Monday, March 31, 2008

My Day and I'm Blank

I knew today was my blog day. I thought about it all weekend and still I'm having a problem coming up with a topic. I guess I'll talk about what Rod Morris of Harvest House Publishing said about dialogue at the Central Oregon Writers Guild even though I'd rather discuss book trailers and book titles, but those are both selfish topics because I want to make a book trailer for the next release, and I'm trying to come up with catchy titles for the western series I'm working on.

But- the dialogue topic may be useful or insightful for you all, so that's what I'll discuss.

The first thing Mr. Morris said that stuck with me and I hadn't thought about is: "If someone came upon your characters speaking would the conversation be interesting enough for them to eavesdrop?" Think about it. How many times have we (as writers) listened into an interesting conversation? That's how he said your dialogue in a story should be. Interesting enough a passerby would want to eavesdrop.

Let dialogue SHOW emotions. He said if you use the right words you don't need to add tags such as - he said with anger. The words and the way you use them should covey the anger. He said he uses the abbreviation RUE for this. RUE- Resist the Urge to Explain.

He also said make sure your characters talk to each other and not the reader. Like the long pragraphs of dialogue where the character is telling about something that happened in the past more to get the reader up to speed than to be having a meaningful conversation with the other character.

And I learned a new term. "Beats". I'd never heard of it before. A beat is the sentence you put after a line of dialgue when you don't use a tag. "What do you mean I can't go?" Mary Ann stomped across the floor. Beats can either enable a reader to see the action of the scene, define a character, or can vary the rhythm of dialogue.

The part that fascinated me of the whole dialogue topic was when he discussed using diction in dialogue. The story I'm cleaning up right now has a Scotch character. I've sprinkled in Scots words to make her speech authentic and had thought about sprinkling in a few in her internals to make her internals sound more like her. Mr. Morris showed us two different versions of dialogue that was used indifferent books. One was written word for word like it would be heard. Once I got past the first couple of sentences and caught the cadence and authenticity of the words, I liked it, but he said it was too hard for the average reader. Then he showed us another piece of dialogue- set within the same culture but having placed the words differently and left out all the diction. It read smoother, but didn't have the same flavor for me. But of course it was the one he said was the better of the two. So that leaves me wondering if I need to back off on the Scots words I'm using and sprinkle in fewer. Tough decision for me to make.

And that last bit was the only real eye opener for me on dialogue, but it is always good to hear things over and over to keep me on track.

What are some of your favorite dialogue do's and don'ts? Do you like a story laced with a characters true diction or do you find it a tough read?

(Eli- I have no clue when this book will be out, so please don't put the cover up anywhere!! It happens to be the book with the Scots dialect in it)


Alice Sharpe said...

Paty -- Sounds like this gentleman gave lots of good advice.

One thing some people do in dialogue is sound too formal. When my daughter did plays in high-school, I would sometimes hear the kids talking in a "stage voice." They sounded as though they were getting ready to launch into a Shakespearean soliloquy, damn near complete with English accents.

I "hear" that same voice sometimes when I read dialogue, especially with new authors. A character just phrases themselves way too formally. "I mustn't stay here," they'll have a young woman mumble though most of us haven't said mustn't in a month of Sundays. That's not a great example -- naturally, I can't think of one -- but a good safeguard is to read dialogue aloud and listen to it with a realistic ear. If it sounds stilted to you, fix it.

As for diction (which I always thought of as the clarity of speech so I looked it up and assume we're talking about choosing words to fit their context ) I tend to like it if it isn't done with too heavy a hand. If I had an Irish character, for instance, I might have her say perfectly understandable words but in a cadence that to me sounds Irish. Like, "I'll just be putting the wee one down for a nap, Miss." Not a lot, but if it's who she is, that's how her voice sounds in my head. A longshoreman might swear or a child might leave out words or mispronounce others. I don't care for reading word after convoluted word where I have to struggle to understand what is being said, but I personally don't see what's wrong with a Spanish man calling his beloved, "Carina," now and again, or muttering, "That dirty hombre!" I guess it depends on what you are writing and whom you are writing it.

I'd trust your judgment on this one, and perhaps heed the advice of your editor and CP who will look at it with a non-prejudicial eye. If they say, "Enough already with the Scottish words!" then I guess you back off!

For the record, I, for one, enjoyed this topic; it's good to think about it now and again. I also enjoy blogs written from an intensely personal POV, however, so the next time you want to talk about titles or what have you, I say go for it!

