Thursday, May 28, 2009

Dialog Question

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on agents yesterday, and hope we continue the dialog as new folks chime in!

And speaking of dialog, today I've got a few questions for you about the exchange I wrote in yesterday's post:

The coffee chat between myself and a writer friend is exactly the kind of thing that fills my women's fiction manuscript. It's pretty raw for some readers, I know, but it's real. That said, is it so "in your face" that it would turn you off as a reader, or does the humor mitigate the "unladylike" language, (which by the way, is a big fat no-no for southern women of a certain age, myself included)?

You won't hurt my feelings, friends, so hit me with the truth. And scroll down to the green & blue recap below if you don't know what I'm talking about. Feel free to vote in the poll too! As always, I 'preciate your thoughts.

Finally, here are a few tips on crafting dialog~~
  • Reading your dialog out loud helps. The ear distinguishes between what is a stilted, fake-sounding conversation and the real deal.
  • Study the techniques used by favorite authors in their books. Ask yourself what works for them.
  • Keep dialog tags to a minimum. When the reader can easily follow who's speaking, there's no need to add "Susan said" after every line.
  • "Said" is the best tag. It allows the reader move quickly through the pages vs. getting bogged down with sentence additions such as, "...John questioned with brow furrowed." or "...she answered forcefully."
  • Balance narration and dialog. Big wads of either make for bored readers.
  • Limit the use of dialect in characters' conversations, unless it's so ingrained in you as to be totally real and believable.
  • Giving your characters verbal tics and peculiarities is another way in which you can distinguish them from one another and add to their unique POV. [EX Characters' often repeated favorite sayings, breathless yammering, strong-silent minimalism, lots of giggling or a tendency to stutter/pause, etc.]

For more on the writing dialogue, check out this article. See ya tomorrow!


Scobberlotcher said...

Terrific advice! Very Elmore Leonard-esque. He is a huge advocate of 'said' as the best dialogue tag.

Anonymous said...

I personally am not offended by "unladylike" language when used appropriately and for emphasis. A little here and there can make for an interesting read especially when it's someone that would not normally talk that way throughout the remainder of the piece. Used in a humorous way is fine as well. I just don't like reading something that every other word is needing a *beep* sound. And I do agree with you about Southern ladies and their language...I'm hitting that age where I need to be more Southernly. Happy Thursday!

Embee said...

I'm not offended at all! In fact I found the conversation fairly mild, actually. I like the realism because it's, well, REAL and not contrived. I tend to be pretty feminist in that I don't see language as ladylike or masculine - words are words and they're available for anyone to use regardless of gender. I don't like having limits or boundaries. It's nice to read dialog that's so believable you forget you're reading and feel more like you're eavesdropping!

And thanks for the awesome dialog tips!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Scobber, how you doin'? I FINALLY got to crack the cover of your book. Can't wait to plow in!

I'm in trouble, Ang. I AM of that age, but must be experiencing a second childhood. LOL

Embee, thank you for the high praise: "dialog that's so believable you forget you're reading and feel more like you're eavesdropping." You made my you were talking specifically about the dialog between myself and friend. LOL!

The Unbreakable Child said...

Great info, Angie! I loved the dialogue between you and your friend and felt it natural.

Scott said...

To use or not to use . . . unladylike language? I think it all depends on the genre, as well as place. I don't think Bilbo Baggin's using the 'F' word would have come across as realistic. A novel set in the here and now without a cuss word would be . . . well, unrealistic. Personally, I use them periodically in my writing, just not an overflow of the words, simply because I want my characters as real as possible. Some of my friends use the 'F' word quite often, and some not at all, therefore I try to have the same balance with my characters.

I think with any dialogue, it needs to seem/flow natural(ly). I hate, hate, hate dialogue that seems stilted or the only reason is to convey some major point. Keep the dialogue real is my simple rule . . .oh, and if your writing takes place in another world, create your own cuss words like 'frak'! : )

Great post.


B.J. Anderson said...

I think unladylike language, slang, etc. are fantastic! But a little goes a long way, and I think you can end up exhausting the reader when it's overused. I loved your little coffee talk with your friend (Lol, every time I read it, I go make coffee--like I'm doing right now), and I think in a short format like that, it works wonderfully.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Thanks, Unbreakable Kimmi!

Scott, great comment. :)

I agree with not overdoing, B.J. So glad you liked my little chit chat version. Music to my ears. Thank you! *clinking mugs wit' ya*

Jessica said...

Things seemed fine to me. :-) Great dialogue tips!

Rebecca Woodhead said...

