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Old 10-04-2012, 12:45 PM   #1
VydorScope
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9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue

Great read, IMO

9 Easily Preventable Mistakes Writers Make with Dialogue
http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/...ogue-mistakes/
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Old 10-04-2012, 03:28 PM   #2
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The one about "said" is always up for debate. While it may seem unobtrusive, I can still remember being told all through high school that you were either to just stop attributing (which only works as long as you can tell characters apart) or use a different word every time.

Although I wonder why the constant shifting back and forth. Is "said" really as transparent as everyone claims it is, or is there something else going on here?
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Old 10-04-2012, 03:36 PM   #3
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Quote:
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The one about "said" is always up for debate. While it may seem unobtrusive, I can still remember being told all through high school that you were either to just stop attributing (which only works as long as you can tell characters apart) or use a different word every time.

Although I wonder why the constant shifting back and forth. Is "said" really as transparent as everyone claims it is, or is there something else going on here?
If there are only 2 people in a conversation, and you have already established the pattern

Joe said
Mike said
Joe said
Mike said

Then leaving them off is okay in some people's minds. If you have more then two people, then I think it falls completely apart. For the most part I just use ASK, SAID, and RESPONDED. I also like action tags as an alternative attribution. I do not typically leave the attribution off completely though. It feels like a typo when I read it.
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Old 10-04-2012, 04:35 PM   #4
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I agree. "Said" is invisible for the most part. The examples given in the link are good examples on methods to avoid using it constantly, such as linking speech to action.

I recall our whole creative writing class in college being strongly advised to avoid adverbs with said, "he said angrily." That's lazy writing. Make it obvious the speaker is angry.
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Old 10-04-2012, 04:48 PM   #5
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I recall our whole creative writing class in college being strongly advised to avoid adverbs with said, "he said angrily." That's lazy writing. Make it obvious the speaker is angry.
I distinctly remember my teachers saying, "said," though, and not making the distinction between "said" and a Tom Swifty. You used "said" only once per conversation, and either you stopped using it or had to find something else to use.

Not saying they're right, but this was the '90s and the teacher wasn't very old. So I'm still wondering what the original reason was. Editors going through and deciding that "said" was too repetitive or something?
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Old 10-04-2012, 05:09 PM   #6
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Quote:
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I distinctly remember my teachers saying, "said," though, and not making the distinction between "said" and a Tom Swifty. You used "said" only once per conversation, and either you stopped using it or had to find something else to use.

Not saying they're right, but this was the '90s and the teacher wasn't very old. So I'm still wondering what the original reason was. Editors going through and deciding that "said" was too repetitive or something?
My ENGLISH teacher said that you could only use siad once, and then had to switch it out. She felt, if I recall right, that it was the same reason we do not like repetitive words in the sentence. Variety makes better sentences!

My CREATIVE WRITING teacher said that was hogwash. He said just use "said" or skip it completely.

English rules are far more subjective then we like to admit I think.
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Old 10-04-2012, 08:58 PM   #7
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I think that page does a good job, overall. It doesn't insist on "said" (for example), but merely that simple tags are best. It demonstrates quite well that most writing rules are ones of moderation. Not too formal but not too realistic; use action in your dialogue but you don't have to spell everything out - and this makes a useful cross reference with the common advice about adverbs. And then the admission that the author is "guilty" of breaking all these rules - because they are not rules, they are just things to bear in mind. You can get away with some more sophisticated dialogue tags, just don't make a habit of them. You can get away with spelling things out when you think it might be necessary, just try not to do it everywhere. And so on.
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Old 10-04-2012, 09:23 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Penforhire View Post
I agree. "Said" is invisible for the most part. The examples given in the link are good examples on methods to avoid using it constantly, such as linking speech to action.

I recall our whole creative writing class in college being strongly advised to avoid adverbs with said, "he said angrily." That's lazy writing. Make it obvious the speaker is angry.
For the most part this is true, but not always. There is a difference between being concise and padding.
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Old 10-05-2012, 02:05 AM   #9
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If you want to see how dialogue tags should not be done, try reading some vintage E Phillips Oppenheim. He used a staggering number of different dialogue tags, which once you noticed them became very very obtrusive indeed, and very annoying.