Fun blog!

Lori Barber said...

Paty, it's always fun to walk away from a writer's meetings, workshop or conference with a few new gems in our pocket.

Thank you for passing this dialog information on to us. Some of the terms were new to me too. I agree with the advice Rod Morris from Harvest House Publishing shared. So sound and simple, yet sometimes the challenge to write our characters dialogs in natural, believable voice for full impact requires a few attempts. I love to read my dialog out loud to hear if it rings clear and sounds solid and real.

I use "beats" after dialog often, but didn't know there was a name for it. I'm curious why they chose "beat" for the term.

As for dialog with accents I love them. A little dose can go a long way for me, especially when I have to slow down to decipher and read them. In some cases the setting can help dictate how much to use. If the book is set in Scotland a heavier dose wouldn't be as unexpected as a Scot who has moved from their homeland and settled in the U.S. Sometimes the 'less is more' theory can be applied to accents and unusual word choices to keep the reader entrenched in the book. Like a fine, hearty Irish stew, a little nutmeg goes a long way to improve the flavor and add a unique taste.

Genene said...

Aw, Paty, go with "selfish" next time! Though it probably isn't selfish at all, because if you're thinking about it, others probably are also. (Like me!)

But this was a good reminder about dialogue and I picked up a few gems, as Lori said. I like the "interesting enough to eavesdrop" advice and Resist the Urge to Explain. These will be great editing tools for me.

Like Lori, I use beats a lot instead of dialogue tags. I thought beats were something different -- though not beets or music beats! Sorry, it might turn into a silly day for me.

And I agree with Alice and Lori about dialect. A light sprinkling is good. Too heavy and I struggle to understand and lose track of the story.

So do you want me to be selfish and talk about book trailers and titles next time I blog or should I let you bring up those topics? LOL!

Interesting points about dialogue, though!

Genene said...

P.S. LOVE the colors on the Miner in Petticoats cover! You have beautiful covers for this series. Congratulations!

Paty Jager said...

Alice, thanks for the boost. I thought this was kind of a flat and boring subject but couldn't think of anything else to write about! And I'll remember you like to talke about titles, I may just to that in two weeks.

Thanks, Lori! I can always count on you to throw in cooking terms and make me feel humgry! LOL

Thanks Genene, I'm liking my series covers too! Of course purple is my favorite color. ;)
And if you want to talk about book trailers or titles go right ahead since I won't be back around to blog for two weeks and maybe by then I'll have a book trailer to send you all to.

Karen Duvall said...

Fun blog, Paty! Sorry I missed the talk on dialog. I could have gone, too, but I forgot when it was. Oh, well.

I remember when I first heard about "beats" several years ago in an informal workshop through one of the yahoogroups I belonged to at the time. Such an interesting word for what it means, but it makes sense when you think about it. I use beats instead of tags most of the time. I remember critiquing someone's work a few years ago that was a series of dialog/beat/dialog/beat/etc. It got monotonous after a while because the rhythm never changed. Here's an example of what I mean:

"What do you think, George?" Lucy scratched her chin.

"I still don't know." George cracked his knuckles.

"Well, I think it's a good idea." She bit her bottom lip.

"Let me think about it some more." He crossed his arms.

See the pattern here? It's as annoying as an overuse of speaker tags.

I read my dialog aloud, and if it sounds stilted to me, I know to fix it. I sometimes think too much about what a character is saying and man, it sounds awful in dialog. It gets too wordy and doesn't sound natural.

I like to use the speech function in Word sometimes, just for grins. I get a kick out of hearing my words read back to me. 8^)

Paty, the hero in FOR LOVE OR MONEY is Scottish and I use some brogue in his dialog. Not much, just a few phrases, and I found some really fun Scottish slang online. The dialect is wonderfully done in this slang dictionary, but I didn't use it verbatim because it would have been too hard to read. I had the site bookmarked but deleted it when I didn't need it anymore. I bet you can google Scottish slang and find it that way.

Paty Jager said...

Karen, I have several Scots slang sites bookmarked and have used them to pick the words I've put in my dialogue. And a couple of sayings. ;)

Elisabeth Naughton said...

Got it, Paty. ;) It's a beautiful cover. Let me know when you want me to put it up.

Great blog. I think reminders on dialogue are great refreshers. Thanks for posting this!