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  1. #1
    Mara
    Guest

    Critique my dialogue exercise?

    I apologize if it's bad etiquette to post two samples with only a day in between. I couldn't find a FAQ for forum etiquette, so please let me know. Also, hopefully the formatting will remain intact this time.

    As I mentioned in my first thread, I'm a beginner when it comes to narrative fiction. In addition to my difficulty describing action scenes, I don't really know much about writing dialogue. (It doesn't come up a lot in academic nonfiction.) On the other hand, I love dialogue. In fact, I probably like it a bit too much, and my characters tend to be long-winded. I'm trying to correct that a bit. I wrote this pretty quickly, and went back and cut about 100 words from it and tried to make it more concise.

    This happens after a fight with some zombies in a grocery store parking lot, and a little ways into a theoretical novel that I'm using as the basis for these exercises. (I'm not currently planning to write the actual novel unless I start improving.) There's some context missing.

    I'm mostly interested in comments about my actual technique, rather than the subject matter.

    1) Is my grammar and punctuation correct? (It was only today that I remembered that there should be a comma after "said" before the quotation marks, for example.)

    2) I use "said" fairly often, mainly because articles I've read suggest that using too many synonyms for "said" looks bad. Also, Stephen King makes fun of writers that use too many adverbs after "said," so I'm avoiding them unless absolutely necessary. Is this a good idea?

    3) Is this readable? It's not a fast-paced scene, but shouldn't be something you have to slog through.

    4) What impression do you get about their personalities? (This scene isn't supposed to define them, but I do hope that it at least reinforces certain ideas about the characters.)

    =============================
    Evelyn looked around and said, "Looks like that's all of them for now." She looked at the cute girl she had rescued and asked, "You okay?"

    Nicole responded, "Uh, yeah. Think there might be more in the grocery store?"

    Evelyn said, "I doubt it. Looks like the place is closed for the holidays. Why does it matter, anyway?" Evelyn wondered if Nicole expected her to kill every zombie in town.

    Nicole said, "I thought maybe we should stock up on food in case this is the apocalypse."

    Evelyn hadn't really considered this possibility. "We'll grab a few things for now, but don't panic just yet. It's probably just this town. You've got that crazy doomsday preacher around here, right? Charles Conn. Maybe he did this."

    Nicole said, "Charlie the Conn-Man? My family used to go to his church. He's a crazy faith-healer, but he doesn't have real magic. Unless he found something like the Necronomicon. That would make sense."

    Evelyn shrugged. "You watch a lot of movies, I take it?"

    Nicole said, "Yeah. They're kinda my hobby. I maintain a B-movie website, mostly horror stuff. I've reviewed probably two dozen zombie movies. But I guess this is the part where you tell me to forget everything I've seen in the movies? I hope we're not really in a movie."

    "You've got good taste but an overactive imagination," said Evelyn.

    Nicole replied, "People tell me that a lot. You like bad horror movies too?"

    Evelyn nodded. "Love them, but this is a bad time to chat about dumb movies."

    Nicole blushed. "Sorry. So, seriously, what's up with the zombies?"

    Evelyn shrugged. "No idea. I didn't think zombies were real."

    Nicole said, "But you fight other monsters a lot? I bet crazy stuff like this happens all the time, and the government covers it up. This is just a normal day in your life, and I'm just freaking out for no reason, right?"

    Evelyn decided to change the subject. "Are we going to get some food or not? Stay out here and watch for zombies. Scream if you see any."

    Nicole watched in awe as Evelyn shattered the sliding glass door with a kick and entered the store.
    =========================



  2. #2
    Jeanne Gassman
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    You've got the right idea, but this dialogue is still a bit clunky. It's true that "said" is an invisible word. However, if you can eliminate most of the dialogue tags altogether, the conversation will have more punch. This is fairly easy to do when you have an exchange between just two people. Rather than dialogue tags, you can use physical action or internal monologue (the character's thoughts) to identify the speaker. So, if we take the first part of your excerpt and play with removing the tags, you get (My comments are in CAPS):

    Evelyn looked around. "Looks like that's all of them for now." She looked at the cute girl she had rescued. "You okay?" YOU'VE GOT "LOOK" HERE THREE TIMES IN A ROW. CHANGE THE WORDING TO AVOID REPETITION. THE PHYSICAL ACTION INDICATES EVELYN IS SPEAKING, SO YOU DON'T NEED THE TAG.

