Dialog Revisited

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I have a few things on my blogging agenda this week.  First off (as you might guess from the graphic) I have another release this week, and I want to publicize it.  The Sorcerers’ Plague, book I of Blood of the Southlands (the prequel to The Horsemen’s Gambit, which came out a couple of weeks ago) is being released in paperback on Tuesday.  So if you’ve been interested in the Southlands series, but have been waiting for the first book to be released in paperback, your time has come!  And if you’d like to read a few chapters of the book first, please feel free to visit my website:  www.DavidBCoe.com.

Second, I’d like to commend Faith and the MagicalWords readers who contributed to her wonderful online character workshop last week.  It was enormously interesting and great fun for those of us who were “watching” from the sidelines.  Thanks to all who were willing to share their characters with the rest of us, and many, many thanks to Faith, who put in so much time and effort on her critiques.  Well done, all!

Over the last year and more, we at MagicalWords have covered a great variety of topics relating to the craft and business of writing.  There is no way that we can avoid repeating some of these topics, and we really have no intention of trying — each new discussion will reveal new insights.  So today I would like revisit something we’ve discussed before:  Dialog.

I’m thinking about dialog a lot right now, because as I write my new book I’m noticing that I do a lot of my narrative work, my character development, even my worldbuilding, through conversation and character reactions to things other people say.  This doesn’t mean that I never get away from dialog, that I don’t spend some narrative time inside my character’s mind.  But a good deal of my storytelling is accomplished by having my character interact with others.

I like to write this way because I find that dialog accomplishes several things at once.  First off, it facilitates character development.  We reveal a lot about ourselves when we speak to others, just as we learn a lot about people when we listen to them, when we watch their facial expressions as they speak and as they react to the things we say.  It’s a “show vs. tell” thing:  Introducing characters through their words and actions allows us as writers to convey a great deal about the people in our books without having to stop and describe them.  Here’s an example from The Horsemen’s Gambit, a tiny snippet from the first chapter that introduces us to two characters — Tirnya Onjaef, our POV character, and Enly Tolm.  The only thing you really need to know about the scene is that these two are about to fight each other in a sword tournament: 

They met in the center of the ring, turned to face the center box, and bowed to Maisaak.

“They’d cheer more for me if you were uglier,” Enly said under his breath.  “You know that don’t you?”

“They’d cheer more for you if you weren’t such an ass,” she answered in a whisper.

“Well, that’s obvious.”

She couldn’t help but giggle.

“But I was speaking of you,” he went on, still not looking at her.  “You look beautiful today, your cheeks still flushed from your last battle, your hair tied back the way I like it.  Just lovely.”

“Shut up,” she said.

He raised an eyebrow, but said nothing more.

 I tell you nothing about either of them, but you can discern much just from what you read here.  You know that he’s pompous, confident, playful.  You know that she’s more serious than he, but that she has trouble resisting his charm.  You might even glean that they have a romantic history.  Dialog lets you do that; it gives you the chance to say a tremendous amount more than the words being spoken.  It lessens the distance between your characters and your readers and truly lets the characters introduce themselves.

Dialog is also a great medium for advancing plot.  Just as character development flows from conversation, so does narrative development.  We as authors can tell our readers what is happening at any given point in a book, or we can show them by allowing the readers to eavesdrop on a conversation that is central to the storyline.  There are certainly times when we have to explain things to our readers, when there’s information that they have to have, that characters can’t tell them without the necessary conversation sounding contrived.  But most of the time, I prefer to have my characters talk about matters, even if they are speaking of things my reader can only partially understand.  Yes, this can confuse the reader a bit, but it’s a good kind of confusion that keeps readers turning the page.  I make certain that no part of the discussion is so opaque that the reader can’t grasp the important points.  But if there are details that need to be filled in later, so be it.  So long as the readers get the gist — so long as they understand the broad outlines of the threat or dilemma in question, that’s good enough for that particular moment.  Another example, this one from The Sorcerers’ Plague.  In this case, our POV character is Torgan Plye, a successful merchant.  He is trading baskets, and is beginning to suspect that these baskets might be cursed, though he is far from certain of this.

