Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Trick of the Dialog

The books I'm reading for the Dan Poynter Global eBook Awards today have got me thinking about dialog and it's effect on story--will this book score high or low in the "distracting dialog" column? And why?

Attributions: He said / she said. We all know we mustn't overuse these, but how about when we under-use them, or use them unhelpfully? In a dialog scene with lots of characters, it might matter which person says what, but leaving the attribution till after he's spoken can leave the reader puzzled and needing to reread... "You silly child," said the little boy, and there was I thinking it had to be his mother speaking.

Accents: Sometimes it's hard to believe in a character who speaks perfect English (or perfect American) when we know they ought to have an accent (or they're too young to speak clearly). But sometimes it's hard to read what someone's saying if the author renders the accent too meticulously. " 'Wan' ca'.' 'Oh you want candy,' said Dad," works well, but "Wa-wa-wa-ca-pup-pup," is hard to translate into "I want candy please," even if it's accurate to that delightful child the reader's portraying.

Colloquialism: This is the one I where I'm having the most difficulty. If a scene's set in Victorian England, it's probably best to avoid modern Americanisms. But what if the scene's set in medieval Scotland and the writer happens to know certain American words were in common usage then? Does the writer avoid the words because they'll have the wrong connotations for the reader, or use them and explain his research when questioned? Still more complicated, what if the story's set in pre-historical Bible lands? Should the author give dialog in American (for simplicity), or would King James' English work better? And does the author's intention make a difference--a desire to help children relate to Biblical times might require American words, while a desire to render the story with due reverence and faith might use the KJV.

And finally, what about the amount of dialog in a story. I've found my first drafts often have much more dialog than my final drafts. That leaves me wondering if I might judge a story with lots of dialog unfairly by imagining it's a first draft. But the score-sheets help. Is the dialog distracting me? Not really; it's telling the story. But is the character development good? Maybe not; I've only ever heard them talk, and have no feel for how they think, see and move.

Ah well. Back to the books...

GBA books read to date: 18

1 comment:

maryrussel said...

All great points to consider when writing dialog.