Thursday, July 6, 2017

Dialogue is not real speech; it sounds like it when read from the page.

In effect, good dialogue is something artificial, which sounds like real speech when you read it. It is not real speech; it merely sounds like it when it is read from the printed page.

Therefore, a great way to see if you are doing it right is to speak your dialogue aloud and even record it. Speak your lines aloud after you’ve written them. That way, you'll be sure to notice whether you've written unreal or stilted dialogue.

When you read your dialogue aloud, it becomes immediately obvious what works. Awkward phrases, long-winded speeches and unlikely sentence structure will stick out like an audible sore thumb.

The time-honored way to present dialogue in a novel is to signal a new speaker by beginning a new line. Combining the direct speech of multiple characters in one paragraph is silly and useless, even with the help of quotation marks and tags.

Should I use “100 other words for said?”

Nothing is wrong with occasionally using a word such as "shouted" to inject a particular feeling. However, the use of replacement words for “said” should be severely limited. Use "said,” instead of tags which draw attention to themselves.
The word "said" is like the night janitor; people on the day shift seldom see him, but they always see the evidence of his work. Like the janitor, the word "said" doesn't stand up shouting for attention, as do substitutions like "demanded, exclaimed, pronounced and vocalized."

"Said" is invisible. Readers don't notice it because they're used to seeing it all the time. However, when you start using alternatives, you draw readers’ attention to the writing and away from the characters and the story.

"Jane," he murmured, "I love you."
"Do you, Tom?" she breathed.
"Yes! Why?" he gasped. "Don't you love me?"
"I love you," she hissed.

By the way, the last one was wrong two ways. You can't hiss a sentence if none of the words contains the "s" sound. In fact, words can be spoken in many ways, but they cannot be giggled, laughed, smiled, chuckled, snickered or frowned. A word like "observed" or "hissed" stops readers long enough to jar them out of the story.

A line of dialogue that ends with the words, "he nodded" should be a separate sentence. You cannot nod a comment. You can nod before or after delivering the line.

----- (From NOVEL SECRETS available in paperback and Kindle form.)

Lary Crews