Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘stilted dialogue’

November 30, 2015

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 8)

Stiff Unnatural Dialogue or Natural Dialogue?

Whether you’re working on fiction or nonfiction, one of the techniques you need to master is how to write dialogue that flows and sounds “natural.” In other words, do your characters’ words read as if your reader is eavesdropping on a conversation that he’d hear anyplace in his own world or is the dialogue so stilted, it sounds like two robots reading from a high school English text?

It’s very important for a writer to get to know his/her characters for this exact reason. People talk differently!

WOW! What a revelation! If you’re a smart writer, by now, if you’ve been writing for any length of time, you’ve (hopefully) studied language patterns and colloquialisms and you’ve analyzed the difference in children’s, teens’, and adults’ speech.

Let’s look at a few samples to show some stiff and and then some natural dialogue. Because I have been published mostly in the juvenile fiction genre, my examples will be from that genre. But the “talking points” are basically the same for all dialogue, whether for kids or for grown-ups.

First, I’ll give you a sample of “stiff” dialogue, followed by that which flows and sounds just like “real” folks speaking. Watch for the Leave it to Beaver Syndrome to rear its ugly head in the first samples, as well:

EXAMPLE 1:

 Stiff: (Two young boys discussing buying eagle feathers)

 

  “Titus, you cannot buy an eagle feather,” Tim said.

   “Tim, why can’t I?” asked Titus. “Are they too expensive?”

   “No, Titus,” Tim answered. “Buying an eagle feather is against the law.”

   “Tim, is it because eagles are almost extinct?” Titus asked.

    “Titus, that is correct,” Tim answered. “The only people who can own an eagle feathers are Indians.”

(Brother! What kid says, “That is correct”? And why not use contractions? We use them all the time in our speech. And why the use of so many tags? There are only two characters in the scene. Let’s get rid of some of those ___ said tags.)

Natural:

        “Sorry, old pal,” said Timothy, patting (Titus) on the shoulder. “There’s no way you can buy an eagle feather.”

        “Why?” asked Titus. “Too expensive?”

        “No. It’s against the law.”

        “What? You mean because eagles are an endangered species?”

        “Bingo,” Timothy replied. “The only people who can own eagle feathers are Indians.”

(from THE MYSTERY OF THE EAGLE FEATHER

By Elspeth Campbell Murphy, Bethany House, 1995, pp.16-17)

************************************************************************

EXAMPLE 2: 

 Stiff: (Conversation between two teenage junior counselors at a camp)

       “Timothy!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How is the water out there?”

       “It is just so wonderful,” Tim yelled back. “I would like to be swimming today. Who is standing next to you there on shore?”

       “It is a friend of yours and mine,” Skye yelled to Tim. “I will have him wait for you here until you come ashore.”

       “That is fine with me. I will see you in a few minutes,” Tim yelled to Skye as he turned the paddleboat around and headed in another direction.

(Sheesh! They sound like a couple of robots, don’t they?)

Natural:

     “Hey, Tim!” Skye called to her co-worker out on a paddleboat with a camper. “How’s the water?”

     “Cool! Real cool!” Tim yelled back. “I’d rather be in it than on it! Who’ve ya got there with you?”

    “Your friend and mine! He’ll be waitin’ when you come ashore!”

    “Okay, Skye, see you in a few minutes!” Tim turned the paddleboat in another direction.

 

(from SUMMER CAMP ADVENTURE

By Marsha Hubler, Zonderkidz, 2009, p. 38)

**********************************************************************

 So, there you have two simple examples of how to write lousy dialogue and how to make it flow naturally. Get rid of some of those tags and use some beats instead. Now, if you’re writing about robots conversing, then the first samples are the way to go. If not, then work on making your dialogue flow, and your reader will love being right in the middle of the exciting action.

* NOTE: If you’re a published author and would like to be featured on my blog, please contact me. I’d love to post your picture, a short bio, and your credentials along with contact information.

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

 

ON THE VICTORY TRAIL

Skye and Sooze get ready for the Christmas season

with some neat “horsie” gifts for their foster parents,

but Sooze’s sudden illness changes everything.

Book2.On.Victory.Trail.Cover

http://www.amazon.com/Victory-Trail-Keystone-Stables-Book-ebook/dp/B002U8KW7G/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1448748348&sr=1-1&keywords=on+the+victory+trail

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

Fiction That Wows Your Reader (Part 2)

Fixing the “Leave it to Beaver Syndrome”

 

Last time, we discussed what I call the “Leave it to Beaver Syndrome,” a creative crime that so many writers find themselves committing. Even frequently published writers like myself can easily fall prey to this “beginner’s style,” which will kill any story, if we aren’t careful.