This is something I've been wondering about as some of my characters have pretty heated discussions every now and then and I can't imagine that level of emotion happening without a few inelegant words escaping. Sometimes they say things I wouldn't say but I just 'hear' them saying it and know that's what they'd say. For me, it has to be real or it becomes stilted.

My recent short story isn't the kind of thing I'm talking about as it was just a bit of fun and intentionally a little cartoonish. The kind of thing I write in my novels is 'real' to me. I really care about the characters. They exist and they go through tough things. They need a full vocabulary and I hope it's okay for them to have it. :)

Barb said...

I really enjoyed reading your dialogue, as it was something that I have no experience of. I would want a novel by you to give me that as well. If you gave me a book set in Louisiana where your characters spoke like the queen, I would be very disappointed.

I don't know your story line, but if the female characters spoke "properly" until there were alone, and then spoke in the style that you wrote yesterday, I think that would be really powerful.

Barb said...

Also I love the surf 'n' turf. Where I come from it's reef 'n' beef.

Melissa Marsh said...

Regarding "unladylike" language...if it's how the character should speak, then you should use it. But if you throw it in for "shock" value, then that's a no-no.

Here, I think it works just fine. :-)

CashewElliott said...

I found it pretty f^*king offensive.

CashewElliott said...

sorry. You can delete that if you want; I don't know your readership. (:

Terri Tiffany said...

I love the next to the last advice you gave. I can't stand reading something where the author overuses dialect. annoying!

Wendy said...

I'm still thinking about hairy hell. :D

Great tips.

~ Wendy

Angie Ledbetter said...

Glad you liked, Jessica.

Rebecca, in the end, you have to be true to your characters. Let 'em eat 'em have their full, real vocabs! :)

Yeah, Barb, my characters save their colorful discussions pretty much for each other. LOL Now, please 'splain! What's reef 'n beef???

Glad to hear it, Melissa. No shock value used...just the nitty gritty of it all. :)

Cashew, made me laugh. (And now my readers know a little bit 'bout you!) LOL

So true, Terri.

LOL, Wendy. I guess the colorful really does stick in the old noggin. :)

Amy said...

I wasn't offended by the language and I think you offer some great dialogue tips for us to keep in mind. I do think some dialogue (not yours, of course!) can be tedious if it's used as an info dump. That type of stuff doesn't work for me in books and I find if I've gotten the gist of the message or information, I'll skim and skip ahead.

Anonymous said...

If you want to get a monumental talking to that will leave a mark, really tick off a "lady". Dad used to say that when someone is asking for a good cussin', he believed it was his place to grant that wish.
Me too on some level.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Great tips, thanks! I do think dialogue is KEY to good writing!

Hilary said...

I was highly offended... b*tch! ;)

colbymarshall said...

HAHAHA Hilary cracks me up!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Amy, I dislike info. dumpage too. Bad sign when your eyes roam down the page.

Hear ya, Oren. I see/hear it often 'round these parts. I guess we're just expressive and colorful. :)

Carrie, dialog can make or break an otherwise good book.

El.Oh.El, Hilary!!

Me too, Colby. Buncha nuts around here. :)

Barb said...

Reef 'n' Beef is fillet steak with king prawns.

Anonymous said...

I do not like foul language added to make characters look tough, somehow it makes me think of the author, as I read and, I lose belief in the character.

However, I do like language that is the real language of conversations. The actual words said can be powerful (as your conversation demonstrates).

That said, if I buy a fictional character really said something because it just fits, it never offends me. Only when it seems contrived am I bothered.

But, what do I know? I come to your blog to be advised, not give advise :)!

Angie Ledbetter said...

Barb, that sounds yummy!

TTWC, I don't like when the author's voice overshadows the characters' either. And thanks for the compliment. About advice -- this whole blogging writer network is all about the give and take, the fun and learning opportunities of mutual exchange. :)

Michelle H. said...

I love writing dialogue. I think it is one of my stronger points. I think it's the dialogue tags that trip people up the most. That and the the "unrealness" of the conversation. Most real dialogue isn't spoken in complete sentences or proper grammar.

Angie Ledbetter said...

I love the dialog I've read in your posted writing, Michelle, and agree about the proper grammar and sentence structure making dialogue all stiltified. LOL. A lot of new writers forget to use contractions to make dialogue sound natural. I read stuff all the time like, "I wish I could have gone to the store but do not recall why I did not." Who talks like that? :)

Deb Shucka said...

I love the power of strong honest dialogue. It's one of my favorite ways to get to know characters. When I read your conversation with your friend, I didn't even notice that it was unladylike. Which probably says more about me than you. :) I was pulled through the piece by the conversation.

Karen said...

There was "unladylike" language in there? Where?

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