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message 1: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments I won’t name any names, but in the suspense novel I’m currently reading I have at least twice lost track of who is speaking in the middle of an extended back-and-forth dialogue between two characters. In each case, something one of them eventually said struck me as odd coming from that character. I had to go back to the top of the alternating quotes to figure out where I had lost track of who was speaking. I know authors don’t want to include ‘said’ or ‘asked’ for every quote, but it can be confusing if the characters do not express clearly contrasting opinions or positions during the conversation. For me this was a serious distraction and took me away from the story.
Have you ever had this happen to you? Shouldn’t a professional editor have recognized the potential problem?


message 2: by Sumner (new)

Sumner Wilson | 13 comments Norm:

I agree completely. I hate to have to be going back all the time, and running down who in the hell is speaking. You don't have that problem with really talented writers like Dutch Leonard, Cormac McCarthy and other good ones.

McCarthy is so good, he can make you hear a character speaking local dialect without going crazy with misspelling all the damned words.

Thanks,
Sumner Wilson
sumner_wilson@yahoo.com


message 3: by Sumner (last edited Feb 02, 2011 06:11PM) (new)

Sumner Wilson | 13 comments Norm:

Speaking of "professional editors," I was reading "Jude the Obscure" last night and found a glaring mistake: Hardy tells me that Jude is lying down in bed, and in the very next sentence, he has him leaving the house without making him get up from bed and redressing.

Now, how many times has "Jude the Obscure," been published over the years? Countless times, I would say. I would think that by now, some "professional editor" would have spied this mistake and amended it, but evidently not. This was no minor slip-up. Someone should have caught this baby years ago.

Coming from mortal writers this would be acceptable, but from one of Hardy's stature, this to me was damned shoddy work.

I once read "The Walking Drum," by Louis L'Amour, and found it so filled with mistakes, that by and by, I bounced it off the wall. Evidently, he had such a huge ego that no one dared tell him he was walking around without his clothes on--the same with Hardy, perhaps.

Thanks,
Sumner Wilson
sumner_wilson@yahoo.com


message 4: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments In the book that I referred to I also found a goof where the author says a character sits on a bed and then a couple of paragraphs later she crosses the room and somehow sits there again. Makes me wonder if anyone did any proofreading at all.
Norm
Sumner wrote: "Norm:

Speaking of "professional editors," I was reading "Jude the Obscure" last night and found a glaring mistake: Hardy tells me that Jude is lying down in bed, and in the very next sentence, he ..."



message 5: by Sumner (new)

Sumner Wilson | 13 comments Norm:

Heard that. Hope he didn't pay the editor out of his own pocket.

Thanks,
Sumner Wilson
sumner_wilson@yahoo.com


message 6: by Terry (new)

Terry Odell (terryodell) Having just finished the final copyedits for my May release, I know how tedious the final read-through can be. As a matter of fact, I'm guest blogging over at Author Expressions today, and this happens to be my subject. http://authorexpressions.blogspot.com...

With respect to dialogue, however, which was the opening topic of the thread, too much "talking heads" isn't good. I normally find that I lose track after about 4 exchanges, unless they're rapid fire and short. I try to use beats as well as tags to keep things from being monotonous, but there's also something to be said for the invisibility of the word "said" in dialogue tags. The eye slides right over it, but the brain registers who's speaking. Robert B. Parker tags pages of dialogue with "said" tags, even though there are only 2 characters present. And I had to go back and look for them after reading three pages, because you really don't see them.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery


message 7: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments You're right Terry. Authors do not need to be reluctant to use "said" or "asked." They're not as noticeable as we tend to fear. And we also should generally stay away from all the substitute attributions, such as "muttered" or "responded." But that's another whole subject.


message 8: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Ledford (deborahjledford) Come on, Norm, name names!
I prefer to read as well as implement an action or response rather than a standard he/she said tag. This helps to break up the dialogue, alert us who is speaking, and give insights to the characters.
Deborah
http://www.deborahjledford.com/


message 9: by Arthur (new)