“How much for these, Torgan?” one of the peddlers asked, lifting one and examining it closely.  He didn’t know the man’s name, though clearly the stranger knew his.  He was a younger man.  Eandi.  “Mettai work, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Mettai,” Torgan said.  “And they’re three sovereigns.”

The man’s eyebrows went up.  “Three?”

“Firm price,” Torgan added.  “No bargaining on those.”

“But three,” the man said.

“Look at them.  If you can show me any baskets that are finer, I’ll let you have it for two.”

“I thought you said the price was firm.”

He grinned.  “I did.  That’s my point.”

The other merchants laughed.  He even drew grins from a few of the Fal’Borna.

“Where did you find them?”

“Back in the Neck.”

“What?” the man said.

“C’Bijor’s Neck.”

Everyone stared at him, their expressions turning his innards to water.

“Is that supposed to be funny, dark-eye?” one of the Qirsi asked, his voice hard.

“Not at all,” Torgan managed to say, though abruptly his mouth was so dry that he could barely move his tongue.  “What’s happened?”

You truly don’t know?” another peddler asked.

How could he answer?  He had seen fire and smoke. But what did he know?  What had he seen that night?

We get a bit here about Torgan — his brash confidence, his ability to “work the room.”  We also get something of the racial tensions that plague the land — the interaction between Eandi and Qirsi — with the reference to the humorlessness of the Fal’Borna, and the use of the epithet “dark-eye.”  But mostly, through the abrupt change in the scene’s mood, what we get is a sense of the seriousness of events in C’Bijor’s Neck.  We don’t know yet what’s happened, but clearly it’s a huge deal to all concerned.  I could have told my readers that, but by having them listen in on what begins as an innocent negotiation over baskets, I convey it in a way that I believe is more powerful.

Dialog, I would argue, also speeds a book along.  As a reader, I know that I find conversations fun to read.  I love the interplay between characters, the subtle revelations that come from a change in the tone of a person’s voice or a physical response to something said.  And I find, again as a reader, that I glide through dialog more than I do through long passages of exposition.  Again, this isn’t to say that descriptive and/or introspective sections aren’t important and necessary.  But quite often I find that I can accomplish the same thing with a scene between characters, and can get across necessary information in a way that speeds up the book rather than slowing it down.

So how do we write good dialog?  First off, we remember that there is far more to a conversation than just the words we say.  There are pauses, facial reactions, physical reactions, changes in tone of voice, changes in the dynamics of voice.  Each one of these things clues us in to the emotions of the speaker and the listener.  That doesn’t mean that every line deserves a reaction — that would be overkill.  But it does mean that you have to give your readers indications along the way regarding what your characters are feeling, how they’re receiving what’s being said.

We also have to keep in mind point of view issues.  Most authors these days do not jump back and forth between character pov during a conversation.  So when you’re dealing with facial expressions and such, you have one character perceiving those things and responding to what the other character is saying.  Just as in real life.  When you speak to your love, or your child, or your parent, you know what you want to convey through your words and your tone and your expressions.  And then you try to gauge how the conversation is going by looking for visual signs, listening for aural signs from the other person.  So it should be with your pov character.  Most of the time, you should stay inside the head of one character.

And finally, in today’s market, you should avoid what are known as “said bookisms”.  These are words that are used in dialog attribution that (for want of a better word) editorialize.  For instance, if your character is angry, have her use harsh words, have her face redden, have her fists clench.  But don’t use phrases like “she spat” or “she raged” or “she hissed” to convey that anger.  Those are said-bookisms, and they’re frowned upon right now.  (They were used far more several decades back, and they may return, but if you’re trying to get published you don’t want to be a trendsetter in this regard…)  The point is, let your characters show their emotions, don’t use attribution phrases to tell your reader what the character is feeling

This post is getting very long, and we can handle more dialog issues in comments and also next week if it seems warranted.  But I would urge all of you to try a simple exercise that will carry your dialog in a new direction.  Try writing a scene between two characters and use no direct attribution at all.  No “He said,” “she asked,” etc.  Use only stage direction — shrugs, nods, changes in facial expression — to indicate whose speaking.  You’ll even find that for parts of the conversation you won’t need to do anything more than quote the person.  If you feel so inclined, post your passages in the comments section for the rest of us to see and discuss.