    "Uh, yeah. Think there might be more in the grocery store?" SINCE SHE'S SPEAKING TO ONE PERSON, YOU DON'T NEED TO IDENTIFY HER. HOWEVER, IF THIS IS THE FIRST THEY'VE MET, NICOLE MIGHT INTRODUCE HERSELF TO EVELYN: She held out her hand. "Thanks. Name's Nicole, by the way."

    "I doubt it. Looks like the place is closed for the holidays. Why does it matter, anyway?" Evelyn wondered if Nicole expected her to kill every zombie in town. THE PHYSICAL ACTION PRECLUDES THE NEED FOR THE TAG AT THE BEGINNING. LEAVE IT OUT.

    "I thought maybe we should stock up on food in case this is the apocalypse." NEW PARAGRAPH MAKES IT CLEAR THIS IS A NEW SPEAKER. NICOLE IS THE OBVIOUS PERSON SPEAKING. NO NEED FOR A TAG.

    Evelyn hadn't really considered this possibility. "We'll grab a few things for now, but don't panic just yet. It's probably just this town. You've got that crazy doomsday preacher around here, right? Charles Conn. Maybe he did this." GOOD. NO TAG. EVELYN'S THOUGHTS IDENTIFY HER AS THE SPEAKER.

    "Charlie the Conn-Man? My family used to go to his church. He's a crazy faith-healer, but he doesn't have real magic. Unless he found something like the Necronomicon. That would make sense." SAME REASONING AS ABOVE. WE CAN ASSUME NICOLE IS ANSWERING EVELYN.

    Evelyn shrugged. "You watch a lot of movies, I take it?" GOOD.

    "Yeah. They're kinda my hobby. I maintain a B-movie website, mostly horror stuff. I've reviewed probably two dozen zombie movies. But I guess this is the part where you tell me to forget everything I've seen in the movies? I hope we're not really in a movie." SAME RULE AS ABOVE. WE CAN ASSUME NICOLE IS THE SPEAKER.


    Other tricks to make your dialogue more effective:

    Read it out loud.
    Use paragraphing, physical action, and internal monologue instead of dialogue tags wherever possible. If tags are necessary, keep it simple, sticking with "said" or "asked."
    Remember that people in a high state of anxiety, fear, or excitement, DO NOT speak in complete, coherent sentences. They interrupt each other, change direction, ask questions without listening to answers, etc.
    A great way to build tension in any conversation is to use what is called "misdirection." Character A asks a direct question: "So you decided to sleep with her because you were bored with the marriage?"
    Character B answers: "Honest, honey, I had no idea she would follow me to our favorite restaurant."
    Notice how B is avoiding answering the question by changing the subject.

    Hope that helps.

    Jeanne

  3. #3
    Hillary W
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Although I'm not a huge Stephen King fan, I agree with him about that.

    I was nicely reminded by another writer here yesterday that when you have only two people exchanging dialogue, you dont need as many "she said/she said"s. Really you should only post tags if they are adding to the writing.

    Also, most of the personality revealing you've done in this section is through the dialogue. Trying showing their personality through their actions. You also say that Nicole is 'cute', but that's forcing the writer's judgment on the audience. Why not remove the tags and add some description about what she looks like instead?

    Another suggestion- why dont you have Nicole wearing a George Romero t-shirt? That's showing her interest in zombie movies without having to tell as much about it.

  4. #4
    Sam Fletcher
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Hi Mara,

    1. I don’t actually think that this dialogue is about anything. It feels like it’s just used as an excuse for you to practice your dialogue. You start the discussion on one topic and then jump to the discussion of another topic.

    Dialogue should serve one of these purposes

    - Reveal character
    - Keep the story moving forward
    - Impart information without seeming to
    -Control the pace of events

    What purpose did this dialogue serve? Is it setting up the next action scene? Does it reveal some key piece of information the reader needs to know? Does it clearly introduce and define the characters? Does it define who you are as a writer and what you want to convey to the reader?

