Dialogue—How Much

The word “dialogue” implies that I’m going to talk about fiction in this essay, but the actuality is that in writing journalistic articles, we also quote people’s speech. So what I say below may well apply to nonfiction writing. (I was a business journalist for many years.)

Dialogue.

How much dialogue should be included?

Word from the experts and sometimes me as well is that we should have plenty of dialogue from our characters (or interviewees). And “plenty” is a good amount. But the problem I see quite a lot is that writers will use dialogue in exclusion of narration. Speech, speech, speech. And that’s how all the information is presented. And the format can be both boring and really emotionless. Dialogue or constant quotes may miss out on nuance or humanity. I so want authors to vary their means of presentation.

“Wah wah wah,” said Charlie Brown. “Wah wah wah.”

What’s another format that should be toggled with the direct quote dialogue approach?

“Wah wah wah,” said Charlie Brown. The boy turned red with frustration and looked Patty right in the eye. He repeated himself. Then he told her that this time he was going to kick that football straight in the guts.

And for the news story?

“Wah wah wah,” said Charles Brown, independent candidate for the council seat left open last July by the death of 17-year council member Irene Patty. Brown in speaking to reporters after the debate noted that he was against continuing free lunches for public school children. “Free lunches may fill their stomachs, but leave them with empty souls.”

Another thing to watch for in writing dialogue is the ever-present danger of talking heads, also known as my turn, your turn. Dialogue without connective tissue is frankly boring.

“Wah wah wah,” said Charlie.

“Haw haw haw,” said Peppermint Patti.

“Wah wah.”

“Haw haw.”

Generally the talking heads includes some speaking without tags, leaving readers are on their own as to who has spoken, though sometimes little clues are given. But no adding the characters’ or subjects’ expressions, their movement in the room, or deductions about their attitudes.

However, going without tags can be a nice variation so long as who is speaking is clearly indicated by the words themselves or by an action taken before or after the spoken words.

“I can’t be pregnant. I’m taking birth control pills.” We can guess the speaker’s gender, so this must be Patti saying this and not Charlie.

“I hit him and hit him and hit him.” The accused murderer is undoubtedly the speaker here.

Charlie took another sip of the drink that had been set in front of him. “Wah wah.”

Charlie has spoken—and that’s why we include the action in the paragraph with his speech and not in the paragraph “belonging” to the other guy.

Dialogue is good and needed in fiction just as quotes are in an article. And while you’re allowed to be a little bit boring in a run-of-the mill news report (though not in a feature), fiction has to do a better job than being average. Dialogue is essential in fiction, but not all information can be delivered in dialogue. And who is speaking must always be clear.

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Send a comment here if you want to inquire about an edit or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Download The Naked Writer at Amazon, or read in print or in ebook format Question Woman and Howling Sky.

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Dialogue—How Much

The Naked Writer: One Word or Two?

A mistake students and clients make that surprises me a lot is the failure to know (or research) which words should be put together as a single word—or which supposedly single word is actually two words. Why should this amaze me? Because the dictionary is right here online and/or a simple search engine search can (most often) make the usage clear.

But I guess, to take a step back, what really catches me off guard is that the student or client doesn’t suspect that the two words might be taken as one or that the single word might possibly be broken in two.

Sometimes, yes, I know the answer. We write “online” and not “on line.” We write “ashcan” and not “ash can.” These are completely logical. How about wastepaper? Well, I just wrote it and spellcheck liked it, so I know I can leave it that way. On the other hand, it doesn’t like the word “spellcheck.” So let me go look that up. I do so by first performing a search. Universally, what I come up with for search results are spell check (one spell-check). Okay, I’ll concede. I’ll use two words. But the reader will never know I had the use wrong to begin with.

So the process goes. I look up everything if I’m at all likely to make a mistake. I don’t want to make a mistake. I want to have the right usage. So, my question is why my students and clients don’t look up the word or words. That’s part of the job of being a writer. And if I forget which the correct use is and come across the word again and again? You know what? I look it up every time. Because I can and I don’t even have to pick up a physical dictionary. Though if I think the physical dictionary has an older word I know is proper usage, I’ll pick it up and thumb my way to the page where the word should be.

