This week: The Spoken WordEdited by: Annette
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W.D.Wilcox : Write like people speak. Use contractions. Flavor with accents. Branch out. When writing dialogue, anything goes. Throw out all the rules of grammar you've been brainwashed with, write like people talk!
Elmore Leonard in 10 Rules of Writing "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative."
The Spoken Word
Stories, novels, newspaper articles, and more pieces of writing usually include three elements: Narration (what is there to see), action (what are the characters doing), and dialogue (what are they saying).
Just how "The Dialogue 500" will not let you use narration or action to tell your story, today's newsletter will be about the spoken word in written language.
Through dialogue, you can let your characters express their emotions and also help the reader be more connected with the story.
Unless you are dead-set on writing a period piece that is reminiscent of Jane Austen's prose, let your characters talk like normal people. Nobody will have the time to come up with flowery, almost poetic phrases to say in a natural conversation.
If your characters are pirates, cowboys, teenagers, or gangsters, they will not speak like your middle school English teacher. They will have wrong grammar. Their sentences will be cut off. And, yes, ending sentences with prepositions is what end of sentence prepositions are for.
It's totally fine if you want to have some descriptive words as speech tags when they are needed. If your character needs to be heard across the water of the harbor, he will 'scream' or 'call.' Outside of the previous type instances, 'said' and 'asked' always fit. You can easily add color to a conversation where people say or ask things by having them do things as they speak rather than have them 'exclaim,' 'hint,' or 'cry.'
Don't be like Tom Swift. Once you commited a character to have said something, don't make them say it proudly, loudly, shyly. Because if you do, Tom will half-heartedly say that, "The doctor removed my left ventricle."
Nothing is strictly verboten. The occasional German word gives your story a devil may care feel. Or give your story that je ne sais quoi by having a character say 'voila' after putting a ribbon on a present instead of 'done.'
Your teacher was correct about one thing and you'd do well to heed that rule. Start a new paragraph every time a different person says something. The same is true if a different person does something. However, you can keep the whole shebang in one paragraph is the same person comes into the room, says something, flips the mattress over the dead body, and says something else.
Use as many dialogue tags as needed to ensure your readers know for sure who speaks. At the same time, if you only have two people in a room or conversation, you can skip some of the tags as long as you make sure you keep their lines separated by a new paragraph.
A final word about dialects. Nobody is served, least of all your reader, if you insist in phonetically spelling out some obscure dialect from half a zip code on the bayou. Assume that the average reader knows and understands standard English. If there is a dialect, that will be better added with an explainer that you give the reader through narration. You can always find a word to insert that reflects local color, but doesn't destroy your reader's ability to understand. A flat-footed word would be 'eh' for Canadians although I have never had a conversation with a Canadian who would say 'eh.'
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Reply to my last For Authors newsletter "Outline!"
Bikerider wrote: I enjoyed your May 13th For Authors Newsletter. I was a pantser for a long time, but I took a class offered by tabor when New Horizon's Academy was still going. Percy taught me how to complete an outline for long stories. I've found that writing a short synopsis for each chapter, then one for each scene in that chapter works really well. As I move through the outline each chapter/scene is like writing a short story that plugs into the longer story. A good outline takes time, but I've found that it's time worth spending.
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