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This is gorgeous. This piece really captures the mischief-logic of kids, and I love that. Sometimes people (even in nonfiction) manage ...

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Sometimes I try to give constructive advice.

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Artist | Literature
Warning: "I-Statements" ahead!

I try to make up for my lack of genuine genius with a lot of obsessive work on my writing. I think it's turning out to be a pretty good plan so far. I tend to think anything that lets me sit hunched over my computer chain tea-drinking as the sun beams down outside is pretty good.

I will critique any writing, you just have to ask me!

Is it a cogent and helpful critique if the main focus is on the philosophy of the piece? 

9 deviants said Yes
4 deviants said No
3 deviants said What the hell

Hitching a Ride with Dialogue

Tue Jul 22, 2014, 2:47 PM

You probably know what dialogue is. Even if you've never thought about it in fancy, official terms like "dialogue in writing is the representation of speech between two or more speakers", and have always thought of it more like "people talking", you more or less have the gist of it. Sometimes authors can pull off a story that forgoes dialogue, but those are in the firm minority. The fact that dialogue is such a widely used device means there are a few rules to it, most of which are easy. However, this fact has never stopped people like you or I from royally messing them up.

So, how does it work?

There are four basic aspects to dialogue:

1. Each new speaker gets a new line.
"So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would just like to come over here and lie down..."

"What?" said Mr Prosser.

"Ah, I'm sorry," said Ford, "perhaps I hadn't made myself fully clear. Somebody's got to lie in front of the bulldozers, haven't they? Or there won't be anything to stop them driving into Mr Dent's house, will there?"

"What?" said Mr Prosser again.

Even though this is a conversation between only two people, every time the speaker is new or switches, they get a new line all to themselves.

2. There are quotations around the actual speech.

"So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would just like to come over here and lie down..."

You may notice that in the original publication of Hitch Hiker's Guide single quotes are used around the speech, but here I have shamelessly converted them to double quotes. This is because I am Canadian and have bad habits. In Canada and America double quotes are the standard around speech, and in England single quotes are standard. These are the only countries that exist. Neither are incorrect, but it's good to pick one and stick to it.

3. Punctuation.

Punctuation happens in and outside of quotations, more or less the same as it would if they weren't there. There are a few rules around punctuation where the two meet.

"So," continued Ford Prefect, "if you would just like to come over here and lie down..."

Commas punctuate tags.  The first comma is attached to the "so" and is inside the quotations. The second comma is attached to the tag and is outside them. Here the tag interrupts the speech at a pause where a comma would have been, but this is also how you punctuate a tag that interrupts speech where a full stop would be.

"Ah, I'm sorry," said Ford, "perhaps I hadn't made myself fully clear...

Here the "Ah, I'm sorry" could be it's own thought. It's tempting to put a period there, but that's wrong. Always use a comma!

Except in a situation like this: "What?" said Mr Prosser.

What's a rule without an exception? Here there's different punctuation going on. The question mark stands in for the comma, because we need to know that "What?" is a question. Doing something like "What?," seems ridiculous, so we forgo the comma.

4. Tags.

What is a tag, anyway? A tag is a marker of who is speaking. "said Mr Prosser" is a tag. "Continued Ford Prefect" is also a tag. Tags can be an indicator of how something is being said, or just there to keep track of who is speaking. The fancier the tag, the more likely it is your reader will notice it, which is something you should have in the back of your mind when you write them. Do you want to outright say how someone is speaking, or do you want the speech to indicate that on its own? Usually, strong dialogue doesn't need wordy or flashy tags, just the occasional marker so the reader can keep track of who is speaking. Sometimes you can even forget them.

How do you create strong dialogue?

The difference is in the words. Try this:

"Are you sure you know what you're doing?" said Trillian, peering nervously into the darkness, "We've been attacked once already, you know."

"Look kid, I promise you the live population of this planet is nil plus the four of us, so come one, lets get on in there. Er, hey, Earthman..."

"Arthur," said Arthur.

"Yeah, could you just sort of keep this robot with you and guard this end of the passageway? Okay?"

"Guard?" said Arthur, "What from? You just said there was no one here."

"Yeah, well, just for safety, okay?" said Zaphod.

"Whose? Yours or mine?"

"Good lad. Okay, here we go."

There are four three characters in that conversation: Zaphod, Arthur, Trillian and Marvin. Knowing that, you can probably figure out who is speaking, even if the speech is untagged. Why is that? All of them are speaking, but their speech is all different. It's in what they say as well as how they say it. Zaphod calls Arthur "Earthman", and Arthur corrects him. When Arthur is annoyed, he speaks differently than when Zaphod or Trillian is. Marvin is always annoyed, but again his speech is easy to pick out without tags, which is how you can tell he's not actually speaking here.

The words each character uses to express themselves are different. That's one of the keys of unique dialogue. You need to get behind your character and understand how they would express themselves. Everyone thinks to use different words, and everyone puts them together differently. Everything can mediate how a person speaks in real life, and this applies to your characters as well. Where they grew up, how much formal education they have had, what kind of people they associate with, all can determine how they speak, but there are no sure markers.