And here’s the OneLook Dictionary if that will help: https://onelook.com/ . Yes, they spell that as one word: OneLook.

Oh, no, I just stumbled across this in a client’s manuscript: Hood winking… Means, I suppose, a winking hood.

Here are some I’ve seen recently:
bar tender
heart beat
home town
gate keeper
back pack
treachcoats
half way
under-lying

And much, much more. Please remember, I don’t know all the answers, but I look up everything I’m suspicious of and also if the spell checker flags the word and I think I’m right. Sometimes I am.
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Have you downloaded my Kindle stylebook, The Naked Writer? Have you taken a class with me at Writer’s Digest University? https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/ I always have classes coming up and I know I can help you become a better writer. I have a 12-week novel workshop starting 12/7 and an 11/30 Fundamentals of Fiction. Or read a novel or two of mine, such as Question Woman & Howling Sky: https://www.amazon.com/Question-Woman-Howling-Sky-Hayden-ebook/dp/B019PUAVLI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511548622&sr=8-1&keywords=Question+Woman+%26+Howling+Sky . Post a comment if you want to contact me here.

The Naked Writer: One Word or Two?

How I Fuss My Way Through a Line Edit

“Conduct” a line edit? No, that makes me sound like an orchestra leader. Which is part of how I do a line edit—I check out the word choices.

I thought I’d take a break from the mechanics of writing (punctuation and such) and present a short piece on how I perform a line edit, though the work isn’t much of a performance. But people do say things such as “I went through and don’t have any questions because the presentation is clear.” “Thank you for commenting on the writing and letting me know the overall problems I need to fix.” “I appreciate the word choice substitutions. I can see they improve the work.”

Doesn’t anyone criticize me? I live in fear that someone will resent my changing their words. After all, what is meant by a line edit? Perhaps only that I’ll correct what’s wrong, and not tweak. But I’m filled with a compulsion to listen to the voice in my head telling me to change the word. So I do. 🙂 Do people complain? No. The only complaint I ever received on my line editing was from a well-educated fellow from Montenegro—yes, really—who had done his own translation from his native language. He wanted me to make the work seem as if an American had written it. I said that I’d made it quite readable but not entirely American sounding—yet the quaintness was charming. He wanted to sound like a native English speaker. Well, no, that wasn’t possible with just a line edit.

I would say over the years perhaps five or six students (not line editing clients) have been unhappy with one thing or another, such as after I said to a man from Brazil that I didn’t understand his written English and he replied, “How many languages do you speak?” One. Or when I told a woman she needed to actually write scenes and not summaries of scenes, which filled her with indignation. (Having only written for film—successfully—she apparently couldn’t make the leap to the novel.)

But I digress.

Hmm. How do I conduct a line edit? I begin to read… I’m feeling my way here. For most work, everything looks pretty good right now. I understand what’s being said. Only a few pages later, I start again. (And for the edit I’m doing currently, I started a third time.) Now that I’m warmed up and I can see more clearly what’s on the page, the writing isn’t reading quite as well as it did at first. Every word and its meaning counts. Some words don’t mean what they’re obviously intended to mean. I change the word. Maybe the whole sentence needs to be recast.

Passive writing has to be made active. (“The dog was eaten by the soldiers” becomes “the soldiers ate the dog.”) Incorrect use of subjunctive must be corrected (“If he were intending her harm” becomes “if he was intending her harm” because he might be).

I change a present tense out of place to past tense. I insert commas for direct address, correct the punctuation of dialogue (possibly thousands of times in a single novel—oh boy). Punctuation, punctuation, punctuation. Commas inside quote marks, periods inside quote marks. Recast the sentence to get rid of awkward wording Oh, oh, that’s “sight,” not “site.” Wrong name for the character. Name the character instead of “he.” Too many “said”s in a row. Get rid of the repeats, the near repeats, the too-close sounds. Look up the spelling of the corporate name. Fix the biblical quotation. Suggest a plot change to heighten the suspense… Grumble because the client doesn’t use a chapter break. And so on and so forth.

