Thursday, November 18, 2010

He Said She Said: Finer Points of How to Write Dialogue



At least my life is following the script - true to form, now that I'm done with the main business of moving (though in the upcoming days we need to pare down our belongings yet again, and put enough in storage so that what we're taking to Memphis actually fits in our car), I'm sick.

Sick enough with a potpourri of ailments that, while none of them are all that bad individually, the combination provides a potent cocktail of misery that's had me in bed the last few days.

It's just as well, because I hardly managed 10,000 words during last year's NaNoWriMo, and between the move and the illness...well...I'm just glad I'm not under deadline at the moment. Being sick while under deadline is the pits.

So rather than talk about being sick, I thought I'd write about writing dialogue.

I love dialogue. It's one of the parts of writing that's the easiest for me, that's the most fun, the most gratifying. Here are some things I've found to be true and helpful about writing dialogue:

1.) Think about how and where you're staging the conversation. Consider the photo above (yes, it is from Gilmore Girls. Yes, I do think you should watch Gilmore Girls if you want to learn about dialogue. Thanks for asking) - Luke, bless his heart, is going to teach Lorelei how to fish before her date with another man (incidentally, her date is Billy Burke, the future father of Bella Swan). You can watch the scene here.

That's the basic scenario. It's fantastic because you've got all sorts of things to work with - wading pools, strange clothes, fishing equipment. Giving your characters things to do and interact with will make your action beats and dialogue tags a lot easier. The fact of the matter is that when we talk, we don't tend to stand still and speak. Rather, we fidget. We interact with our space.

2.) Dialogue written in an active sequence (practice fishing in a wading pool) will often create more momentum than dialogue written in a passive sequence (sitting at a coffee shop). If you're trying to get your characters to move, make them talk and walk. If they need to sit and figure things out, let them sit. Just sit them somewhere interesting. (There's that episode of House in Season Four when House tells the TV crew that they talk while walking, it gives the illusion of the story moving forward... :-)

3.) What's not being said is just as important as what is being said. Consider what your characters want, and how they express it verbally. Consider what they're afraid of, and how that shades what they say. Be aware of subtext. In the fishing scene, there's a lot of silly with the fishing equipment before Luke gets down to business and asks enough questions to find out why exactly Lorelei's going fishing, though he's already got an idea. Notice how Lorelei hedges and Luke keeps probing, and when he finds out, things get quieter. When Lorelei says "You don't want to hear about my personal life," Luke stays quiet for a while, before asking "So this will be your first date or second date?"

He answers indirectly. He doesn't say "Why, yes, I do want to hear about your personal life," his evasion shows that he wants to know, but he doesn't want to be obvious about it. That he's hurt that she doesn't think he'd be interested. But he also wants to stay in the picture - he shows that by offering his pole and tackle box - which is a whole lot more interesting than Luke saying "Hey, when you're done with Charlie Swan, do you want to go out?"

4.) Dialogue tags and action beats. Dialogue tags are the "He said" bits that we stick around the dialogue so we know who's talking.

Now, it's okay to use certain amounts of "he said, she said" for tagging purposes. Readers will notice them less than if you try to get creative and use "he articulated" or "she uttered." However, you can also use action beats instead of tags.

Consider:

"I don't know why, but I like the other one better," she said.

"I don't know why, but I like the other one better," she said, wrinkling her nose.

The action beat attached to the tag is pretty straightforward, but gives a bit more detail visually.

"I don't know why," she tilted her head to the side. "But I like the other one better."

Throwing the beat into the middle puts a longer pause in the the center than you'd get from just a comma. This helps if you want to give your characters time to think and have it show up on the page. Depending on how you use the beats, you can mix up your pacing quite easily.

That's it for now...thinking about taking a pre-dinner nap. Hoping tomorrow is the magic day that I'll feel well enough to leave the house...also hoping this blog is coherent. I trust you to tell me if it's not.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

ECPA Happiness...and Moving


Big, big news in the life of this writer - Simply Sara hit #13 on the prestigious ECPA list. This was sometime last week, or possibly the week before. If I think about it long enough, I remember that it was November 1st, because that's when the list released...but the last couple weeks are a blur. So here's the pertinent information.

1. Simply Sara is #13.

2. You can see it here.

3. It is good. There was rejoicing.

4. We celebrated by packing.

I'd share a picture here, one of Danny lining up all of our DVD cases, except that I don't know where that particular camera is, and I don't know where the connection cord for it is, and I'm not at all motivated to go look.

Just know that it's funny, and it was a lot of DVDs.

Part one of our moving process is over. We've left our apartment for good, the one we moved into after being married for about two weeks. When all of our things were packed up and strewn on the sidewalk outside, I walked to our bedroom, leaned against the door frame and cried. Not that I have a deep affection for that apartment, with its Berber carpet that chewed up the bottoms of my feet, cobweb-prone entryway, and inability to stay heated, but it was our home, and life was changing, and it was changing quickly, and I hadn't quite settled myself out for how I felt about all of the life alterations that were coming at us so quickly.

We moved the bulk of our belongings (and I do mean bulk, and the wonderful people who helped us move would agree) into a storage unit in Portland. The rest of the things are with us, at my cousin's home in Northeast Portland, just a mile from where (conveniently) Danny's job is for the time being.

Things that I thought would fit into our car didn't. Spacial reasoning, I've discovered, is not my thing. We have more packing ahead of us. I'm living pleasantly in denial about it until then.

Memphis is in our future; at this point, it looks like we'll be in Tri-Cities by March-ish, though, which is nice because I wasn't looking forward to trying to pack for a shifty Tennessee springtime.

Until we leave for Memphis, I'm looking forward to exploring Portland for Gemma's sake and tracking down places she'd like. Cacao, Powell's (naturally), Saint Cupcake...all good things, though I'm waiting until tomorrow when I have more energy and don't have to fight the weather quite as much.

Feeling the need to bake something, though I'm not sure what. I've got the Rustic Fruit Desserts book, which has much deliciousness between its pages. The one trickiness is that my cousin's oven is a gas model that requires lighting before use. Now, I'm afraid of ovens as it is, so throw in matches and the manual lighting of gas and it's kind of the trifecta of terror.

That said, I've been lighting the stove successfully (though I tend to jump a foot back once the gas lights) for 24 hours (the lure of tea. You know how it goes) and have yet to die. So logic would hold that I'll be able to conquer the oven soon :-)

Let's see what else...if you're a Portland reader, know that there's a signed copy of Plain Jayne at the Lloyd Center Barnes & Noble.

I'm hoping to be back on track (or, really, on a track at all) for NaNoWriMo. Until then, here's my question for you - how do you pronounce NaNoWriMo?