Good luck with it!

David B. Coe
http://davidbcoe.livejournal.com
http://magicalwords.net
http://www.davidbcoe.com
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21 comments to Dialog Revisited

  • David,
    First off — this was totally excellent! I mean great! I think I’d like to contribute to this… Hmmm. (Thinking. It’s Monday so that’s hard.)
    And — you said,
    >>There are certainly times when we have to explain things to our readers, when there’s information that they have to have, that characters can’t tell them without the necessary conversation sounding contrived. But most of the time, I prefer to have my characters talk about matters, even if they are speaking of things my reader can only partially understand.

    I love to get pulled into a wold this way, far better than a lengthy narrative discourse. Excellent!
    Faith

  • I agree with you and Faith – I love to read two characters talking about something I don’t know yet, with the understanding that I’ll eventually have all the information. It makes me want to read on, to dig out the secrets they aren’t just telling me. 😀

    As for the exercise, I’ll get things started:

    Silver winked at the edges of the man’s sleeve. He ran a long fingernail across the smooth wooden counter, turning his finger to produce a high-pitched scraping sound that made the bookseller shiver. “The pirate. She was here?”
    “Yes, magus.”
    “You sold her a book?”
    The bookseller swallowed the lump that had arisen in his throat. “Two.”
    “And those would be?”
    “A history of our fine islands, and a flapbook detailing the exploits of Flingo Naile.”
    His nail scraped the wood again. “Nothing else?”
    The bookseller’s heart thudded against his ribs, but he kept his voice steady. “No, magus.”

  • Thanks, Faith. Glad you liked it. Hope you’ll contribute, though I know how Mondays are.

    Misty, this is wonderful (not surprising, of course) and exactly the type of thing I’m talking about. We always know who’s doing the talking, and by attributing speech as you do rather than merely with “said” and asked” etc., you give us so much more ambiance. Just great!

  • Ok, lemme give this a try…

    >>Slowly a woman appeared with two small children from behind the stone outcropping on which he had come to rest. She was young and not too unhandsome. Her black hair looked matted and grimy in the glow of the burning village. The children looked to be both under five years old and the oldest had recently been crying.
    “There we are. Now, tell me. What are your names?”

    “Go to hell, pig!”

    “Now, now. Is that anyway for someone without a weapon to talk to someone who does?” he chastened. “I will ask again. What are your names?”

    After a a brief pause to consider whether or not to cooperate, the woman answered, “I am Jorel and these are my children Talar and Shaom.”

    “Nice to meet you.” Wynn replied with an almost friendly smile. “I was wondering if any of you might have some knowledge of anything that might be in your village…. That is… say unusual? Something that you might not have anywhere else?”

    “We had very little. And now we have nothing thanks to you.”

    “Yes. I am sorry about that.” He tapped his sword on the rocks below him to clean off the snow that was beginning to accumulate once again. “But are you sure that you know nothing unique in the area?”

    The older boy spoke up softly. “There is the temple, mother.”

    The mother looked down at her child. “What would a temple have to do with a brigand?”

    “Tell me of this temple.” Wynn chipped in.

    The boy looked at Wynn, “We have the only known Temple to Tyra in the world.”

    “Really?” Wynn mused. “Where is this temple?”

    The boy lifted his arm and pointed directly behind the ledge on which the brigand sat. Wynn turned and could see a dark shape in the distance, obscured by a line of trees. “Ah, I see it I think.” Turning his attention back to the lad he continued. “Thank you very much for your help young man. Now, I don’t know what you lost today or who you lost, but maybe this will go a ways to paying that debt I have to you off.” He loosed one of his larger pouches from his belt and tossed it to the woman. The clink of coins rang out as she caught it against her chest. “Now, off with you.” The group remained motionless. “Off now! Go!” he roared. With a start, the woman snatched up her children and trotted off into the night.

