Eavesdropping 101

6359627662701758141159765676_6359627662640862281199997867_55150-coffee_shopI read an article today on the importance of eavesdropping. It reminded me of an online workshop I viewed several years ago.

At the time an agent had responded to a submission I made. One of her concerns was with my dialogue. It was dragging and not moving the story forward.

She was right of course. It was dragging, and doing a lot of other things that I will share in an upcoming blog, but for now I will focus on the importance of eavesdropping.

To write good dialogue, you have to understand the art of conversation. What better way to research and sharpen your skills, than to eavesdrop on conversations going on around you.

Some of the best places to eavesdrop are in restaurants and coffee shops. Take a pencil and pen, or computer, and be prepared to take notes.

The number one rule to eavesdropping, as you may guess, is to be inconspicuous. You may not want to sneak a peak of the conversationalists until after you’ve listened for a while.

Eavesdropping can provide inspiration for your character’s dialogue. Below is a list of things to pay attention to while eavesdropping.

  • Notice difference in speech patterns
  • Word repetitions
  • Voice inflection
  • Word choices
  • Differences in male and female conversation
  • Words that reflect mood
  • The lack of sentence structure, poor grammar, such as incomplete sentences

You can tell a lot about a person just by listening to how they talk. Are they educated? What part of the country do they come from? Are they depressed, manic, a busy body, positive, negative, happy, sad, rich, poor, . . .?

Keep in mind that dialogue isn’t conversation, but you could say that conversation is the rough draft of dialogue. Conversation includes ‘uhs’ and ‘you knows’, as you gather and consider your words. Dialogue is direct, to the point, and punchy.

-Jan R

Eavesdropping 101

Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

images8qwh4j5gWhat’s the deal with direct quotes? Why can’t I get the punctuation right? You would think after five years, I would know what I was doing.

The novel I’m revising has a lot of dialogue, which results in the use of quotation marks and commas following tags(I think).

I’m sure this is elementary to many of my readers, but I base most of my writing on concepts that I’m struggling with. I like to think that I’m not the only person who hesitates and second guesses when it comes to something as simple as writing dialogue.

During my research on this subject, something jumped out at me that I never really thought about before. The lights came on.

What was my biggest problem with quotes and the use of punctuation? I was treating quotes with tags and quotes without tags the same. I also wasn’t sure what to do when a quote ended with punctuation other than a comma.

When a quote ends in a comma and is followed by a dialogue tag, you use a comma.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, wishing he would just leave.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, “but I want to.” **The second part of the quote did not begin with capitalization because it follows a comma and is a continuation of the first quote.

When a quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, the dialogue tag that follows ends with a period.

“I can’t go with you!” she said. She wished he would just leave.

“Who are you kidding?” he asked. “You can’t run.”

If the quote ends in an action/verbal phrase, it is not a dialogue tag and should not be treated as such. This was a concept I failed to grasp, and I would struggle trying to figure out were to put the comma.

“I can’t go with you.” She pushed past him and headed toward the door.

You have to focus when writing dialogue. You not only have to concentrate on the wording, to ensure it is moving your story forward, you also have to get the punctuation right. Slow down and take your time. Dialogue is complicated and can’t be rushed.

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

They Are Only Tags-Really?

dialoguetagtotalsAt this point in the game, you probably know what a dialogue tag is. It is a phrase placed at the end of a quote to identify the speaker. It should mimic speech’s natural rhythm and make long dialogue-runs digestible.

When using dialogue tags, it is  recommended that you keep it simple. There is nothing wrong with the word ‘said’.  Don’t give in to the urge to use every big word you know. If you do, you will end up with a big clunky mess. The wrong tag can overshadow the words spoken and draw your reader out of the story.

Example:

  • “You hit my car!” she screamed.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he groaned.
  • “But you ran the red light!” She expostulated.
  • “I know-I’m sorry,” he stammered.

Sorry about the bullets, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I think you get the point though. Could you imagine reading an entire book written this way? I would go nuts.

This example shows how tags can effect your story by slowing down the pace and overshadowing the dialogue. I was hesitating after every tag and imagining the characters going through the emotions.  I couldn’t help myself. And what was with expostulating? Somebody had their thesaurus open 🙂

When you use the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, they are so familiar to your reader that they blur into the background and become invisible. This allows the dialogue itself to come to the forefront. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear who’s speaking. Overuse of tags can be just as annoying as using the wrong tag.images9d0tdr1t

Example:

  • “You hit my car!” she said.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he said.
  • “But you ran the red light!”
  • “I know-I’m sorry.”

I hope you thought this example read much smoother than the first. It didn’t distract from what was being said, and you weren’t focusing on the dialogue tags themselves.

There is so much information on dialogue tags. I’m only scratching the surface with this blog.

I’m not saying that you can’t use emotion in a tag, sometimes it’s necessary. It helps the reader understand the character’s feelings or reactions to a situation.  I just wanted to emphasize the importance of balance and focus.

While they are only tags, they play an important role in the mechanics of your story and can lead to some major mistakes if not used appropriately.

-Jan R

 

They Are Only Tags-Really?

How To Write Seamless Dialogue

Dialogue should be seamlessly integrated into your story.  It should flow. If you can feel yourself reading then stopping for a brief conversation and then reading again something isn’t quite right.

Conversation works best when combined with thoughts, actions and settings.  Don’t separate them but interweave them. People don’t stop to talk, they keep doing what they are doing unless it’s something really important that demands their full attention.

You can integrate by using setting, thought and action in combination with dialogue.

Example

The day had been crazy but it wasn’t over yet. Walking into the conference room, Mark  found Ellen sitting at the head of the table preparing packets for their upcoming meeting.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said walking over to offer assistance.