Ah, I’m done. Now that I’ve gotten the most obvious errors out of the way, I start all over. Not because the price of a second draft is built into the edit, but because I’m a bit of a perfectionist. And believe me, a second, full, double-draft edit is not amiss on a major work if the client wants to pay for a further review.

Now I’m really done, and early. Because I’m driven.

There you go. I’m sure I’ve forgotten many things I actually do look at, but whatever your work is you probably need at least one double-draft edit from me. No guarantees as to sales.

A friend of mine who edits freelance for the big name publishers was discouraged. They have no complaints about his work, but they object to his—to them—high-price billing.

“How can I bill fairly and keep those clients?” he questions when we’re speaking.

“The only way is to edit a big bestseller,” I respond. We look at one another, and we laugh.

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Send a comment here if you want to inquire about an edit or take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. Or download The Naked Writer at Amazon. I look forward to the interaction.

How I Fuss My Way Through a Line Edit

Can’t Punctuate Dialogue? Consider the Sentence

Whereas everyone is welcome to write without a clue—you do have a computer, after all—unless you start with a strong foundation and build from there, your lack of understanding is going to cost you.

Recently a student of mine expressed strong irritation when I suggested she learn to punctuate. Yes, I really am that annoying person. Well, the next time I went through her writing, I restrained myself from spending the time and effort on such minor matters as how her sentences were put together. I should simply presume people will be happy to pay for an edit rather than learn some of the basics of writing.

I thought I might start here with the sentence, really for a reason that has to do with punctuating dialogue—the issue on my mind right now. Why? Because while line editing, I’ve found so many examples of a certain glitch that boils down to a mere misunderstanding of what a sentence is. Now, straightaway to it. (Of course this isn’t a complete sentence, but that’s beside the point…)

Here we go—and please approach this believing that comprehension will be easy and you’re sure to grasp what I’m saying:

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too,” Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest. She wasn’t sure that Jake would take her seriously.

Okay, that’s part one of the mistake I’m discussing. The question is, where does that second sentence end? With a comma, we indicate a sentence will go on. Therefore, what is the punctuation here saying? It’s saying that the sentence is:

Not just my future, but your future too, Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

Does that look like a sentence to you? It’s not a sentence—it’s a mess. The hero of our story is the editor, who rushes in and places a period at the actual end of the sentence:

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too PERIOD” Nora swallowed and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

AHA! Now we have packaged the actual sentences separately. And that’s why we don’t use a comma with actions or explanations after the dialogue. We do not by kneejerk put a comma before the end-quote mark. Because we don’t know yet if the sentence has ended. Maybe yes, maybe no.

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too,” Nora said PERIOD She swallowed, and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.
How simple is that? We have to know where the sentence ends. At the end of the sentence, we place a period. Otherwise, we’re continuing on.

Here’s part two of the glitch.

“Yes, you see, but I’m from the future. Not just my future, but your future too.” Nora said. She swallowed, and her heart pounded, nearly pushing out of her chest.

Thus the person who thinks the sentence is simply ended before the “Nora said” creates a separate sentence where none is wanted. This individual doesn’t realize that the quoted dialogue flows on to the attribution.

I’m not saying that this individual is you—probably not, and you probably stopped reading when you saw where I was going with this. Oh, well. But maybe I’ve worked off a little steam.

The error—this set of errors—is extremely common. I just edited a 500-page novel in which the author avoided the mistake perhaps three or four times. Don’t be that person.
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Whatever your habitual errors are, punctuation, writing style, or even not understanding what the agents/editors are looking for, if you’d like to correct your flaws, take a class with me at Writer’s Digest: https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/. Upcoming are Fundamentals of Fiction, Writing the Mystery, and 12 Weeks to a First Draft. Or for some less-expensive guidance, you might want to download The Naked Writer for your Kindle at Amazon. Yes, I work with clients privately. Send a comment here.

Can’t Punctuate Dialogue? Consider the Sentence

THE NAKED WRITER: More About Paragraphs

I posted a piece earlier last year that gave some good reasons for and advice on breaking paragraphs, but I see I missed something important. Recently, I reviewed a couple of posted assignments by students and a novel from an editing client that showed the same pattern in each.

