special spellings to show the accent or dialect? Yes and no. One of the issues with using accents and dialects is stereotyping. Perception can lead one reader to think the accent or dialect is authentic while another is insulted by it. And when phonetic spelling is used to illustrate an accent, the reader could find it too difficult to decipher if it is overused. This becomes a distraction and may cause the reader to abandon your book if it’s too difficult to read or comes across as gimmicky. I’ve abandoned a number of books for this reason. So what exactly is an accent? It is how someone pronounces his or her words. So if your character says “Hi, y’all!” and elongates her syllables, she’s speaking English but with a Southern accent. You might even go as far as describing the accent and key phrases without identifying the accent. This is also true of someone who speaks English as a second language. They speak with a Japanese accent or an German accent. Dialects can be more tricky. Not only are they about how the words are pronounced, they are also about how the words are used and how the speakers put their sentences together. So if we take the same the character speaking with a Southern accent, the use of a key phrase such as “bless her heart” will strengthen the accent through the use of dialect. Here are a few words that indicate dialect: gonna for going to goin’ for going doin’ for doing ’cause for because sayin’ for saying whatcha for what are you pop or soda or Coke for a carbonated beverage But dialect can be so much more than just special spellings. It’s the use of idioms and slang. It’s the difference in speech between a couple of snowboarders talking about an epic wipeout on the half-pipe and ballet dancers talking about the mistakes made in last night’s performance. Each has their own set of rules for speech and the words they use. How many times have you read dialogue that doesn’t fit the characters? Is it too formal, too causal, or way out in left field? So how would one write for a character with a foreign accent? Let’s take a look at Russian. The Russian language does not have the to be verb. So when someone with a heavy Russian accent says, “I am going to the store” many times they drop am and say “I going to the store” or “I go to the store.” And because the English language only has three articles (the, a, and an), many foreign speakers drop it because it feels overused. So “I am going to the store” becomes “I go to store.” This becomes dialect. I almost don’t even have to tell you that this character is Russian. The minute you say, “I go to store” you have the urge to roll the R in store and you hear a Russian, Romanian, Serbian or any number of Eastern European accents...

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Divas on Dialogue: Paragraphing Dialogue

Posted by on Mar 7, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 2 comments

Divas on Dialogue: Paragraphing Dialogue

Paragraphing Dialogue ~oOo~ “It’s not fair,” Brittany whined, stomping her foot and throwing her backpack on the floor. “You never let me do anything.” Her mother lifted her head and stopped sewing. “You’re right. I never let you do anything.” She rolled her eyes before continuing, “I make you slave around here day and night, and you never have any fun. It’s sheer luck the cops don’t take me away.” Huffing, Brittany slumped into a chair. “That’s not what I mean,” she said. “And you know it. I just want to meet Christina at the mall for an hour, tops.” Her mother sighed and stared at the piles of laundry at her feet. “If you’d spend less time complaining and more time getting your chores done, you’d be able to go to the mall.” Wow, that’s something else, isn’t it? It’s not quite clear who’s speaking when, and each character’s actions are mixed up with the other’s words. So let’s back up a minute and look at some rules for writing dialogue. Each new speaker gets a new paragraph. Even if it’s only a word. This is to clearly identify who is speaking at all times. Keep each speaker’s actions with his words. Random action that doesn’t belong with the speaker belongs in a new paragraph. Using our example, let’s separate Brittany’s words and actions from her mother’s words and actions. “It’s not fair,” Brittany whined, stomping her foot and throwing her backpack on the floor. “You never let me do anything.” Her mother lifted her head and stopped sewing. “You’re right. I never let you do anything.” She rolled her eyes before continuing, “I make you slave around here day and night, and you never have any fun. It’s sheer luck the cops don’t take me away.” Now that we’ve separated the characters, let’s see what other rules we should follow for clarity. All punctuation related to said dialogue belongs inside the quotation marks. Dialogue need not be broken into paragraphs unless it becomes excessively long, in which case an opening quotation mark goes at the beginning of each paragraph but only at the end of the quoted dialogue. Dialogue tags are separated from the dialogue most often with a comma, but also with question marks, exclamation points, ellipses, and em dashes. If there is no dialogue tag, but action instead, the action should be separated from the dialogue with a period. Now let’s take Brittany’s mother’s actions and determine that they are not, in fact, dialogue tags. There are arguments that the verb continuing can be a dialogue tag; however, I disagree and punctuate it with a period instead of a comma. Her mother lifted her head from the hem she was sewing. “You’re right. I never let you do anything.” She rolled her eyes before continuing. “I make you slave around here day and night, and you never have any fun. It’s sheer luck the cops don’t take me away.” Don’t over-dialogue-tag your dialogue. Don’t constantly interrupt your dialogue. Build descriptive narrative around your dialogue to keep from unnecessary uses of “he said/she said” throughout your manuscript. At this point, things become a little more subjective. Use of descriptive narrative versus dialogue tags is personal choice; however, most readers agree that being shown what’s happening is far more interesting than reading ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ a thousand times. If it’s clear who’s speaking, you can leave the tag out. Huffing, Brittany slumped into a chair. “That’s not what I mean, and you know it. I just want to meet Christina at the mall for an hour, tops.” Her mother sighed and stared at the piles of laundry at her feet. “If you’d spend less time complaining and more time getting your chores done, you’d be able to go to the mall.” For more information on writing dialogue, see Diva Lauren’s article on Dialogue Punctuation and Diva Shay’s article on Dynamic Dialogue. Go forth and write some dialogue!...