  • Thanks for contributing, Mark. There are parts of this that work very well, where you do a good job of keeping the conversation going and making certain that your readers know who is speaking without any attribution. Places where you use action phrases to indicate who is speaking (“The mother looked down at her child.” “The boy looked at Wynn.”) are particularly effective.

    There are other places though where you actually do attribute speech, and do so with said-bookisms, which you need to avoid. “He chastened,” “he roared” “Wynn chipped in”, “Wynn mused.” All of those are instances of said-bookisms, phrases used instead of “he said” or “she said” that editorialize, that tell your reader rather than show.

    I would try it this way:

    The mother looked down at her child. “What would a temple have to do with a brigand?”

    Wynn regarded the boy with interest. “Tell me of this temple.”

    The boy looked at Wynn, pride in his eyes. “We have the only known Temple to Tyra in the world.”

    “Really?” Wynn couldn’t deny that he was impressed. “Where is this temple?”

    Or some such. There’s no attribution there, no need to embellish the spoken word with said-bookisms. And we still know who is speaking each line. Clearly there’s nothing wrong with using “said” or “asked” in a book — this is just an exercise. But the said-bookisms can be a problem. I’ve used them in the past — my first couple of books were full of them, the more recent ones less so. But, especially early on, I was criticized for them by readers who we’d asked to blurb the books. It’s something to watch for.

    Hope this is helpful.

  • Beatriz

    David–

    Oh how I wished you’d been one of my writing professors in college. Let’s just say she didn’t see the same value in using dialogue to move things along that you, Faith and Misty do.

    Misty–
    I hate you for posting that. I really, truly do. You are going to come home some night and find me clutching your laptop and gleefully chuckling over the stories you have locked up in there!

    I’ll play. This is just a scrap of something that came out of role play one night that I’ve hacked up to fit the exercise.
    ——
    Jessie-Girl,” Davis began, slapping me on the rump. “I want you in charge of this job.”

    I skittered out of his reach. “What job?”

    “Finishing up the job from last year.” He glanced away from my face to look out at the neat row graves.

    I folded my arms across my chest and leaned back on my heels. “You want me to go back?”

    “It’ll be easier this time. Quicker. I hired Beth. Take her and Clark.”

    It was my turn to look out the window. “Who else?”

    “Lee.”

    I rolled my eyes. “Why are we taking the Right Reverend Doctor Do-Gooder with us?”

    “Because he’s a doctor.”

    “Anything else?”

    “Well. . . I wouldn’t be upset if Lee doesn’t make it back. No overt action, you hear me, Jessie-Girl?”

    I nodded. “But don’t jump in front of a bullet for him.”

    “Exactly.”

    I grabbed my jacket from the back of the chair as I headed to the door. “I’ll do it. Twice my usual fee.”

    “Good.”

  • Very nicely done, Beatriz. Get rid of “Davis began” and it’s perfect (that’s direct attribution, even if there’s no “said” or “asked.” Instead have it say:

    “Jessie-Girl!” Davis slapped my rump. “I want you in charge of this job.”

    Otherwise, that’s terrific. And I would love to teach writing someday. Don’t know where, and I don’t know who’d pay me to do it, but I would love to teach.

  • Hi, may I come in? :) I found this blog today, and I’d like to play along. Read up on some older posts and found some good advice already.

    So here’s a snip from my Fantasy NiP. I think I found one without speech tags.
    _____

    At Roderic’s groan, Conrad wriggled into a sitting position, a slightly wild expression in his eyes. “Roderic, what is the matter?”

    “Shh, don’t speak so loud, we don’t know who may listen outside the door.”

    “You are not bound?” Conrad’s voice was lower now.

    “I cut my bonds on a stone. Let me see to yours.” Roderic knelt down behind Conrad and fumbled to untie the tightly knot ropes. The blood dripping from his lacerated hands, and the stiff fingers made the work difficult, but in the end the cords came off.

