Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Two Editors and a Comma: Dialogue Workshop

Betsy Thorpe and Carin Siegfried
"Two Editors and a Comma"

"Am I punctuating this correctly?"

"Do I use quotes or italics when I write internal dialogue?"

"How does point of view impact dialogue?"

These are just a few of the questions which Betsy Thorpe and Carin Siegfried answered in their recent writing workshop. 

Here are some of my takeaways:
  • Italicize internal dialogue. 
  • Match dialogue to the tone of the scene. 
  • Practice writing dialogue to convey different meaning and/or circumstances between the speakers. 
  • Don't lecture; avoid  "info dump".
  • Weave dialogue together with narrative, the characters' actions, and their thoughts. 
  • Make sure each character sounds different. Use different words, idioms, and expressions. Create a style guide for each main character.
  • "Said" is the invisible tag. Use it!
  • You can't "laugh" a sentence. In other words, it can't be: "What a silly child you are," she laughed.
  • Dialogue tags in the middle of a sentence makes it choppy. Don't write: "Are you," she asked, "coming with us?"
  • Use an em dash when the speaker is interrupted. 
  • Action/description beats should vary within a story and be distinctive.
  • Interior dialogue consists of nonverbal thoughts that a character wouldn't say out loud; self-analysis; or inner conflict. Interior dialogue is honest, reveals backstory, and shows a character's emotional state. It is best used when characters aren't saying what they truly mean.
I asked Carin to comment on a snippet of dialogue from my current draft. I wondered which of these two examples she liked better and why:
  1. Kate must be looking for clues too! Lillie’s heart beat hard. She forced her voice to stay calm. “Wonder what she’s doing up there?” she asked Frank.
2. Kate must be looking for clues too! Lillie’s heart beat hard. “Wonder what she’s doing up there?” she asked Frank. Lillie tried to make her voice sound casual, almost as if she was barely interested.

Carin replied: 

I would go with option 2, although it really is a close call. I like “casual” instead of “calm” as it implies more. And I like have the description both before and after the line of dialogue, instead of just before. But it’s really your call, depending on exactly the tone you’re looking for. As with more things in writing, there is no right or wrong answer! 

Which goes to show that word choice is extremely important and that tone in dialogue and beats is something writers must practice, practice, practice!

How about you? Do you have any dialogue tips that we all need to hear?
No pun intended!


Rosi said...

Some great hints and reminders here. Thanks for the post.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Rosi!

Barbara Younger said...

Great advice here! I just remember someone, Sarah Ellis maybe, saying that each line of dialogue must do something to propel the story forward. I'm such a talker, it's hard to remember every word needs to really count.

Linda Phillips said...

Thanks for this overview and reminders of all the things we were taught but can't remember when we are in the rush of writing!!

Clara Gillow Clark said...

A great list for easy referral in moments of doubt!

I've heard different takes on italicizing internal dialogue--monologue? Maybe I'm confusing with internal thought? It might be good to address the difference.

Edupreneur said...

Thanks for these helpful tips. My 30 years of teaching experience are haunting me now. How do I stop dumping information? Yes, I know, more dialogue.

Linda A. said...

Tips to remember and ones I'll keep available. Thanks so much for sharing them.

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks for always sharing such great ideas. Dialogue can be confusing. This adds simple things to remember.

Celebrate you
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Kathleen said...

Carol, Thank you for sharing this information--it is exactly what I am trying to work on in my edits!

Carol Baldwin said...

Glad that this blog hit home for so many of you. Thanks for commenting!

Martina Boone said...

Love this post and all the great eeminders! Thanks so ,uch formsharing!

One of my favorite tips for dialogue is to make it oblique and remember to include subtext. Gestures, evasions, and nonsequeters can often say much more than words.

Carol Baldwin said...

Evasions...I love that idea, Martina!

Joan Y. Edwards said...

Dear Carol,
Thanks for all the great reminders about dialogue writing and punctuation. You are a jewel.

Celebrate you
Never Give Up
Joan Y. Edwards

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks, Joan. You probably knew all this already!

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