    2. It feels to me like this passage is wasting the reader’s time. A lot of the topic is about horror movies. Maybe other writers feel differently, but for me it seems inappropriate to discuss other literature within the confines of your book. It would be a little bit like me writing a fantasy novel like this.

    Bildad scanned the horizon. “Well, I’m off,” he said. “I’m going to visit some elves who are a lot like the elves Tolkien had in his book. Have you read any of the Lord of the Rings.” Bildad narrowed his eyes and waited for an answer.

    Tomdad shuffled his feet and then replied, “Well, I’ve never seen any of Tolkien’s elves myself. But I have seen a foam giant like the ones in Stephen Donaldson’s books. Isn’t it wonderful to live in a land that has both elves and foam giants?”


    Well, okay, my example was a bit extreme, but you’ve mentioned zombie movies repeatedly in your two examples.

    3. You bring up topics and then just drop them without any explanation. In this sentence you start with Evelyn shrugged. "No idea. I didn't think zombies were real." but then you drop the topic and there’s no follow up. Shouldn’t Nicole at least have asked, “How can you say that? What are they if they’re not zombies?” Where’s the follow up. What’s the purpose of this bit of conversation. I’m looking and I haven’t found any.

  5. #5
    Mara
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Wow, fast replies. Thanks!

    I'll work on removing unnecessary tags. I hate tags anyway, so the more I can safely kill, the better.

    Thanks for the suggestion about the Romero T-shirt. That's very helpful.

    The "cute" part is supposed to reflect Evelyn's opinion without her actually saying it at this point. Thanks for letting me know that it wasn't clear; I'll come up with something else. Evelyn isn't particularly upset by all the zombies, but she figures Nicole is a "normal" and probably at the border of a nervous breakdown. Evelyn thinks it would be a bit insensitive to flirt with her right now, especially since she's not sure of Nicole's orientation.

    I probably should find some better way to convey that. I wanted to foreshadow it a little bit instead of jumping out with "Oh, and Evelyn likes Nicole" right before Evelyn actually says anything to Nicole about it.

    Both characters are unusually calm; I should probably explain why. (Theoretically, that would probably have come before this scene.) Evelyn is fairly calm because she thinks she's not in any real danger, and she's had experience with the supernatural before, but not as much as Nicole thinks. Nicole is calm because she thinks she isn't in any real danger (due to Evelyn's presence) and because it's the way her mind works. (It was based on a car accident I was in. It felt like it took forever, and my mind was wandering the whole time, and I remember being amazed at how calm I felt and how fast I was thinking.)

    I want to explain Nicole's thoughts, but I can't figure out how to explain them without adopting an omniscient perspective for her, and I'm trying to just focus on Evelyn's perspective. I can't think of a good reason for Evelyn to directly ask her why she's calm (at this point), and mostly Nicole's thoughts on her own calmness are going on inside her head.

    Could I adopt an omniscient point of view for both Nicole and Evelyn without being too confusing? (I'm not positive I'm using the word correctly. In this case, I'm asking if I write what both of them are thinking, not just what they're saying or doing?)

    Thanks again for the replies!

  6. #6
    Mara
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Ah, thanks Sam, I posted while you were posting. I appreciate the list.

    "The characters love horror fiction" is a central theme in the story. I can easily cut out the zombies and retain the story, but I can't cut that element. But yeah, as an excerpt without the context, I can see how it's a problem.

    Also, I'm trying to write a genre story (specifically, a subverted genre story), and referencing horror literature is fairly common in this genre.

  7. #7
    Hillary W
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Hi Mara,

    "the characters love horror fiction" can be brought up in another way (like the romero t-shirt suggestion) or later in the story. but maybe you're trying to do too many things in this bit of dialogue? its tough to build a crush, introduce the characters to each other, come up with a reason for the zombies, and discuss food all in a couple of sentences. maybe work on one thing at a time?

  8. #8
    Mara
    Guest

    Re: Critique my dialogue exercise?

    Sounds like a good idea, Hillary. Thanks.

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