In piece I wrote on Oppenheim's The Colossus of Arcadia in "A Century of Sensational Fiction" I noted:

"Oppy doubtless wrote his novels with a well-thumbed Roget’s Thesaurus open beside him. His characters seldom "said" anything. They declared, assured, acknowledged, begged, insisted, and exclaimed; they pointed out, observed, pleaded, remarked, admitted, reflected and whispered; they directed, scoffed, murmured, inquired, muttered, enjoined and complained; and they laughed, cried, offered and sighed. And that is a mere sample of dialogue tags culled from just ten pages chosen at random."

Oh, and for some reason I omitted to mention "acquiesced", one of Oppy's favourites, probably because it wasn't used on the ten pages I collected the tags from.

Another trap for young players is the wrong use of the exclamation point. Some writers use it to suggest that the character is simply being firm or emphatic.

"My dear fellow, I could not agree more!" is NOT an exclamation. "Oh shit!" definitely is. Georgette Heyer's otherwise splendid Regency romances are marred by prodigious overuse of the exclamation point. The worst example is in a late novel "A Lady of Quality" where said lady and a gentleman are holding a discussion in a hotel lobby in Regency Bath, and almost every line of the conversation ends in an exclamation point.
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Old 10-07-2012, 01:18 PM   #10
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Good things to keep in mind. Dialogue is one of those tricky beasts where what works in an actual conversation doesn't actually work on a written page. The hard part is using the tricks of writing to make the latter seem like the former.
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Old 10-14-2012, 07:09 AM   #11
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Good things to keep in mind. Dialogue is one of those tricky beasts where what works in an actual conversation doesn't actually work on a written page. The hard part is using the tricks of writing to make the latter seem like the former.
I agree with this, sometimes if you make it too realistic, the dialogue actually becomes less realistic or "try-hard", it can also appear messy and difficult for the reader to read.

I think Irvine Welsh is the master of writing dialogue, he uses Scottish phonetics, but once you get it, it is like you are having a conversation in a pub with someone.

I write in first person and use a lot of slang. I use some phonetics. Instead of using he said, she said I usually cut from one sentence to the next.
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Old 10-14-2012, 10:28 AM   #12
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Originally Posted by Pulpmeister View Post
If you want to see how dialogue tags should not be done, try reading some vintage E Phillips Oppenheim. He used a staggering number of different dialogue tags, which once you noticed them became very very obtrusive indeed, and very annoying.
So when do we start letting alliteration, assonance, consonance, repetition of words other than "said," and all those other rhetorical devices back out of the Poetry ghetto?
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Old 10-24-2012, 03:10 AM   #13
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The one about "said" is always up for debate. While it may seem unobtrusive, I can still remember being told all through high school that you were either to just stop attributing (which only works as long as you can tell characters apart) or use a different word every time.
Yeah, that is the classic beginner's mistake.
As soon as someone says, "what I was taught in school" you know it's going to be a doozy.

We have interns come in with journalism degrees and I can't believe the things they have been taught. As they say, if you can't do it well - teach it!
Sorry to any teachers here

I shudder to think of reading a novel that changes tags after every time.

On Writing by Steven King explains it well.
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Old 10-24-2012, 06:25 PM   #14
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I think the "said" one is good as far as just dropping it after things are established because it makes for sloppy writing when you use a lot of words from a Thesaurus. I mean think of all the words to show anger.
Tom said angrily, tom said hotly, tom said rudely, tom said bruskly, tom said abrasively, etc. It can look sloppy or silly and distract from the story I think. Giving some sort of tag like tapping fingers or rubbing their nose when needed to keep it straight who is who is much better and helps maintain the illusion.
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Old 11-01-2012, 07:47 AM   #15
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"Some writers worry that the reader won’t quite “get” the dialogue, and decide to spell things out, like this:

“I hate you!” George slammed the door and ran upstairs. He was furious with his mum – he felt that she was being unfair."

I have zero issue with this any longer. Pretty much every million-selling author I read bangs it home when someone is angry or sad, by telling the reader explicitly that they are angry or sad, to the extent that I figure they must be right. Because, millions.

Then I read the sort of optimistic advice that was linked above and I say to myself "That's easy for you to say anonymous nobody I've never heard of." I ball up my fists and shake them at the sky. Because I'm angry. Possibly sad. Or hungry.
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