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Divas on Dialogue: How to Write Dynamic Dialogue

Posted by on Feb 28, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 2 comments

Divas on Dialogue: How to Write Dynamic Dialogue

Dynamic Dialogue   As I sat down to write this article, I found instead of coming up with an explanation of what dynamic dialogue was, I continually thought about what dynamic dialogue wasn’t. So forgive me if I start this article a bit backward. So, what isn’t dynamic dialogue? boring mundane repetitive bland unvaried contrived interrogatory (not a Q&A session) over-the-top (especially when showing accent or a character’s voice) perfect (grammatically) Dynamic dialogue is: realistic familiar quirky stumbling grammatically incorrect varied in tone, voice, and length emotionally provoking ridiculous humorous rude (characters’ action toward and discourse with one another) outrageous awkward intriguing Dynamic dialogue is raucous and loud. In short, it has personality—just like your characters. And what’s more, discourse tends to be just as much about what is said as what is not said. So don’t have characters speak without showing in some way. Perhaps their words are telling (in the showing sense), perhaps it’s their expression, or their tone or their inner thoughts or their actions. Or better yet, perhaps it’s what a character leaves out of their dialogue that is most showing of all. For instance: “Wanna go to the game?” Billy asked with a hearty slap to his friend’s shoulder. Silas didn’t acknowledge his friend. Instead he stared off, distracted, something dreary and turbulent like churning in his eyes like the frothy waves crashing upon the distant shoreline. “It’s the Seahawks, man! The Seahawks!” Billy threw his arm around Silas and pulled him into a headlock that was half a demand for attention and half friendly commiseration. “Can you believe I won those tickets? And here you thought I wasn’t nothing  but a unlucky SOB.” He shoved the tickets in Silas’s face, all the while holding him hostage and laughing. “Look, bro, look!” Silas drove his elbow into Billy’s midsection and shoved him away. “What the—dude, what’s your damage? Back up off me, man!” With one hand holding his aching stomach and the other outstretched, Billy shouted, “Whoa! Sub-zero yourself, Sil! WTF?” “I’m chill. What?” “Tickets. Jesus! Haven’t heard a word I said?” Silas grumbled something under his breath and then he trudged toward the beach, hands in pockets, head down. “Whatever, punk,” he murmured before shouting at his friend, “Your loss! You gonna miss a hell of a game!” Billy shook his head. What a loser. What does this tell you about the characters, their ages, and their personalities? Dialogue is powerful and it is dynamic when a conversation is much, much more than just a conversation. This dialogue not only gives insight into the characters and the plot, but it’s intriguing. What’s bothering Silas? Does Silas hate football? Are he and Billy not true friends? Does Billy not notice that his friend is upset, does he not care, or is he too excited to be a good friend in that moment? There are certain elements that will exsanguinate the pep out of dialogue faster than a vampire can slurp down O neg, and they are: showing the whole conversation overusing dialogue tags lack of creative narrative (especially if creative dialogue tags are replacing the creative narrative) mundane greetings & goodbyes rehashes of information the characters already know (whether the reader knows it or not) characters repeating one another characters speaking with the same voice an info-dump boring conversation discourse that sounds inappropriate given the gender of the character, the educational level of the character, the age of the character, etc. discourse in which characters constantly call one another by name difficult to read discourse that is full of phonetic spellings meant to imitate an accent Don’t do these things! There are some habits that you will need to cultivate if you want to make your dialogue more dynamic, and they begin before you ever put pen to paper or fingers to the keyboard. Brace yourself, this requires human interaction. Habit #1 Interact–Get out of your office and talk to people. These people can be your family, your friends or even a stranger on an elevator. Every conversation you enter into is an opportunity...