Let me give an example.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie. Beanie just wanted to try to help.

“I’m not moving until I talk some sense into you,” Beanie told him.

What’s the problem? The writer needs to let Beanie have her own paragraph—give the girl some privacy. So the paragraphing here would change if we followed some logic.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

Beanie just wanted to try to help. “I’m not moving until I talk some sense into you,” she told him.

Paragraphing is a way of sensibly structuring your writing. What is more reasonable—having information about the speaker in her own paragraph, or using her information in a paragraph about someone else? Yes, package the information next to her speech, not next to his.

My other observation of what people do is related.

What I also see is that people like to break paragraphs for no reason if dialogue is involved.

To give you an example.

Joel was never the calmest of men.

“Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

Why separate commentary from the dialogue as if the dialogue needs a paragraph all to itself. It doesn’t. A paragraph with narration can certainly tolerate some accompanying dialogue.

Joel was never the calmest of men. “Get out of my way or you’re going to get hurt,” Joel warned Beanie.

If you can, scroll down and see my original post on paragraphing. But I’ll summarize the main point here. One reason we break paragraphs is to put more white space on the page and make the page look more readable. Of course we break at appropriate spots, but break we must or the page will seem grey and intimidating.

Now the point in this post in front of you now is that you need to group the sentences in your paragraph according to logic and why you might not need a paragraph break just because you have a piece of dialogue.

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Come take one of my classes at Writer’s Digest and learn more—and download my style guide, The Naked Writer, at Amazon. I’m an award-winning writer—I won an award for my Writing the Mystery (take a mystery writing class with me) and I won an Edgar for a short story of mine. I have a mystery writing class coming up as well as 12 Weeks to a First Draft (both online with a couple more coming at Writer’s Digest University). Oh, next up is Showing vs. Telling, starting on 8/3/2017.

THE NAKED WRITER: More About Paragraphs

The Naked Writer: Writing Numbers

Unless we’re using Roman numerals—which are still in fashion here and there—we’re using Arabic numerals or writing the numbers out. That sounds simple. Not so. But I don’t intend to go in total depth here. (Numbers are quite a subject, really.) I’ll give you the bare bones–and don’t forget that the style guides update yearly.

Having been a business journalist for many years, I like to use The Associated Press Stylebook.

AP says, as a general rule, to spell out numbers under 10 and then use the numeral. But, AP adds, never start a sentence with a number unless the number specifies a year.

*Bob and his wife took nine children to the park on Wednesday and 11 children to the park on Friday.
*Eleven children proved to be a challenge for the two.
*1914 was the year in which this building gained a certificate of occupancy.

When writing about whatever might be first through ninth, we spell the designations. Then above ninth, we again switch to the numerals.

*Bob sat in the eighth row then moved to the 10th row.

However, in some specific cases we apply the numerals early on.

*Judge Bob Smith sat on the 9th Circuit.

Money goes by numerals with symbols unless cents .

*Bob threw $3 into the pot.
*Bob later threw 30 cents into the pot.
*Bob won $2 million in the Friday lottery.

To return to the question of Roman numerals, they’re used with people who are numbered, such as Elizabeth II or numbered events, such as World War I.

Complicated enough? Well here comes CMOS: The Chicago Manual of Style’s decision regarding writing numbers. As I noted in the last blog piece, CMOS is used for academic writing as well as books (mostly nonfiction).

CMOS says for us to spell out whole numbers but use numerals for more complex numbers.

*I was introduced to one hundred boys at the school, although they were noisy enough to sound like three hundred thousand boys. The principal told us 337 boys had graduated in the first several years the school had been open.

Strangely, CMOS offers an alternative. You can use the AP style, and spell numbers through nine and then go with numerals after that. CMOS though won’t let you use a number for the year when you open a sentence.

*Nineteen fourteen was the year this building opened for occupancy.

Numbers, obviously, are complex, and often we may find ourselves fudging a bit. Or at least I do. (Is that so bad?) Because numbers are one hard nut to crack, that’s why I wanted to pin down some of the rules myself. At some point in the future, I’ll go into dates and times if I can work up the nerve.