I said that I’d rewrite the small passage of poorly written dialogue in the post to show you the proper way to handle “dialogue that flows.” First, you will see the lousy dialogue as was posted last time. Then I’ll follow with the rewritten dialogue for you to analyze both:

The “Leave it to Beaver Syndrome” Dialogue

“Pete,” Mary said. “I’m going to the movies. Do you want to go with me?”

“Not tonight, Mary,” Pete said. “I have too much homework.”

“Well, Pete, how about just a game of Boggle?” Mary asked.

“Mary, I can’t even do that,” Pete said. “I’ve got too much to do.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mary said. “You can certainly take a half hour or so to relax a little.”

“Mary, I said no! I just can’t tonight, so get lost!” Pete said. “By the way, bad joke.”

********************************************************************

Now Let’s Look at the Dialogue That Flows (after fixing the problem)

“Pete,” Mary said. “I’m going to the movies. Do you want to go with me?”

“Not tonight,” Pete said. “I have too much homework.”

“Well, how about a game of Boggle?” Mary went to the bookshelf and retrieved a game box.

Pete never shifted his gaze away from his history book. “I can’t even do that! I’ve got too much to do.”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake! You can certainly take a half hour or so to relax a little.”

“I said no!” Pete had finally lost all patience with his twin sister. “I just can’t tonight. By the way, bad joke.”

FLOWING!

****************************************************************************

Now, there you have the rewritten dialogue. We cut a fistful of “Mary” and “Pete,” and we added some beats instead of using so many tags. Here are a few questions to stimulate your thinking and analysis:

What do you think makes this second excerpt so much more interesting?

What do you know from the second excerpt that you didn’t know from the first?

How did I accomplish filling in some details?

And what about those tags and beats? What in the world are those little entities?

Yep, tags and beats. They are SO essential to writing good dialogue.

Next time, we’ll discuss those tricks of the writing trade in detail. Learn to use tags and beats effectively, and your dialogue will have a spark that will simply “wow” your reader.

Marsha (Web) www.marshahubler.com

(Writers Tips) www.marshahubler.wordpress.com

Montrose Christian Writers Conference http://www.montrosebible.org/OurEvents/tabid/113/page_550/1/eventid_550/58/Default.aspx

  • Make plans now to come July 17th to the 22nd: Some faculty members include: Larry Leech, Jeanette Windle, Kathy Ide, Gayle Roper, Shirley Stevens, and a blogging/social media expert, Don Catlett

(Horse Facts Blog) www.horsefactsbymarshahubler.wordpress.com

 

(More Shameless Promotion)

Keystone Stables book 6

BLUE RIBBON CHAMP

(Book 6 in the Keystone Stables Series)

Skye has a real test to love a new foster kid,

 who really likes her but rubs her the wrong way

 every time he opens his mouth.

http://www.amazon.com/Blue-Ribbon-Champ-Keystone-Stables-ebook/dp/B003U6YAVG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1444502868&sr=1-1&keywords=Blue+Ribbon+Champ+by+Marsha+Hubler

Read Full Post »

October 16, 2014

Twelve Common Mistakes Found in Fiction Manuscripts

Mistake Number Five: Stilted or Unnatural Dialogue

 

“Wally, let’s go outside and play football,” said Beaver in the boys’ bedroom.

“No, Beav,” Wally said. “I have to do homework.”

“But it is Saturday,” Beaver said. “You don’t have to do homework on Saturdays.”

“That is incorrect, Beav,” Wally said. “I have a big report I must do, and our father said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out and play by myself,” Beaver said.

***************************************************

Are you groaning at this fictitious dialogue between Beaver and Wally? You should be because it’s absolutely awful. If you want to know how NOT to write good dialogue, use this as your prime example.

This is the fifth blog discussing some common mistakes found in fiction manuscripts from early readers and chapter books to adult novels of all kinds of subgenres. Several weeks ago, we started this list and will continue until we’ve done all of what I believe are the most important “common” mistakes. Today we’ll look at “Stilted or Unnatural Dialogue.”

