Written by Tiffany 'WriterGurlLW' C.
Dialogue: (1) Conversation, especially in a play, novel, etc. (2) Exchange of views between groups over a period of time and on many occasions. (3) Essay in the form of a conversation, used by several philosophers.
Now that you know the dictionary's definition, it's only fair to heed mine.
Dialogue: (1) A conversation between two characters or more, usually manipulated by the author to reflect a character's persona, set the atmosphere, and ultimately advance the plot. (2) One of those things where writers are expected to be believable, but not too believable; informal, but not info-dumpers; and consciously aware of each character's voice. (3) More commonly known as that thing where characters talk about stuff.
And I was so sure that my definition would be shorter! Dialogue is in close connection with characterization. An author who has successfully developed their characters usually finds that dialogue isn't very hard. Why? Because dialogue just can't work properly unless you understand your characters voices. Would he/she say that in proper English or slang? Do they have an accent? (Be careful. Zen ya' tra ta pul' ya zurds off lak 'zis, it gets REALLY frustrating, immature, and insulting). Do they speak in fragments or full sentences? Do they have speech problems? etc. etc.
More importantly, would your character even say such a thing?
The real part an author should play in a story is debatable. You want to be in control of the story and meld it into a comprehensive masterpiece, but you also want to step back and let the story tell itself.
I know. Easier said than done.
There's no 'secret' I can give you to perfect that balance, but it is important that the words your characters speak make sense in the context of the story, as well as their style.
Do not use characters, purposely, as your voice wanting to be heard. Do not make them walking info-dumpers. Make them as real as you can. It's OK for writers to talk to their characters. For us, being loony is a gift.
On another note, here is my very own list of dialogue suggestions (where I selflessly advertise my novel in progress 'Savior of the Supernatural.')
Use a variety of sentence structure. I know four different ways to show someone is talking, and I think authors should utilize them all.
- The classic end attribution
"Who's there?" I asked.
"Alecia, do you remember when we tried to talk to you and we couldn't get it out? This is...we are so..." Mom's voice trailed off.
"So...?" Augustine said, pulling up a seat across from Levi.
- Action before the dialogue. This has to be an obvious give away of who is speaking.
Levi sighed. He sat down in a chair, picked up the folders, put them down. "Augustine, take Alecia home."
Augustine turned to me, the lighter showing his raised eyebrow. "And you called me suicidal. You think I'm gonna kill you?"
Augustine shrugged. "Many reasons, I guess. Humans are too weak to open the door..."
- Dialogue breakup, where info and attribution is between the breakup.
"Well, here's a heads up," he started. "I'm a werewolf. My brother, Levi, is a vampire...and corpse eater/demon thing..."
"Nonsense. The breakfast is made. We will have it." He grabbed mom's arm as she walked past. Dad sat up, only to Samuel's amusement. "Make your daughter stay, Alice."
"Listening, reading, whatever - just stop it!" I took in a deep breath. "Anyways, I guess I came down here because I figured that if this is how I'm gonna die, so be it."
- No tags, or very little, which can only be successfully used when two characters are speaking or characters have a very distinct voice. Also a good tool for a conversation, such as an argument, that should go by fast. It's a matter of pacing, which I'll discuss in another article.
"It's off putting, how hard you're trying to avoid me," he said.
"Who are you really?"
"Didn't your father tell you? I'm Samuel, your distant cousin from the good old asylum."
"BS," I said, watching the lock. "You're not my cousin. Whose side of the family are you on?"
"My dad, eh? And your parents are...?"
"Rachel and James Anderson."
"That's a lie. They had their first child five years ago, and that was a girl. You could've at least gotten your research right."
When a character is speaking a lot of words and you know it all can't be bunched under one quotation, separate the words into paragraphs. In the example below, notice how I consistently start each new paragraph where the character is still speaking with a new quotation. I didn't put an end quotation until the character was completely done.
" The symbol on this book is a combination of two ancient pagan symbols – the magick circle and the deadly symbol. Hell's 7 Deities customarily use it, instead of the more obvious inverted cross and three sixes, to mark their followers. The pagan symbols were drawn with the blood of a possessed human. The smell is riddled with Darkness.
"It gets worse. The whole book is full of dark magic written in possessed blood. The first two pages use the 12th, 14th, and 17th keys of Enochian – Vengeance and Revenge.
"Basically, one of the original 7 Deities are here and Mrs. Clementine is on its side as a right hand woman. For some reason or another, this deity has something against the supernatural creatures. We're in grave danger. Clementine can't be the only one chosen by the deity."
Avoid too much info. By this, I mean don't use dialogue tags as an information bandwagon. It will drive the focus away from the importance of what is being said and come across as sloppy. For instance:
"So....?" Augustine said, pulling up a seat across from Levi.
This is OK if not used often throughout the chapter. However, it probably would have been better to separate the two sentences.
"So...?" Augustine said. He pulled up a seat across from Levi.
If it still doesn't seem right, ask yourself the importance behind stating this action right after the dialogue tag.
Right now, I'm going to bring up the 'two sentence limit' (Which I created, definitely making it a rule you don't have to follow); it applies very well for dialogue tags before and in between the quote. It's best to keep tags two sentences or less so as not to distract the reader from the importance of what is being said.
Augustine led us to the grim reaper statue. He placed his hands on its black shoulder. "This creepy piece of shit is the adelante. What do you see when you look at it?"
"Nonsense. The breakfast is made. We will have it." He grabbed Mom's arm as she walked past. Dad sat up, only to Samuel's amusement. "Make your daughter stay, Alice."
TAKE NOTE: Be careful with the info you place in the dialogue tag that separates. It's easy to get carried away. Make sure the data is in close connection to what is being said.
The age old 'tag word' debate. Many people argue that 'said' should be the only word used. I don't agree with that. Constantly using said can be just as repetitive and annoying as constantly using other words - asked, muttered, whispered, screamed, explained, demanded, etc. In some situations, it's even better to use an alternate word for said to better get the point across. The key to using the right dialogue word is pacing, circumstances, and how it sounds when you read it aloud.
In the hopes that I've been of some help, here are a few grammatical tips to remember.
- The explanation point, question mark, dash, period, comma, all end marks, go inside the quotation marks (If it is in regards to what the character is saying). Do not put a comma after an end mark.
- In the case that the dialogue tag after the quotes is a sentence of its own, but in relation to the quote, end the quote with a period. Better used with the dialogue tag that splits quotes.
- Do not capitalize the first letter of a dialogue tag that comes after the quote as a form of attribution. The dialogue tag that splits quotes and attributes before the quote get capitalized because they are complete thoughts and would still make a whole sentence if separated from the quoted sentence.
-When you want to have a character state what another character said, indicate it in some way. A quote within a quote is usually the best route. Used if you want to specify exactly what a character says.
Of course, more could probably be said, but this article is already much longer than I expected, nor am I an expert on dialogue. Stay tuned for next month's installment, where I write about characters.