As I said in my last blog piece on style guides, most important is that you’re consistent. If you have a contract with a publisher, however—whether for an article or a book—ask for their style guide.

The Naked Writer by G. Miki Hayden—me—is not a style guide at all, but a punctuation and grammar resource with style “advice” for all sorts of writers. You should have this. Get your Kindle copy on Amazon

And take a class with me at Writer’s Digest University. I pinky promise not to fuss about the way you write your numbers. Coming up soon at https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/are :

5/25/2017 – 07/06/2017 Writing the Mystery. I won a short story Edgar and was on the board of Mystery Writers of America for several years. I have an award-winning book in print titled Writing the Mystery.

6/08/2017 – 08/31/2017 12 Weeks to a First Draft. This is a great class for the focused person writing a novel. I can help with the ground-level writing as well as the overall scheme of the story, and then provide insights into what’s happening with the markets these days.

06/29/2017 – 08/10/2017 Writing the Paranormal Novel. Paranormal covers a lot of ground. My Question Woman & Howling Sky (at Amazon) falls into several categories, including paranormal.

The Naked Writer: Writing Numbers

The Naked Writer: Do It in Style

Just about everything in writing goes by style standards/rules. This includes what words can be abbreviated, what words capitalized, how numbers should be written, and so on and on. However, those principles aren’t as firm as they might sound. The rules quite often vary in line with “house style,” that is, according to the preferences of a particular publisher (the entity or the person), whether of magazines, journals, or of books.

The most important approach to take in your own writing is to be consistent. And remember that later some copy editor may well modify the conventions you’ve used to produce your material (or you might even be required to make the changes). The copy editor works using a well-worn printout of the in-house standards, and for small press you may have to print a set of imperatives yourself.

The Associated Press Stylebook (the AP stylebook) is used mostly by journalists. It’s a good general stylebook, and I refer to it a lot even though book publishing is said to use the less-simple-to-work-with The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS).

But of course, that depends. Academic writing generally goes by CMOS, but, not always… A psychologist client of mine says she’s guided by the American Psychological Association (APA) rules. Well, of course she would be… Her doctoral thesis was written to APA style. Similarly, many folks use the style guide from the Modern Language Association, the MLA, mostly for research papers in the arts and humanities.

Well known, too, are Words into Type, by Marjorie E. Skillin, and A Manual for Writers of Research Papers, Theses, and Dissertations by Kate L. Turabian, more commonly known as “Turabian.”

Journalists also go by The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage and The Wall Street Journal Guide to Business Style and Usage.

Very widely know is The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E. B. White (often simply called “Strunk and White.”) This is a great little book but really might not have all the details you want.

You’ll additionally find many other style guides, most of them specialty guides for a particular field or even country.

All too little known is The Naked Writer by G. Miki Hayden—me—not a definitive style guide at all, but a punctuation and grammar resource with style “advice” for all sorts of writers. You should have this, too. Get your Kindle copy on Amazon.

The point of all the above? Writers ought to own at least a couple of style guides. Whatever you’re writing, you’ll find a stylebook for that. I do suggest you use a guide and definitely remain consistent in the style you use. Then if you should be so lucky as to place your work, prepare for the in-house copy editor to bring the material into line with the publisher’s own guidelines. Or, again, you might have to do that yourself. Best of luck.

I hope to see you in one of my classes. I’ve had many, many short stories as well as novels in print and in ebook format and can give you sensible insights as to how to improve your writing.

Coming up at Writer’s Digest University https://www.writersonlineworkshops.com/:
5/18/2017 – 08/10/2017 Fundamentals of Fiction. Take a shortcut, to avoid the long path of learning by rejection slip.

5/25/2017 – 07/06/2017 Writing the Mystery. I won a short story Edgar and was on the board of Mystery Writers of America for several years. I have an award-winning book in print titled Writing the Mystery.

6/08/2017 – 08/31/2017 12 Weeks to a First Draft. This is a great class for the focused person writing a novel. I can help with the ground-level writing as well as the overall scheme of the story and then provide insights into what’s happening with the markets these day

The Naked Writer: Do It in Style