Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dialogue...Let's Talk About It (part I)

This week's rejection from Necrotic Tissue has got me looking over my school notes again for something, anything, that could make my writing stand out just a little bit more. I recall reading some stuff on dialogue at a couple of blogs the past week or so and I thought that I would throw this "recycled" information out there (yes, more stuff pilfered from school notes...sorry,the notes don't reveal the source).

Points to Ponder

  • Approaches to dialogue over the centuries
  • Placement of dialogue and how much
  • Selectivity
  • Beginnings with dialogue
  • Subtleties of indenting
  • Dialect and slang (see Mark Twain's preface to Huckleberry Finn)
  • Punctuation. Yes or No?
  • Beats
  • Length and proportion
  • Dialogue as exposition
  • Use of the dash and ellipsis points
  • Use of bold; use of oversize letters
  • Speaker attributions
  • Use of ly adverb; exceptions regarding sound
  • How real is real? Pruning the inessentials: the art of compression
  • Voice
  • Rhythm and pacing
  • Profanity
  • Duffer dialogue. Prune where necessary
  • Stripped dialogue. The absence of speech tags
  • "Said" as an invisible tag
  • Italics

As I have previously noted (ie. whined about) on the blogs of others, I am jealous of those who seem to make dialogue flow effortlessly and exude a lot of atmosphere. That was always a complaint of my night school instructor regarding my dialogue. I agree and I think that I unconsciously try to avoid using dialogue. I present to you, my friends whose work I admire and whose opinions I trust, an excerpt from my short story "The Inscription". I want to submit this to the newspaper competition over the next couple of days before the contest closes...


I rested on a rock outcrop protruding from the damp grass. The dark clouds hanging over the bay that morning were now lifting; the sun immediately brightened the cemetery and warmed my face. I was startled by a young girl who had walked up behind me. An elfin-faced child, wearing a pink sweater and dark denim pants, clutching a large doll clad in a similar fashion.

"What'ya doing, mister?"

"Reading the grave stones."


"Because I'm trying to learn about my family name."

"I already know my name. It's Emily," she said, extending her hand.

"Nice to meet you." I reached to shake her hand but she quickly withdrew it, twisting her arm behind her back.

"I'm not supposed to talk to strangers," she said, twirling the end of her long, red hair with her index finger.

"I understand. That's a very good idea."

"Me and nanny are here to visit poppy. He's dead." She skipped off in the direction of an old woman placing flowers on the white stones of a well-tended grave. Emily tugged on her grandmother's sleeve and whispered in her ear.


Anyway, this is first of only two exchanges of dialogue in the 1200 word story. Do you get a feel for the major male character and the minor female character? The second exchange of dialogue is between the grandmother and the male character where he gets information that helps him in his search for information. Any thought on how to inject more life into these people? All advice would be graciously accepted...


K.C. Shaw said...

I think you did an excellent job with the dialogue. Emily speaks like a little girl, and the MC sounds appropriately grown-up. It's an interesting snippet too--good luck on it!

Jarmara Falconer said...

I didn't feel the setting was natural enough to start with for the dialogue to take place i.e.

If you were to say: As I knelt before the gravestone of my ancestor I became aware of another presence. Turning my head slightly, I found myself on the same level as a small child. Her elfin feature made a impace on my mind as she spoke to me.

"What'ya doing, mister?"

I smiled a little unsure whether to speak or not,"Reading the grave stones."

"Why?" She asked as twisted the arm of her dolly which was clad in the same fashion as herself. etc etc....

I felt you need more of a flow to your dialogue within the flow of the story itself otherwise you're stopping and starting which interfere with the overall flow of your work.

I hope that is some help to you.

Aaron Polson said...

I agree with K.C. that the dialogue is fine, but a little narrative to help it mingle into the story is a good idea, too. Sometimes too much narration kills a good bit of dialogue, though. Find some chunks of dialogue from published pieces that seem to work really well--how does the author make it work?

Helen Ginger said...

I would like to see more personality from the girl. As it is, I can't see her purpose. He's looking out at the bay and then let's us know he was startled by her. That's passive. What does she do to startle him? Instead of him telling us her doll is dressed like the girl, let us see it with him. Perhaps when he goes to shake her hand, she holds out the doll's hand instead. The dialogue needs to reveal something. The child needs to reveal something, perhaps about the grandmother. Otherwise, the main character could have just approached the old woman and asked for her help.

Straight From Hel

Alan W. Davidson said...

Many thanks to you all for the kind words and advice. I will give the suggestions some thought as I try to "fix up" the piece for submission.

katey said...

I wish I could be helpful, but frankly I struggle with dialogue more than most anything else myself. I've been working on it steadily for the past few years, and I think I'm making progress... but it's an uphill battle for me. I talk funny anyhow.

The best advice I've ever had is that it's helpful to say it out loud. I always read my dialogue to myself to test it-- if you've ever acted I think of it like running lines. Testing out how to say it so it feels real, and if it can at all.