When reading through an author's blog the other day I noticed that they had put up some flash fiction. This is a great idea not only to attract potential readers but for the author. It gave her the experience of beta readers and critiques without having to ask. Of course, I critiqued. Why? Well, I've been writing for the better part of twenty years and through all of it, even if I'm not professionally published: I've learned a lot.
I might not be the best grammatically and I probably would suck at spelling if not for spell check but when it comes down to dialogue, description, contractions, the actual writing itself: I know a few things. So, inspired by another indie author (one who just started on the writing journey I might add) I've decided to set up some basic tips for all writers who can use it.
These tips will be replacing my Novel Series as I won't be actively writing novels (at least I don't think I will) for some time. Plus it'll give me a weekly blog to upkeep so hey, it works all around.
And if you've missed one and don't feel like hunting through my whole blog looking for it: I've got links to important serial type blogs. Click on the link and you'll be brought to a page that links to everything having to do with that link: either my Novel Series, my NaNo Blogs or these writing tips.
Anyway, this writing tip is going to focus on dialogue. Since I started writing how I write my dialogue has gone through a lot of changes. I stared by always using a dialogue tag and always using said. Good but boring. I morphed into never using said. Not good but more interesting. Then it morphed into using a mix of said and other dialogue tags. Much better. Now, it's a mix of said, different dialogue tags and no dialogue tags. Meet the fully evolved dialogue.
As I've said in the past, dialogue tags should not be reduced to one word. Said is not the be all and end all of dialogue tags and you can and should mix it up with other words to give some variety to your tags. BUT, you have to watch the words you use. A person cannot laugh, growl, purr, chuckle, hiss, hum or any other action word an entire sentence. Try laughing out an entire stream of words. I dare you.
Good? Now, try to mutter, whisper, utter, tell, question, ask, enquire, mention, announce, yell, scream, or affirm those words. You can do that, right? Good.
It comes down to this: if you can physically do the dialogue tag you want to use (without looking silly) then it can be used. BUT do not, I repeat DO NOT over-inflate your dialogue with anything BUT said. Most reader's don't focus on it (though I hate that, why shouldn't they and why should we be okay with it?) but if you use enough to keep things interesting it will bring some life to your dialogue.
Another method is to just skip the dialogue tag all together. I do this when it's perfectly clear who is talking to who and when only two people are talking at once. It can probably be done with three or more people so long as the sentence right before or right after that piece of dialogue reminds the reader who is talking. For example:
"Did your hamburger grow eyes?" Shawn asked in amusement.
"With the chemicals they put in food today I wouldn't be surprised. But no, it looks like the patty is made out of meal worms." Derrick returned.
"You know, you're right. I think they roasted a whole bunch of meal worms together with some batter and made it roundish." Shawn said.
Derrick smirked and Shawn bit into his pizza. Bracelets jangled as Derrick dropped the bun back onto the patty and picked it up one handed.
"You know, I think I saw someone sneeze over the pizza display. It looked like they were sick too." Derrick told him.
Shawn blinked and looked down at his pizza. Derrick chuckled but Shawn grinned.
"I might get a cold but you'll be infected with worms."
"Dead worms so no harm done. Plus they'll give me more protein."
"Well true, they are 60% protein with valuable amino acids."
Shawn was trying not to laugh....
It's good to sneak in an action sentence or two when you've got long streams of back and forth talking. Don't be afraid to mix up said, non-action dialogue tags and lack of dialogue tags in your novel. It helps the dialogue to flow and gives the reader a better understanding of how your characters are talking. No one goes around saying everything. They shout, scream, whisper, mutter, stutter (this ones give or take), announce, point out and mention.
As for what a long stream of conversation is: usually anything that starts to confuse you. If you can't figure out who's talking and who isn't then your reader won't know either. As to when to use said and when to use something else: it depends what that character is saying, to who, why and what they want to achieve with their words.
The best thing is to ask yourself something like: Are they in a situation where if they speak too loud, they'll get caught? They're not going to say then, they're going to whisper, mutter or say lightly/softly/gently. Are they trying to get the attention of someone across a crowded room or are they mad? Then they'll yell, scream, shout, or they'll say angrily/in rage/in annoyance/loudly.
Remember, if you start getting annoyed with the amount of said (or lack of said), the amount of different dialogue tags, lack of emotion in your dialogue, then change it up. If you're annoyed at it: your reader will be too.
Next week (if I remember ;) ) I'll be talking about contractions: when to use them, when not to use them and how to use them effectively.
Until then: thoughts, comments, rages, rants, questions, and out-right insults can be directed to the comment section.