    Conrad rubbed his wrists. “I don’t see what we have gained by this.”

    “We have gained free movement. I’m going to get the weapons and the key from the next guard who enters.”

    With his teeth, Roderic tore a stripe off his black tunica. He removed the blodied bandage on Conrad’s right arm and rebound the wound. He didn’t like the swollen, pinkish look of the gash, but there was nothing he could do now.

    Conrad moaned. “I can’t remember that a small cut has ever hurt like that before.”

    “It is more than a small cut. A surgeon should see to it as soon as possible.” Roderic handed two more pieces of cloth to Conrad, holding out his hands, blood glistening dully in the torchlight. “Wrap those around my wrists and hands. I don’t want my grip to be slippery with blood.”

    The metallic odour of blood was a sharp layer over the omnipresent smell of wood smoke and moist bedrock. “That must hurt like hell.” Conrad tied the loose ends of a bandage together.

    “I’ve known worse pain. It’s a small price to pay for the chance of freedom.” Roderic forced himself to keep his fingers from twitching.

    “Roderic, this whole idea is madness. Maybe we can deal with two or three guards. But not with the entire garrison. Not if you still refuse to use your power.”

    “That power is too dangerous.” Roderic sat back in the straw, resting his elbows on his knees. His bandaged hands throbbed and the drying sweat made him shiver in the cold dampness of the room. “That building to the left of this tower is the well house, isn’t it? How deep goes the well?”

    “Down into the mines.”

    “Then we”ll go that way. And if we’re discovered ….” Roderic paused, “we will die fighting.” The ring on his finger pulsed with a soft blue light. No, Roderic thought, I will not unleash its power. How shall I be worthy to become Keeper after my uncle if a night in a dungeon can tempt me thus?

    Conrad sighed. “And where would we go? Most of my vassals have abandoned me, my seat in Tanquarderoth is held by my enemies.”

    “We’ll flee to Nordland. No one will expect us to take that direction, and King Erland is bound to aid you.”

    “We’ve lost this war, Roderic. We’ll never make it to the Mark of the Danes, let alone Nidaros.”

    “Conrad, we have to get out here. Roderic put a bandaged hand on the duke’s shoulder and shook him, but more gently than he would have liked. “Would you prefer to be dragged before the king in chains as Adalgers prize that will gain him Saxonia? To end on the scaffold as traitor?”

    “King Ruedegar won’t go that far.”

    “Are you sure?”

    Conrad sat staring into the erratic flame of the torch for a long moment. “No, I’m not sure.” He turned to Roderic. “I’m not sure about anyone any longer.”

    “Trust in yourself. You’ll need a position that allows you to negotiate with Ruedegar. To keep your family’s heritage alive, reclaim the right to the income from your allodial possessions.”

    Conrad shook his head. “Impossible. Without retinue, money ….”

    “Think of your son! Should he live off the alms Robert or Villembaud may throw at him, become a pawn to their feuds?”

    Or live by the sword as I do, a mercenary in all but the name.

  • Hi Gabriele! Welcome to MW. Glad you decided to join us.

    I like your sample very much and am impressed by your ability to keep the dialog moving and clear without the use of direct attribution. Well done! If this is a diurect cut and paste from your manuscript, you should know that there are a few typos and a missing quotation mark or two, but those you’ll find on rewriting.

    I also like the world-building and character work you’re doing here. I’m getting a good sense of who these guys are and tantalizing hints at larger politics, not to mention a magic system. Very well done.

  • Great post David, you’ve got me looking back at some of my overly-favourited dialogue tags and thinking of new ways to show the delivery instead.

    There’s a recent section I worked on where I’m wondering if it crosses into the oblique or not, but for now, here’s a recent bit of dialogue that flowed really well for me:

    —-

    She had told him. How could she have told him? Lady’s Mercy, how would she face him again, knowing how it would be? The little anleth girl falling for the first man to toss her a kind word and a smile. Thinking she could ever be anything but—

    “Alkaia?”

    Her eyes flew open as Rawdon rounded the corner.

