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Old 07-01-2020, 03:03 PM   #1
4691mls
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A plea to writers/editors

If you are going to write a back-and-forth conversation between characters that goes on for a couple of pages or more, please throw in an occasional name - such as "said Bob" or "Jane exclaimed" - so I can keep track of who's saying what.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I need a clue every now and then
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Old 07-01-2020, 05:58 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by 4691mls View Post
If you are going to write a back-and-forth conversation between characters that goes on for a couple of pages or more, please throw in an occasional name - such as "said Bob" or "Jane exclaimed" - so I can keep track of who's saying what.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I need a clue every now and then
Wait, in the books you read,they use quotation marks? DANG!

Spoiler:
Sorry, but if I see one more POS go through my shop, without quotation marks, dialogue tags and beats and am then be told it's "experimental fiction," I'm a-gunna barf.


I'm with you. If the speaking characters don't clearly have their own voices, then this is very problematic. It's a mistake that amateur writers make a lot.

Whereas you look at, say, Robert B Parker, he could have omitted any dialogue tags and you'd STILL have known whether it was Spenser or Hawk (or the ubiquitous and vexing Susan, who I always wished would get run over by a runaway bean truck).


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Old 07-02-2020, 04:58 AM   #3
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If there are only two characters in the location, sometimes you don't need a tag on every scrap of dialogue and the dialogue can reference the other speaker.
"What do you think, John?"
I do think it needs tags even then, relatively frequently.

However if there are three characters then almost every piece of dialogue needs to be clearly identified as to who is uttering.

This is also why:
1) A "beta" reader is a good idea.
2) Working on several books, after rewrite/proof, put one in the cellar till you forget the content, work on another. Then later go back and read it fresh and make sure the dialogue works.

Also a new paragraph for a change of character speaking? I've read both Gutenberg and actual printed books (newer are worse) from big publishers where that has slipped past the proofreader(s).
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Old 07-02-2020, 08:56 AM   #4
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Originally Posted by 4691mls View Post
If you are going to write a back-and-forth conversation between characters that goes on for a couple of pages or more, please throw in an occasional name - such as "said Bob" or "Jane exclaimed" - so I can keep track of who's saying what.

Maybe I'm just getting old, but I need a clue every now and then
I would say that dialogue spanning multiple pages without let up probably has more problems than simple lack of attributions. (I will admit, slightly nervously after seeing what Hitch said about experimental fiction, to writing one short story that was all dialogue, no attribution or any other aside at all, as an experiment, just to see if I could do it and make it work. I thought it did work, as a short, but I wouldn't like to try it for a whole novel.)

I tend to find most annoyances when I'm reading go the other way - too many unnecessary attributions. I might get lost occasionally, but it seems to me to be the less common sin.

Whichever problem it is, getting it right takes practice, and help.
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Old 07-02-2020, 09:45 AM   #5
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Yeah, they don't need to be calling each other by name every other sentence, but something dropped in occasionally is helpful.

I've read conversations where I got halfway through and thought "wait, that doesn't sound like something Joe would know". I'll go back to the top of the conversation, see that Mary started it, then move my finger down the page, thinking "Mary, Joe, Mary, Joe" as I pass each paragraph until I get to the point where I had been confused. Then I can see which character actually said what.
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Old 07-02-2020, 10:49 AM   #6
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I would say that dialogue spanning multiple pages without let up probably has more problems than simple lack of attributions. (I will admit, slightly nervously after seeing what Hitch said about experimental fiction, to writing one short story that was all dialogue, no attribution or any other aside at all, as an experiment, just to see if I could do it and make it work. I thought it did work, as a short, but I wouldn't like to try it for a whole novel.)
I may need to go amend my aside. I was rather sarcastically talking about what I term "inadvertent experimental fiction." We get books that have none of the above (quotation marks, dialogue tags, beats) and when I ask the authors if it's intentional, they usually disappear for a day and then come back and proudly tell me it's "experimental fiction." My theory is that they rummage the Net and learn that there are thousands of others out there, bragging about their unreadable "experimental fiction" and they latch on to that.