Arthur | 6 comments About dialogue though, was it wrong to explain a thing by dialogue? Is it important when facts for the story are moved along in dialogue? Wasn’t more wrong to jumble characters when talking in dialogue? Sure, but I think there is a reason which deviates from the story. Stories become fast in short where such dialogue existed, stories take too long and will literally prove everything under the sun and the unchanging perfection of the said universe before it can be over so the author assumed they can’t win and be that vain at the same time to readers, something has to explain believably the story to bring out conclusions for a final ending. For thousands of unused words will need be edited out that had been too many. Or they assume simply a way to explain in as short of time as possible. The very best books used a kind of Christian or such ideas, which can explain to readers how simple, its chain of events, are simple, if you believe in the same art. They are adding attributions to their character for the readers by minimizing their story to help push the weight of its too many words. If I give a book four star ratings its likely dialogue or stray ideas are too unexplained for me to trust it was complete enough to recommend to others to read or I wanted to just reach out and help the writer with radicalizing the said book to rewrite it. I give five stars to books that had mistakes but was pushing its weight that I accept its conclusion.

Books are just not that clear anyway unless you are reading brains a zombie memoir or some such novel in first person while choosing one sided dialogue. I know what anyone may be thinking right now, they’d by like oohhhh thanks a lot.


message 10: by Karen (new)

Karen (karenvwrites) | 44 comments Norm wrote: "I won’t name any names, but in the suspense novel I’m currently reading I have at least twice lost track of who is speaking in the middle of an extended back-and-forth dialogue between two characte..."
Jim was startled to see his buddy Frank rummaging through Marci's dresser. "Hey Stop that!"
Frank dropped the lacy undergarments and turned swiftly, "what are you doing here?"
"I might ask you the same question."
"You might, but the answer isn't one you want to hear."
Jim crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame, "try me."

I have a problem keeping it straight as to which of my characters is speaking. the banter between the the above to characters is quite clear but I need to learn how to do this with my writing.


message 11: by Terry (new)

Terry Odell (terryodell) Karen: I have a handout for a dialogue basics workshop I give -- it's on my website if you're interested.

Terry
Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery


message 12: by Margie (new)

Margie Church (margiechurch) | 5 comments We are encouraged to write without dialog tags and keep saidisms to a minimum. It's a challenge sometimes to use action tags to keep things clear. But when all else fails, IMO, clarity trumps all and names or pronouns should be used to keep the reader in your story, not hunting for clues. If the author didn't do an adequate job, the editor should be pointing out areas that need help. I agree with whoever said about four lines is all the reader can manage before they become confused if no dialog tags are used.


message 13: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments As I think I mentioned above, I think the back and forth banter without attribution or action works best if the two characters are expressing very different opinions or positions on the topic being discussed. Still, I agree you can on too long. You might not confuse the reader, but you may run the risk of annoying them at some point.


message 14: by Christine (new)

Christine Husom | 41 comments I have definately gotten lost in long--sometimes pages long--dialogue. I'll think it's one character speaking, then realize it doesn't make sense. When I'm writing, I try to have the character perform some action while speaking, here and there, so I don't have to say he said, she said as often. But I'm sure I've written dialogue where it gets confusing nonetheless. Norm, am I the author you're talking about--you can tell me!


message 15: by Margie (new)

Margie Church (margiechurch) | 5 comments Christine wrote: "I have definately gotten lost in long--sometimes pages long--dialogue. I'll think it's one character speaking, then realize it doesn't make sense. When I'm writing, I try to have the character perf..."

You're absolutely right about needing to break up long dialog segments with some sort of action. The reader wants to know what the characters are doing and thinking, not just saying. If we imagine ourselves in a conversation, even we shift the phone or look around or roll our eyes. These are necessary things to interject to keep the reader engaged.


message 16: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments Christine wrote: "I have definately gotten lost in long--sometimes pages long--dialogue. I'll think it's one character speaking, then realize it doesn't make sense. When I'm writing, I try to have the character perf..."