    He approached her as he might have done a skittish foal in pasture, putting a hand out as she stepped away. “Are you all right?”

    “No, I’m – I’m fine. I’m fine.”

    He took another step. “You left so abruptly. I thought—” He cleared his throat. “I thought Lionheart had said something to upset you.”

    “No, no, it’s…” She forced her breath to slow. “I’m not so fond of court as he is. I was about to retire.”

    “Stay a moment.”

    “I really should—”

    “I owe you apology.”

    She stopped. “What?”

    Rawdon approached again, hand outstretched. “For my presumption. Will you walk with me?”

    He offered her a small, crooked smile, as familiar as it was unexpected, and Alkaia took his hand.

  • Hi Hayley. Thanks for sharing your work with us. This looks great. You do a nice job of capturing mood, of giving insights into your character, and furthering your story, all while keeping the dialog moving and avoiding attribution. I think the most effective lines are those near the end where you don’t even use stage direction — where you just have lines of dialog without anything else. It still remains crystal clear to your reader who is doing the talking. Good work!

  • A very timely post, David! I’ve noticed recently that I have a tendency to use said-bookisms – I am going to spend some time writing short scenes using your exercise, see if I can break the habit!

    Anna

  • This is a snippet from Daughter of the dark, the story I am currently revising. It is the same story that featues the same MC that my character developement. ( Yes, I know. I do things in the opposite way. It suits me)

    Finally, we reached a plain door, and the man knocked on the door.
    ” Enter”, a male voice called.
    A chill of foreboding crept down my spine when I heard the voice. I had only felt that particular chill two times before in my long life, and each time my life had changed profoundly.
    I fought down the impulse to turn around and run, I knew that the IDB could be as vicious as the Dhu Annwi.
    I took a deep breath to calm myself before I entered the room.
    When I first saw the man seated behind the plain desk, I believed him to be a Dhur elf. There had happend before that the Arch-priestess sent out males to the other dimensions. However, I also knew that they would never be allowed to reach a position of power. Beside that, the Arch-priestess would found out if they did since she always had them under surveillance.
    When I looked closer, I saw to my relief that he was mostly human, even if the eyes hinted that there was some degree of elvin blood in his veins.

    ” Sit”. The Director gestured at the chair .
    I sank down on the chair.
    ” I have wanted to talk to you for a long time, but you have been very elusive”, he commented.
    I only smiled, but inwardly I cursed softly.
    ” I know you are elvin, but I have a question for you: Are you really Drow?”
    I stared speechless at him. I had gotten many questions during my exile, but never that one.
    ” Yes. I am a Drow. Do you want me to summon the shadow of Gwynfar to prove it?” I replied.
    I felt smug when he swallowed hard.
    ” It isn’t necessary”, he hurried to assure me.
    I nodded. I would never attempt a summoning, since that was foolish and dangerous.
    ” Right. The reason for my inquiry is that I have a job for you,” the Director explained.
    I gave him a suspicious look. Me? Why would he ask me when he has numberous of agents?
    ” What kind of job?”
    ” I am in need of a runner”.
    ” It isn’t as if it is a hard job, so why don’t you ask an undercover agent”, I suggested
    The Director shook his head.
    ” That is not possible. I need a package delivered to Dhurig”, he said.

    I stared at him. I really didn’t want to know why, but I also knew that I couldn’t accept the offer
    I would rather face Dhu Annwi than returning to Dhurig. I *might* survive an attack by Dhu Annwi, but I knew I wouldn’t survive the plans of my- the Arch-priestess. After all, I had my daughter to think about-
    ” Never. I would rather face the Dhu Annwi than returning”, I informed him in a flat voice.