I wasn't, actually, speaking of deliberate experimental fiction, although Joyce annoys me a LOT. Joyce was smug and humored, about his expectation for critics' reactions and I am firmly in the camp that believes that he felt he could sneak dreck past the self-proclaimed Intelligentsia of the book world--and he did. Deliberately. And the rest of us have had to suffer through proclamations of his brilliance ever since. (That's my Emperor's New Clothes theory.)

Quote:
I tend to find most annoyances when I'm reading go the other way - too many unnecessary attributions. I might get lost occasionally, but it seems to me to be the less common sin.

Whichever problem it is, getting it right takes practice, and help.
Agreed that the other failing is even more apparent and commonplace. The glut of Baby Writers has caused this infliction upon the reading public of First Drafts that should have been consigned to First Draft Hell. Sadly, FDH is now the sale bin at Amazon.

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Old 07-02-2020, 12:35 PM   #7
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Old 07-03-2020, 09:15 PM   #8
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The only short story I have ever read, which is entirely in dialogue and without dialogue tags, is "Tennis" by Michael Arlen. It is a back-and-forth discussion between a man and a woman, and Arlen had the skill to pull it off. But many writers, including best sellers, write dialogue in a single voice often not much removed from the narrative, so it becomes difficult to work out who's saying what by the words alone.

Recently preparing an ebook for the library I spent quite a lot of time sorting out a section of dialogue without tags. The problem occurred because one character was given two short successive paragraphs, while all the rest of the untagged dialogue was single paragraph for each speaker, so the reader was trapped into something that made no sense. I had to reread several times, and go right to the end of the section of dialogue, to work it out. At one stage I was thinking some lines of text had been left out. Then, to avoid confusion in the readers in future, I took an editorial decision and merged the two short paragraphs into one. I'm still not sure if the split was on the part of the author, or the newspaper serial syndicate, or the linotype operator who set the material.

To see what a writer with an ear for speech can do without dialogue tags, try Pratchett's Discworld, notably when the original three witches are embroiled in debate.

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat are marvellously differentiated not only in appearance, and character, but in speech as well. You can never mistake one for the other.
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Old 07-04-2020, 04:21 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Pulpmeister View Post
[...] To see what a writer with an ear for speech can do without dialogue tags, try Pratchett's Discworld, notably when the original three witches are embroiled in debate.

Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat are marvellously differentiated not only in appearance, and character, but in speech as well. You can never mistake one for the other.
Just finished re-reading Witches Abroad - the maiden, the mother and ... the other one!
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Old 07-04-2020, 08:17 AM   #10
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A crone. But don't say it in her hearing.
Actually Fay mother can probably be any of the three aspects, but that's maybe one in a million. How fertile are almost immortal magical creatures.

Pratchett also often has no chapters. I don't think many can do that or his style of dialogue easily.
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Old 07-05-2020, 12:23 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Hitch View Post
Wait, in the books you read,they use quotation marks? DANG!
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I just checked out from my local library All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. No quotes around the dialog. (Published in 1992.)
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Old 07-05-2020, 01:08 AM   #12
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I just checked out from my local library All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy. No quotes around the dialog. (Published in 1992.)
McCarthy is famous for that.

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Old 07-06-2020, 08:07 AM   #13
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Omitting quotation marks (by Cormac McCarthy)

Following up on Hitch's post, he also appears to be famous for excessive whitespace to pad his page count, at least that's the impression I got from reading The Road, on my top ten list of the worst novels I've ever read. With respect to his dialogue as such, that from the son of the book's protagonist is so inane and unnatural for a kid as to be laughable.

- Alyssa
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Old 07-06-2020, 09:09 AM   #14
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Following up on Hitch's post, he also appears to be famous for excessive whitespace to pad his page count, at least that's the impression I got from reading The Road, on my top ten list of the worst novels I've ever read. With respect to his dialogue as such, that from the son of the book's protagonist is so inane and unnatural for a kid as to be laughable.

- Alyssa
Yeah. I do NOT get the mad love for The Road, at all. It feels like another scenario in which the Intelligentsia christen a writer/book as being "all that" and lauding it excessively, while the rest of us simply shake our heads. Sort of Emperor's-New-Clothes-ish.

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Old 07-06-2020, 10:20 AM   #15
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The Road

When I finished reading it, Peggy Lee's classic rendition of Is That All There Is? the Lieber and Stoller song came to mind (the pair also wrote the immortal Hound Dog).
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