Writing in a thick accent is usually a bad idea. It makes the dialogue inaccessible and when it's not done perfectly cheapens the piece it's in. Accents are more complicated than just the superficial sound of them; what makes them is in the syntax, the colloquialisms and the little details of speech. You can usually get an accent across without resorting to phonetics, and your piece will be better off for it.

One of the reasons dialogue can start sounding the same between characters is that in the context of a story, it is more than just the characters speaking. Dialogue gets stuff done. It effects the pace of a scene and can be a fast and easy way to communicate important information to your readers. Dialogue can help set tone and is a huge deal for characterization. It's integral, really. When it needs to do all that stuff though, sometimes the voices of the characters get lost. That's one of the distinctions between workable and good dialogue. Good dialogue checks all the boxes.

A Note about Dialogue in Poetry

Poetry often uses dialogue as well as prose, however, there are no rules in poetry there isn't a clear standard for how this is done. People have pulled off straight up, grammatically correct dialogue, while others have used systems just off of that. Others have forgone anything but contextual indication. It's really up to the author how they want to communicate speech inside their poetry. Content-wise, dialogue in poetry works the same as prose; it develops speakers, changes pace and communicates action, it just doesn't have to be in any specific format.  A good guideline for this is within any piece  is sticking to one format of dialogue. This helps readers understand what is an is not speech in your piece, because however you choose to do it, it's the same all the way through.

Some things to think about when you write Dialogue

Try asking yourself some of these questions (and more, if you think you need them!) when you're going over your dialogue:

  • What emotions are being conveyed by each speaker?
  • How can you make their words reflect that?
  • Is information being revealed in a way that is characteristic of the speaker?
  • What information is being revealed to both other characters and the reader?

Hopefully these will get you thinking and on your way to writing awesome dialogue!


Add a Comment:
hypermagical Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2014
Thank you for the recent fave! :ahoy:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 8, 2014   Writer
no problem
NyxDecessus Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
    Your writing is yes.
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jun 1, 2014   Writer
NyxDecessus Featured By Owner Jun 2, 2014  Hobbyist Digital Artist
    You're welcome.~~:heart:
silversongwriter Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014
thx 4 watch
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jan 27, 2014   Writer
This is embarrassing, but I was poking around and my touch screen went a little wonky. I'm not actually watching you. Sorry. :( (Sad) 
silversongwriter Featured By Owner Jan 28, 2014
Well I'm a great musician, so consider it a plus
evermore Featured By Owner Apr 28, 2014  Student Writer
I don't think we get to decide our own greatness. Greatness is defined by what is built on our work well after we're gone. Only the fortunate see greatness in their lifetime.
Rhetoricism Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2014   Writer
I challenge you to start a critique without using the words "This is"! Also hello there, how goeth life? 
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jan 22, 2014   Writer
DEAL. I just need something to critique, now. Feel free to help me out there.

Hello! Life goes. I have been working so much that I haven't really been finishing anything writing related. Also who knew commercial fishing vessels were so against having blueprints on the internet? How am I supposed to know what they do on the inside? I can't keep basing these things off of Haven. I did finish reading Embassytown by China Mieville the other day though. IT WAS FANTASTIC.

How's things for you? What are you reading?
Rhetoricism Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014   Writer
Anything by SgtPossum should be an interesting read: this might be something to look at :3 

I've never really considered commercial fishing blueprints, but you know what can be a pain? Working out the schematics for a country-sized skyscraper. Absolutely maddening. There's not enough non-complicated engineering data out there. I don't want to take a degree in civil engineering, I want to know if it's feasible to turn the Vatican State into a skyscraper! *flails wildly* 

Life is hectic, as usual. Moving down-country soon, next few weeks. Leaving my tropical lair behind me, sadface sadface. 
Plowing through the final chapter of The Talisman by Straub/King. It's a heck of a read. 
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jan 23, 2014   Writer
I wish I had a tropical lair. I wish I could wear a sarong all year round and have little lizards on my wall instead of little spiders. Or conduct a lizard and spider war on my wall. Or that.

Now I'm thinking about being woken up by a bird eating spider and I might like my temperate climate again.

Slightly more relevant; if you can bullshit your way through the weight distribution and stability issues I think you can probably make any superstructure convincing. I mean, they put Great Britain on top of a space-whale in doctor who. That was a good episode. That was a convincing episode. I mean, what about the crazy new space metal (not unobtanium because that's awful) that has all these science-fiction properties like being the best alloy ever in partnership with aluminum. Make sure it's a cheap and plentiful metal that it's good with. Something on meteorites, maybe. Lets get freaky with the periodic table of elements. We're making shit up as we go along like incredibly less scientifically informed Isaac Asimovs.

I kind of took a gamble in assuming the genre here was sci-fi. I need boat blueprints for way less exciting genre problems, but turning the Vatican into a skyscraper has a distinctively sci-fi feel to it. I'm assuming you're not secretly Dan Brown.
(1 Reply)
Aerode Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2014  Hobbyist Writer
I hope you have a great day. :hug:
Goldfish-In-Space Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2014   Writer
Work is as fun as I make it, haha.

thanks! You too.
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