Too much description and narration

Switching viewpoints in the same scene

A negative tone throughout the story

Infallible or underdeveloped characters

Stilted or unnatural dialogue

No significant conflict

Weak transitions between paragraphs

Impossible resolutions

Redundancy

Passive verbs instead of active verbs

Lack of sensory detail

Lack of emotion or action

STILTED OR UNNATURAL DIALOGUE

Let’s analyze the sample of dialogue that started this blog.

First, let’s look at the tags (Wally said/ Beav said) and the beats (none) and see how we can improve the passage. Obviously, there are only two characters in this scene: Beaver and Wally. In such a scene, it’s not necessary to keep repeating “Wally said” and “Beaver said.” (Unfortunately, the early TV shows in the 40s and 50s often had poor script writing like this.) Also, the characters keep saying each other’s names when addressing one another. How boring is that? Once the characters are introduced with their initial dialogue and a tag, the dialogue will flow much smoother by deleting most of the tags and name calling. So what about adding some beats? In fact, what are beats?

Beats are sentences added to a line of dialogue that adds action and detail without using the word said, asked, or any other overused tag. Let’s compare two examples:

 

“Where are you going?” Ben’s mother asked him.

“Where are you going?” Ben’s mother anchored her fists on her hips, and she scowled.

 

Now, in sample one, all we know is Ben’s mother wants to know where Ben is going. There’s no sense of any emotion at all. It’s what we’d call “stilted” writing. Most newbie writers would tend to add a sentence after the tag to “tell” how Ben’s mom feels instead of “showing” it.

In sample two, the tag is not there; instead, we have a beat that describes exactly how Ben’s mom feels about him leaving. This sentence clearly “shows” action; it doesn’t “tell” it. This sentence moves the action along beautifully.

Next, let’s look at unnatural dialogue. What’s unnatural dialogue?

It is extremely important for a fiction writer to KNOW his characters, their backgrounds, social temperament, and language colloquialisms. Experienced writers will spend time developing character description files for the main characters in his/her work and get to know those characters almost as if they are real people. Those writers will also study language patterns, listen to folks who resemble their characters, and take lots of notes. They’ll also develop a unique dialogue for each of the main characters so the reader will be able to tell who’s speaking even without a tag or a beat. Each character should have his own style, vernacular, and possibly slang words (if any at all.) There’s nothing that speaks to a beginners’ work that reading dialogue that just doesn’t match the character’s age, sex, ethnicity, social status, or background or reading dialogue of several main characters who all sound exactly the same. Thus, reading an Amish fiction book in which the main character would say, “Hi, dude!” is as ridiculous as reading a book about inner city violence in which one of the street gang members says, “Thank God you are safe.”

In this passage with Beaver and Wally, we have several examples of unnatural dialogue. Let’s look at them:

 

“But it is Saturday,” Beaver said.

“That is incorrect, Beav,” Wally said. “I have a big report I must do, and our father said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out and play by myself,” Beaver said.

 

In the first sentence, Beaver said, “But it is Saturday.” In the last sentence, Beaver says, “Well, Wally, I guess if you cannot go out, I will have to go out….” Here are three prime examples of unnatural dialogue that most newbie writers abuse over and over. In natural dialogue, contractions are used, which helps the dialogue to flow much better. We speak contractions in our everyday speech, so why not write them?

In the second sentence, we have two violations. Wally said, “That is incorrect.” Now what kid is going to talk to his brother by saying, “That is incorrect.” As a teenager, Wally would probably say, “As usual, you’re wrong” or maybe another smart remark.

The other violation in this second sentence is when Wally calls his dad “our father.” Sheesh, he’s not praying! What would a teenager call his father? Dad? Pop? Hopefully not “The Old Man,” unless the writer is portraying a rebellious child.

All right, we’ve shown what not to do with dialogue. Let’s rewrite this passage and see how we can improve it and make it flow much better and keep the reader’s interest:

 

“Wally, let’s go outside and play football,” Beaver said in the boys’ bedroom.

“No,” Wally said. “I have to do homework.”

“But it’s Saturday. You don’t have to do homework on Saturdays.”

“Wrong, little brother.” Wally flopped on his bed with his notebook and pen. “I have a big report to do, and Dad said I have to get that done before I do anything else today.”

“Well, I guess if you can’t go out, I’ll have to play by myself.” Beaver grabbed his football and hurried out the door.

 

There you have the finished product, revised with most of the tags deleted and two beats and contractions added. Now we have natural dialogue that flows and is quite believable.

So what do you think? Which dialogue about Wally and Beaver would you rather read?

Next time, we’ll discuss No Significant Conflict. Happy writing!

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: