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General > "What's the deal with dialogue?" He said in a Seinfeld voice.

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message 1: by Tony (new)

Tony Valdez | 49 comments This is a very basic beginner question, but I'm wondering if everyone struggles as much as I do with this.

As you know, Dax Harrison is being adapted from a screenplay, so there is a lot of dialogue. A LOT of dialogue. Dialogue that is now being converted from simplistic script format (a CHARACTER NAME IN CAPS followed by whatever the character says on the next line) to now having to be encapsulated in multiple forms, such as...

"This is my statement," Dax said.
"This is my statement," Dax announced. "And this is the second half of my statement."
Dax stood up. "This is my statement."

And so on. Basically, I'm asking how you guys deal with structuring dialogue. I'm doing my best to mix it up so as not to sound terribly repetitive and monotonous, but it still feels like a relentless struggle. Do you simply do the "he said", "she said", etc every time and hope readers just put it out of mind, or do you try to come up with a different verbiage all the time? "He proclaimed", "She shouted", "He replied"...

On one hand, "He/she said" every single time seems monotonous. On the other hand, a new descriptor every time seems forced. "stated, proclaimed, announced, shouted, whimpered, scolded", etc, etc.

What's your take?


message 2: by R.H. (new)

R.H. Webster (rh_webster) | 39 comments The first rule of thumb I would say is NOT to use a different tag for every line of dialogue.

"Why?" He asked
"Because I said so," she stated.
"I'm not sure I understand," he whined.
"Because this is an example," she sighed.

Not only is this monotonous and repetitive, the various dialogue tags make it look like you're an amateur who is worshipping a thesaurus. I'm all for worshipping thesauruses (thesauri?), but in this instance DON'T DO IT.

The second rule of thumb I would recommend is not feeling tied to a dialogue tag on EVERY sentence. My main effort in improving my writing in the last few years was to create dialogue that flows believably. Think about it - when you're talking to a friend or when you're on the phone, you don't speak, then move, then stop, then speak. You do both simultaneously, right? So using your previous example:

"This is my statement," Dax said, standing from his seat. He clasped his hands behind his back and strode over to the window. "And this is the second part of my statement."
"You make a lot of statements."
He turned back to look at the alien sitting at the table. "I am full of statements," he said, "and here is a third one to round out this example."

Does this help? I hope it helps. Also...please forgive any typos, since I'm on my phone typing this. :)


message 3: by Tony (new)

Tony Valdez | 49 comments Haha, I like your scenario. Thanks!

That's pretty much what I've been doing. Trying to break it up with action. There's also moments where there's a simple rhythm between two characters where I can go a few lines simply using their statements alone.

The tricky part is when I have very Star Trek-ish scenes with a group of people together conversing, and it gets muddy trying to decipher who is speaking without providing a character name.

I think I'm slowly getting the hang of it, but I know I'll need much editing later. I guess I just need to power through it and deal with the editing afterwards.

Thanks for the input! Back to it... :)


message 4: by R.H. (new)

R.H. Webster (rh_webster) | 39 comments You can always edit. You never have to stop editing. Just look at George Lucas...

For a scene with multiple voices, sometimes it depends on the perspective you're using. If you're using 3rd person limited (my personal favorite), you have the opportunity to give the internal thoughts of the main character. That can help break up monotony as well as help identify characters. Continuing my examples:

"This is my statement," Dax said from his command chair in the center of the room.
"I would concur with that statement," the science officer said. His pointed ears twitched like a cat's, making Dax smile slightly.
"Statement statement statement."
Dax's good humor vanished at the harsh, high pitched sound from the communications station. He swiveled in his command chair and frowned sharply at Lieutenant Squeaky.
"When I want your opinion, I'll give it to you, Lieutenant," he growled.

Also note I used "growled" instead of said. Since I didn't use a different tag every time, this is descriptive rather than repetitive. Obviously I am a professional author and so you should totally take all my words completely to heart. ;-)


message 5: by Tony (new)

Tony Valdez | 49 comments LOL. You're worlds better at this than I am. I'll tell you that much.

I laughed harder than I should have at Lieutenant Squeaky. This could also be due to my current beer and wine-filled state...

All jokes aside, much appreciated advice. Thanks!

The commander raised an inebriated eyebrow at Lieutenant Webster. "Well played, Webster. Well played."


message 6: by Thomas (new)

Thomas Arnold Well, I was wanting to chime in with my own tips on this one, but after reading through this thread it seems like RH has already given every bit of advice that popped into my head on reading the original post. So, yeah, don't feel obligated to use tags but don't be afraid to use tags when needed either.

The most important thing to remember (or at least in my view) is to know your characters completely, better than you could ever know a real person, and from that knowledge their own unique voices will tend to emerge on their own so long as you don't fight it.

Of course I am a pantser who does his best writing while pounding back beers at the bar, so anything I say is likely highly suspect.


message 7: by Rhett (new)

Rhett Pennell | 5 comments I agree with everything RH said except for one thing: Don't look at George Lucas.


message 8: by Jason (new)

Jason (atomicboywonder) | 44 comments Webster hit all the points I would have said. My stuff is usually very dialogue heavy, mostly because I'm addicted to banter and I'd rather have my characters explain most things rather than the narrator (although I have fun with the narrator voice in lots of silly ways from time to time).

The actions you put in along with the dialogue can inform the emotional state and/or intentions of the character speaking the dialogue and you can sometimes skip the "he said/she said" tag altogether. As long as you avoid adverbs (like the plague), it's all good.


message 9: by Elan (new)

Elan (bonbonelan) I just listened to John Scalzi's Redshirts on Audible, and it was the first time I *really* noticed how every spoken line was tagged. It was really distracting and, to be honest, killed many of the dramatic scenes for me.

Punctuating dialogue with action is a pacing mechanism...there will be times when you just want it to move fast. Especially during those times, I think you can cut a good number of "he said/she sighed/etc." instances.


message 10: by R.H. (new)

R.H. Webster (rh_webster) | 39 comments Rhett wrote: "I agree with everything RH said except for one thing: Don't look at George Lucas."

Rhett is correct. Don't look at George Lucas. ^.^


message 11: by R.H. (new)

R.H. Webster (rh_webster) | 39 comments Also, I finally feel like I've contributed something to this community! Yay for a feeling of accomplishment on a Wednesday morning! :D


message 12: by Jodhan (new)

Jodhan Ford | 21 comments I think for me, I tend to lack in dialogue. Not that I don't have any all over the writing, but that my characters are not verbose. They say what they have to say and then stop. It's a struggle to have them say more than one or two sentences. Albeit I have done better in revisions in that area this last year.

I do agree with you RH, that to many tags can weary the eye. Some times if the speakers are clearly defined I will skip a few tags in the dialogue thread. This helps (with my eye) to avoid text fatigue.


♠ TABI⁷ ♠  (tabi_card) Dialogue is one of my favorite things to write, and as such I've experiment with lots of different techniques. But in both reader reactions and what I've noticed in the books I read, is that on average more than half of dialogue isn't tagged with the "he said/she said" routine.

When there's a lot of quick back and forth between two characters, like a fast-paced argument usually, no tags are given. It's just the responses, and only when the tension changes (lagging or rising) are tags added. And even then it really isn't "said" most of the time, but rather a line of dialogue broken up or accompanied by an action.


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