Handing him a few, she looked him in the eye, anger and disappointment written all over her face, “Isn’t that your norm?”

Mark grasped for something to say that would ease the tension between them and get him through this day. Staring at the packets he was at a loss. What she said was true, and he couldn’t explain why. At least not now.

Easing herself up, she walked by him without saying another word.

“Well that didn’t go well at all,” he said quietly to himself as he continued to prepare for the meeting. He would attempt to smooth things over with his secretary later, but for now he had a business to save.

By interweaving thought, action, setting and dialogue, the scene moves forward seamlessly. I hope 🙂

If you just use dialogue you are witnessing a conversation. When you begin to interweave thoughts, actions, settings, and dialogue you are pulling your reader in and making them a participant.

A really good exercise to help understand and follow this concept would be to write a simple conversation with no tags or anything.  Read it. Now go back and add tags. Read it again. Now go back and add more tags or actions. What was the person doing during the conversation? What about setting.  Where were they during the conversation?  You can even add thoughts. These aren’t conveyed through the conversation but because we are on the outside looking in, we can get a better idea of where the character is coming from.

Hope this series on writing dialogue helps you in your endeavors.  Would love for you to join me on this journey. Please consider pushing the follow button and you will receive a notice any time I write a new blog. Also if you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you.

-Jan R

How To Write Seamless Dialogue

Writing Seamless Dialogue

As I stated in a previous post, dialogue should be seamlessly integrated into the story.  It should flow. If you can feel yourself reading then stopping for a brief conversation and then reading again something isn’t quite right.

Conversation works best when combined with thoughts, actions and settings.  Don’t separate them but interweave them. People don’t stop to talk, they keep doing what they are doing unless it’s something really important that demands their full attention.

You can integrate by using setting, thought and action in combination with dialogue.

Example

The day had been crazy but it wasn’t over yet. Walking into the conference room, Mark  found Ellen sitting at the head of the table preparing packets for their upcoming meeting.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said walking over to offer assistance.

Handing him a few, she looked him in the eye, anger and disappointment written all over her face, “Isn’t that your norm?”

Mark grasped for something to say that would ease the tension between them and get him through this day. Staring at the packets he was at a loss. What she said was true and he couldn’t explain why. At least not now.

Easing herself up, she walked by him without saying another word.

“Well that didn’t go well at all,” he said quietly to himself as he continued to prepare for the meeting. He would attempt to smooth things over with his secretary later, but for now he had a business to save.

By interweaving thought, action, setting and dialogue, the scene moves forward seamlessly. I hope 🙂

If you just use dialogue you are witnessing a conversation. When you begin to interweave thoughts, actions, settings and dialogue you are pulling your reader in and making them a participant.

A really good exercise to help understand and follow this concept would be to write a simple conversation with no tags or anything.  Read it. Now go back and add tags. Read it again. Now go back and add more tags or actions. What was the person doing during the conversation? What about setting.  Where were they during the conversation?  You can even add thoughts. These aren’t conveyed through the conversation but because we are on the outside looking in, we can get a better idea of where the character is coming from.

Hope this series on writing dialogue helps you in your endeavors.  Would love for you to join me on this journey. Please consider pushing the follow button and you will receive a notice any time I write a new blog. Also if you have any comments or questions I would love to hear from you.

-Jan R

 

 

 

 

Writing Seamless Dialogue

Writing Dialogue?

Writing dialogue isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. It was one of the areas I was dinged on when I first submitted my manuscript. My dialogue dragged. Basically I wrote out conversations just like real people talk. After taking a few classes and looking at how other authors wrote in published books, I did get a grasp on what the literary agent was saying.  My dialogue was weighing the story down and offering unnecessary detail. It caused everything to come to a stop.

I plan on spending a couple weeks talking about dialogue as there is a lot more to it than you would think. Fictional speech is more focused and coherent than real speech. Fictional speech also has to be purposeful. You can’t just rant and rave about the newest fashion with your friends unless it’s an integral part of the story providing information that you are going to need later. Your dialogue should be evoking something from a character or moving the story forward. It also needs to be seamlessly integrated into the story. Told you there was  more to it than you would think.

There are special rules of punctuation that are used to separate dialogue from other texts and signify who is talking. These rules are pretty standard and if you pick up any novel and turn to a page with dialogue you will see them in use.

  • Direct quotations are set apart by using quotation marks.
  • Alternating speakers are set apart by paragraph breaks.
  • All quotations begin with a capital letter.

Dialogue tags are not part of a quote and should not be included in the quotation marks. They  are necessary to identify who is speaking and to convey information that isn’t clear. A character tag usually includes the character’s name and some version of said, unless conveying information that isn’t clear.
e.g.   “I love you,” Mary said.      vs.    “I love you,” Mary sobbed.

Dialogue tags should be used sparingly. You don’t want to bog down your story with he said, she said. Use them only when necessary to inform the reader who is speaking or to convey feelings.

If two characters are in a short conversation you should probably be able to get by with identifying both at the beginning of the conversation without adding additional tags. If you’ve written a long conversation between two characters, you may need to add tags ever so often to help the reader keep up with who is talking. It isn’t fun when you have to stop and go back to the top of the page and count by two’s to figure out who is saying what. You also may want to use the tags to convey feelings. Mary may have gotten angry in the middle of the conversation and you need to add a tag to suggest this.

I will continue this discussion in my next post and probably look a little closer at how dialect can be used to distinguish between characters.

If you have any questions please comment and I will answer them to the best of my ability.  I would also like to request that you join me on this journey and consider hitting “follow” to keep up with my latest posts.  Thanks.

-Jan R

Writing Dialogue?