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Divas On Dialogue: Dialogue Punctuation

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Divas On Dialogue | 3 comments

Divas On Dialogue: Dialogue Punctuation

Divas On Dialogue: Dialogue Punctuation   The are three ways to punctuate dialogue in your novel: the right way, the wrong way, and a mixture of the them both. Kind of confusing, huh? To some it can be. Do you use a comma or period with this tag, or do you capitalize the first word after the quotation? Talking about dialogue punctuation is one thing, but it’s a lot easier to show you the ins and outs of punctuating your dialogue. You all have the basic premise of writing dialogue down pat. “Sally, please feed the cat.” This is a nice, simple sentence. When you want to add more to the thought, the punctuation changes. “Sally, please feed the cat,” said Johanna. When the sentence in dialogue is followed by an additional thought like, said Johanna, the period turns into a comma because the sentence is now continuing past the quotation mark. Said is considered a dialogue tag which requires a comma after cat. Speaking of dialogue tags, there are many to choose from. Tags that are considered speech originating from the mouth will almost always require a comma inside the quoted text. Examples of these sorts of tags are said, told, whispered, mumbled, muttered, cried, asked, and etc. Outside of this tags, there are creative dialogue tags which can be debatable whether they are considered speech originating from the mouth. Each writer and editor holds a different standard on punctuating these tags. It’s hard to set a standard when punctuating tags. With punctuation such as question marks and exclamation points, the presence of the comma is replaced by those points. Depending on the tag or the thought after the quoted dialogue, the capitalization changes. “Sally, where’s my cat!” She raised her voice in alarm.  The pronoun “she” is capitalized because “raised” is not considered a dialogue making the quoted text a complete sentence. “Sally, where is my cat!” she yelled.  This sentence above “she” is lowercased because “yelled” is considered speech originating from the mouth and the sentence is complete after the quoted text. If the tag is before the quoted text, the comma is used before the first quotation. Johanna yelled, “Find my cat!” This is also the case for most tags and still debatable for creative tags. Words like continued, in my opinion don’t receive a comma, but many would argue with this assertion. But what about the tag that splices the quoted text? The same rules apply for the tags as above. Although when the sentence is interrupted by the tag and then continued after the tag, commas are used instead of other punctuation. “Johanna, I don’t know where your stupid cat is,” Sally said. “Leave me alone!” Or “Don’t you dare,” Johanna hissed, “talk to me like that.” Don’t forget when you are quoting another person inside quoted text, the use of single quotes is required over double. “‘Don’t you dare’?”  In the above text, wherein Sally is directly quoting Johanna, single quotes are used around the text. Make note that any punctuation after the text will always come before the double quote at the end of the text as seen above. This is true for other punctuation points as well. Punctuating other types of sentences that use punctuation like ellipses and em dashes look like the examples below. According to the Chicago Manual of Style, if the sentence is left incomplete at the end as if the speech drops off, no punctuation is needed after the ellipses. “You don’t understand…” Also acceptable is a period after the suspension point. “You don’t understand….” If punctuation after the suspension point requires a question mark or exclamation point, it is treated in a similar fashion. “You don’t understand…?” But if the dialogue is followed by a tag, the appropriate punctuation is needed. “But…I…,” she muttered. Em dashes don’t require punctuation before the quotation. “I can talk anyway I—” “No, you can’t.” “—want to.” Punctuating dialogue isn’t rocket science but it can get tricky. Following a guide like The Chicago Manual of Style can help you stay on...

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