Saturday, June 11, 2011

SocNoc, Day 11 - the importance of writing dialogue

Today's Wordcount: 2,110
Total Wordcount: 26,938
(includes the part written before SocNoc - 4143 words)
Percentage: 45.6%

Writing Dialogue
is something that is essential in every story. According to a "writing for children" course I took, and passed with flying colours*, a large percentage - something like 66%** of the story should be dialogue.

Although I am not entirely sure about this, there is one thing I know about - it is a GREAT way to bring up your word count!

So... If you're reading back over your stories and you've found a passage that says something like:
"...and then Karazana and Manjoretra finally talked about the child they had together but had died in infancy."*** (18 words)

And write it up as the actual conversation:

(for those of you that have just picked up from here, Karazana is foster mother to Aurelia, having lost her own son soon after birth. Manjoretra, is currently helping them out. Until this point it has not been revealed that Manjo was in fact her one-time mate ****

Karazana whirled on him, flashing her teeth. “What do you know,” she growled, “you're not Aurelia's father.”

"No,” he said, dropping back a few paces and bowing his head in submission. “But you're not her mother, either.”

"I'm not anyone's mother,” she said, shoulders slumping and ears drooping.

Manjoretra nuzzled his cheek against hers. “I'm sorry, Kara,” he said. “I guess I wasn't the right choice. Maybe on your next mating day you'll make a better one.”

(and then some more stuff and conversation happens)

“There has been such a sadness in you, since he died,” he said, licking her nose. “I wish you'd come to me for comfort. I mourn him too.”

Succesfully writing dialogue can be difficult and some folks struggle with it. There are several things to remember:

~ don't write how people really talk

In general human conversation, there are a number of "um"s and "er"s and also people have the tendency to run off on tangents. I had a conversation the other day with an older lady that started with me asking her if she needed help finding a book and ended up discussing earthquakes. This is fairly typical in Christchurch at the moment, but not in your story, the speakers should stay on topic as much as possible or only digress if it is relevant to the plot. So if you want to end up with your characters discussing earthquakes then there should have been or will be one somewhere in your story.

~ Use Adverbs sparingly.
This is something you should do in general (although they do bring up the wordcount). Some authors believe all adverbs should be killed on sight. Adverbs DO have their purpose, but only if they actually enhance the verb.

Compare this:
"I'm tired," John said, wearily.
"But I'm not," Jane said, happily. "Shall we play again?"
"Oh for goodness sake Jane, I want to go to bed," John said, angrily.
"Oh, very well, then go," Jane replied, sulkily.

With this:
"I'm tired," John yawned.
"But I'm not," Jane declared. "Shall we play again?"
"Oh for goodness sake Jane, I want to go to bed," John grumbled.
"Oh, very well, then go," Jane snapped.

So, it's still not good writing, but at least it's an improvement.
My basic rule with adverbs is, take it out. Read the sentence, if it still means exactly the same thing, then you can safely leave it out. For example: Read the sentence, if it still means the same thing, then you can leave it out.

~ Read your story aloud
Preferably when there is no one else home, otherwise your flatmates might look at your strangely and call in the men in white suits. This is a good way to get the feel of the conversation.

~ Be consistent
If your character speaks in a crude-ish tongue, make sure she doesn't start speaking very formally in the next conversation unless it's appropriate to the plot/character.

~ Incorporate actions with words
"I'm hungry," John grumbled. "I've had nothing to eat since breakfast."
"I'm hungry." John rubbed his belly. It felt hollow, like a deflated balloon. "I've had nothing to eat since breakfast."

To write dialogue you need to know your character's personality and let it shine through the words. Any author should know their characters inside and out, front and back. If you know them well, then you will know how they will react to certain situations. But sometimes they will surprise you.

Aurelia has surprised me for example - she was supposed to be a relatively minor character, despite being the main pivot-point of the plot, but now she has forced herself to the front, pushed her way into the action and demands most of the screen time. Aurelia is outspoken, and forthright - if she wants to know something, she'll just out and ask (a bit like Aroha). She's also quite prone to interrupting when others are speaking, but that's just because she's young and has always had her curiosity indulged.

I am contemplating having her captured by slave traders in the next few chapters. That should liven up the plot a bit. Hrm... maybe that's how I can introduce Danyel, the drunkard ruffed lemur...

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

* okay, so it wasn't graded, but I did do all the assignments and they seemed to like my stories

** the younger the child, the more dialogue you're supposed to include. Although this applies to chapter books, not picture books. It's apparently very much more
show than tell when the characters do all the telling!

*** Probably not the best example because this is quite a complicated situation, although it does mean I can tie it in with what I've written today and thus make the example today's extract as well.

**** Ring-tailed lemurs mate once a year and do not form long-term partnerships. The male plays little part in rearing the kit.

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