    ” I’ll make it worth your time”, the Director offered.
    I thought fleetingly about not having to worry about getting found, about being safe. As tempting that was, I knew better than to accept it. Since if I did I would be forever in his debt. No, if I needed protection, I had better contacts. I knew that Eric would help me, despite the bitter words we had said.
    ” No. I am sorry, but I can’t accept your offer”, I repeated.
    The Director nodded.
    ” I may not like it, but I have to accept your decision. If you change your mind, you can reach me on this number”. He handed me a tiny card.
    I nodded, and put the card in my pouch.
    The man that had escorted me to the office, followed me outside. We went back to the entrance under silence. When we reached the entrance, he suddenly spoke.
    ” You will change your mind about the Director’s offer”, he said calmly.
    I frowned when I heard the quiet confidence in his voice.
    What does he know that I haven’t been told? I thought warily.
    Strangely enough, the confidence made me even more determined to say no.
    ” I doubt it”, I replied before I stepped out in the night.

  • Thank you for your kind words, David.

    Still typos? Argh, those damn buggers must have been hiding when I read through the snippet before posting. 😉

    KINGS AND REBELS is an alternate historical Fantasy or something; I’ll leave it to a – hopefully to be found one day – publisher to classify that monster, lol. It’s an alternate Medieaval Europe where the settings are based on real ones, and some of the characters – like Conrad – on historical characters (or a mix of several) , as are some of the political conflicts.

    The magic of the stones, connected to telluric lines, adds another layer to the story, and Roderic, one of the purely fictional characters, is the most powerful of the four Keepers. He could blow a way out of that castle if he wanted. :)

  • Thanks for the comment, Anna. I hope the exercise helps!

    Mikaela, thanks very much for sharing your excerpt with us. There’s some very cool stuff in here. I like the storyline hinted at in this passage, the implied danger, and the backstory you provide for your main character. There are also places where you seem to allow your dialog attribution to flow through facial expressions and actions.

    In other places though, you directly attribute dialog to one character or another through phrases like “he said” “I replied” etc. A certain number of “he saids” and “she asked” are fine of course, although this was an exercise in avoiding those phrases. But more to the point, there are too many phrases here that could be seen as being said-bookisms, phrases that attribute dialog in a way that editorializes and thus tells your reader what the character is feeling rather than allowing tone and expression to show your reader. For instance, things like “he commented” “I suggested” “he commented” “I replied” “he offered”. As a general rule, if you find yourself looking for lots of different ways to say “he said” or “he asked” chances are you’re resorting to said-bookisms. Look back at Misty Massey’s sample in one of the earlier comments. She manages to attribute speech to one character or another in compelling, effective ways, without once using a direct attribution (no “saids” or “remarkeds” or “askeds”). That’s what we were going for here. You do this in some places very well. I think your sample here would benefit from more of that.

    Gabriele thanks for the info about your book. I wish you every success in completing it (if it’s not already done) and selling it to a publisher!

  • Thanks, David.. It is far from done, I’m afraid. For one, it recently decided it wants to be a trilogy, and second I’m a freewriter, keep editing while I go, and work on more than one project at the same time.

    I have tried outlines, participated in Nano in hope to learn and write faster, and keep kicking plotbunnies under the bed, but I can’t do anything about my writing speed and out of order method, or the fact that my Roman characters want their share of my attention. :)

  • Wendy

    Thank you for clarifying the “said bookisms” thing. I feel like, in the last four years or so I’ve read so much condemnation that confused me based on some of what I was reading. I started to wonder if that was a comparitively recent development.

    I love reading these workshop posts, by the way. So much fun. :) I kind of miss having a writing group sometimes. Glad I found this place. Other peoples’ creativity always keeps me going.

  • Glad you’re enjoying the site, Wendy. I’m sure that we’ll be doing more virtual workshops as the year progresses.

    I do believe that the said-bookisms thing is somewhat new. I know that I saw more of that sort of thing as a young man than I do now. But the no saidbookisms preference has been in place for several decades now.

  • Since I decided yesterday that I would focus on typing in the second part of the sequel, this was rather rough. But I appreciate the feed back, and the post was an eye opener. It will definitely make my next draft better :)

  • I’m glad that the post and the feedback were helpful. My apologies if you meant that my comments were rough on you (as opposed to meaning that this was a rough draft). That wasn’t my intention at all.

  • Oh. No I meant that the snippet was rough… not that your comments were rough :)