No, it's not your book. Hint: It's one in a series with a detective named Decker. Mainstream publisher, but a lot of typos.
Although, I just noticed that my Goodreads page shows that I'm still reading your book. I finished that a year ago. It was great. Obviously, I haven't been on Goodreads much for a while. Even I don't read that slowly. I'll see if I can update that.
Norm


message 17: by Christine (new)

Christine Husom | 41 comments Thanks, Norm. Actually, I didn't notice that on your page. And, I know you'd tell me if my writing needed help :)


message 18: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments I would. I'm falling behind. I need to get your latest book.


message 19: by Sheila (new)

Sheila | 51 comments Sometimes I'm lost and don't mind, but it's frustrating when it matters to the story. What do you think about sections of conversation where it's really not important who's speaking; they're just all throwing in questions and ideas that will end with the group deciding a way forward. I know I need to know who makes the final decision, but does it annoy readers if they're not sure who's speaking in the middle of the conversation?


message 20: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments Sheila wrote: "Sometimes I'm lost and don't mind, but it's frustrating when it matters to the story. What do you think about sections of conversation where it's really not important who's speaking; they're just a..."
There are situations like that where it doesn't disrupt the storytelling if I lose track. But I'm a very "visual" reader. I would still feel disoriented by not being able to imagine who's talking.


message 21: by J. (new)

J. (jconrad) As others have said, a variety is needed. Just as an entire novel of short sentences no more than seven words in length will try a reader, so, too, will pages and pages of dialogue with "he said," "she said" tags. Here's something from my just completed novel that combines quick repartee with no tags and others with simple tags, and still others with actions/thoughts:

“AS IN THE FIRST WORDS?” I said when the Other’s patience won out over my own (the Other might’ve kept me waiting a minute or a millennium for all I knew), although in truth I didn’t utter the words as much as think them; not so much a telepathy as I understood it, but an exchange of thoughts as energy.

“I am your higher self,” the Other said.

“My soul?”

“If it pleases you to think of me as such. You and I are one, and we are one with creation.”

“I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together,” I said.

The Other seemed to find my Beatle-esque evalua-tion humorous, so I read in the change in frequency of its energy.

“Quite right,” it said, the vibration of its communication feeling oddly Cockney to my life force; then, with a more familiar Midwestern twang, it added, “We are connected, you and I, through a channel, as I am connected to the Creator. And so, so are you.”

“God?”

“Yes, but not as you, in life, perceived him.”

“Angry, vengeful, demanding, white robe, long just as white beard and flowing hair.”

“A deity man created in his own image.”

“An image we needed to keep us in line. Yet over the years man certainly seems to have pushed the envelope with an absent God, like a teen thinking they can pull the wool over their parent’s eyes. Parents more concerned with their careers than with their children.”

The Other, forgoing judgment, said nothing; so I ventured: “Where am I and how long have I been here?”

“You are beyond infinity, a place where time has no meaning.”


message 22: by Norm (new)

Norm Brown | 12 comments Good example J. You do use a variety of methods. Always more than one way to skin a cat, should one decide they need to do such a thing.


message 23: by J. (new)

J. (jconrad) Norm wrote: "Good example J. You do use a variety of methods. Always more than one way to skin a cat, should one decide they need to do such a thing."

I only skin a cat, Norm, when I need to restring my guitar!

I'm glad to participate in your discussion—it was a good one!


message 24: by J. (new)

J. (jconrad) Terry wrote: "Having just finished the final copyedits for my May release, I know how tedious the final read-through can be. As a matter of fact, I'm guest blogging over at Author Expressions today, and this hap..."

I think it's common sense, when and when not to use an identifier tag. As writers we sometimes forget that the reader likely isn't nearly as visual as we are, or were, when we wrote the dialogue sequence. When in doubt, include an identifier—just leave off the adverb!


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