Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Quote, Unquote

Dialogue can be a great way to tell a story. It allows your reader to pick up on details that would otherwise have to be blatantly explained. Dialogue gives characters their personality. If done well, a character will go from flat to round by way of the things they say and the way they interact with other characters. Conversation in literature can help you avoid long-winded, adjective-ridden descriptions of the weather, the setting, or the characters' moods. It is a useful tool, but it's important to keep some things in mind.

1.) Don't follow every line with, "he said", or "she said." These are also known as dialogue tags. An abundance of these will give the piece an unfortunate and irritating rythm, especially if the lines are short. If there are more than two people speaking, you will need this clarification, but keep it to a minimum.

2.) When a "he said" or "she said" is necessary, don't add an adverb every time. This only exponentiates the unfortunate rythm mentioned in rule number 1.

3.) Replacing "said" with something like "gasped" or "responded" or "yelled" may seem like a clever disguise, but it's not. It's good to mix up your verbs, but know that a different word doesn't eliminate the annoyance of this excess. It will still come across as choppy no matter how rare the dialogue tag you choose is. Try to use these only when the character's tone could be misinterpreted.

4.) Break up your dialogue. There's nothing worse than 20 pages of non-stop conversation. You're not writing a screenplay. Talk about what the characters are doing as they speak. Are they eating? Jogging? Where are they?

5.) Don't throw in unnatural details. Your dialogue should mirror natural speech as much as possible. For example, if your characters a good friends, it doesn't make any sense to have them telling each other what they do for a living. You'll need to be subtle if you want these details to be told through dialogue. Trust your reader to make the necessary connections.

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