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  1. #1
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    Need help figuring out a unique dialogue issue

    I'm writing a book right now and I've run into a bit of a dilemma. In the story, I use italics when I'm showing someone's thoughts. There is also normal spoken dialogue, for which I use quotes. Finally, there's the dragon's spoken words, which humans can't understand.

    The dragon is not telepathic and he doesn't speak "human". I like to show both his thoughts and what he says out loud, so using italics when he speaks would be very confusing to the reader. When he speaks out loud, humans hear a series of dragon sounds, such as rumbles, light growls, and various pitches of vocals. I can't just say, "Honestly, I canít leave you for two days before you run into trouble!Ē he rumbled, because it's awkward and inaccurate. Dragons can't just rumble an entire sentence because their language is much more refined then that. So far I've just used quotes to show him speaking out loud, but I keep feeling the need to remind the reader that humans can't understand him, and it's getting irritating. My mom suggested I use a symbol, like this >Honestly, I can't...<, but I'm not sure that works either.

    What do you suggest? I spent half of yesterday hunting the web for an answer and found nothing.



  2. #2
    Rogue Mutt
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    I remember in a couple of sci-fi books when aliens would speak the author would put their dialog in brackets like, [Hi. I'm a dragon.]

  3. #3
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    That's an interesting idea. I thought of using parentheses, but Mom said that wouldn't be a good idea because they're used to commonly in other ways. Brackets look much better, in my opinion, and they might work. I'd like other opinions and suggestions, too, if anyone else has any!

  4. #4
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    I'm a bit confused. For all practical purpose, the dragon is someone who doesn't speak the local language. So why would he or she continue to address people when they won't understand?

    But that aside, I assume we have a protagonist. If so, and we're in their viewpoint, if they can't understand the dragon you cannot tell the reader what the actual meaning is because if the protagonist doesn't know, we don't either. That would be a break in POV, and mean you're directly telling the story to the reader, and explaining what's going on instead of making the reader experience that as the protagonist does.

    You say this is your first story, so it's worth mentioning that most of us, when we turn to recording our stories tend to lean on our existing verbal storytelling skills and tend to explain the story to the reader as the narrator, and focus on the progression of events to the exclusion of the emotional part of the story, which the reader come to us for, rather than placing the reader into the protagonist's moment of now and sweeping time forward moment-by-moment.

    Some clarification, or a page or two from the opening might generate more pointed advice.

  5. #5
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    Well, I don't know if I'm writing it the way I should be, but there are three protagonists: the girl, the dragon, and the prince. I'm writing it from all three of their points of view. I've tried writing it from just the girl's or just the dragon's (before there was a prince), but it just didn't work--I needed to add the other point of view to enjoy writing the story! Maybe I'm writing it from an Omni point of view? Sorry, I'm pretty new to these terms (what I know, I've read on this forum!).

    I'm terrible at describing (showing) expressions, sounds, and emotions, so when I write stories they tend to be a little dry. I find writing from everyone's POV and giving some internal thought every once in a while helps me a lot in preventing to much dryness.

    The story is in its first draft and not yet complete, but this issue is starting to drive me up a wall (small issues do that to me). The reason the dragon talks out loud to the humans is similar to why you might talk to yourself, a baby, or an animal. It's also what he does naturally, since this is the first real human interaction he's had in about a thousand years and he tends to forget they can't understand him.


    In looking for an excerpt to be an example of my dilemma, I suddenly find myself hating everything I wrote and feeling wholeheartedly embarrassed at the thought of showing it to any of you. Haha, oh well, at least it's just a rough draft

    Here's a small sample with human dialogue (Sarah is the human), italicized thought, and dragon dialogue (Valfredo is the dragon):

    -----
    Sarah ran over to the opening and peered into the dark room. There were small streams of light coming in, but her human eyes could not make anything out. Valfredo walked into the room and grabbed something which he then handed to Sarah. It was a torch.

    A little annoyed, Sarah looked at Valfredo. “How am I supposed to light this thing?”

    Valfredo cocked his head. “Don’t all humans know how to light a torch?”

    Sarah kept staring at him, still annoyed.

    “Sometimes I forget how little you know,” Valfredo said before turning back into the cave. This should work, assuming I can show her how to use it. He took a piece of special glass and brought it to the front of the first cave, which was well-lit with sunlight.
    ---
    The "Sarah kept staring at him, still annoyed" was my desperate and terrible attempt at helping the reader to remember Sarah can't understand Valfredo. I know this writing is crude, but at this time I'm just trying to bang out the storyline.
    Last edited by Elven Candy; 12-16-2015 at 12:06 PM.

  6. #6
    Senior Member John Oberon's Avatar
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    I've seen the bracket thing too.

    I vote the dragon says nothing unless there's a person present who understands and can translate. When nobody can translate, as in the conversation with Sarah, you can say a lot with expression and action. The dragon can sigh with exasperation, roll his eyes, sniff or snort, all kinds of things to indicate intelligence and emotion. Actually, I think that would be more interesting to read. And after the dragon lights the torch with a "duh" look on his face, Sarah can get offended and say, "Well, at least I know how to talk!"

    Yep, I think that would be much more interesting to read, but also more difficult to write.

    Three points of view, ey? I think for a beginner, you're treading on very dangerous ground, and most likely, you're doing a lot of "head hopping", which isn't good. But who knows? Maybe you're a better writer than that. Can't tell with such a short excerpt.
    Last edited by John Oberon; 12-17-2015 at 09:47 AM.

  7. #7
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    At the very beginning of the story, I have a few paragraphs where Valfredo is not around Sarah, so I have to write from his POV. Is this generally accepted, even if I only write from Sarah's POV afterward? What about if she's asleep and he does something without her? Should I just know what he did and not mention it in the story? I don't do well at describing expressions and actions, which I think is what led me to write the way that I am. Whenever I tried to restrict myself to only one POV, the story turned into a boring narration. I REALLY hope I can at least keep Sarah and Valfredo's POV!

    "'Well, at least I know how to talk!'" That is so Sarah, haha!

    Thank you for your suggestions. I'll definitely research point of view and consider how I should tackle it in my story! Who knows, maybe it'll make it easier to write.
    Last edited by Elven Candy; 12-17-2015 at 10:32 AM.

  8. #8
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    Maybe I'm writing it from an Omni point of view?
    No danger of that. Point of view is the single most misunderstood point in writing fiction, because we label the personal pronouns we use point of view. But that's not what writers mean when they talk about POV, in most cases. It's viewpoint that matters most because a strong viewpoint is what makes us feel as if we're living the story.

    Forget the book-report writing skills we all learn in our school days. They're author-centric and fact-based, and meant to inform. They're why you say, "when I write stories they tend to be a little dry." All reports are dry, and you're reporting on the events, and listing what a reader would see were they on the scene. Fiction is emotion-based and character-centric. It's meant to entertain. So of course it requires a different approach.

    Remember, the reader can't see the things you mention. Knowing what's there to see helps not at all in that situation. Knowing what has the protagonist's attention though, that matters a lot more than knowing what the protagonist can see but is ignoring. Never forget that it's the character's story, not yours.
    Sarah ran over to the opening and peered into the dark room.
    This isn't Sarah doing this. It's an overview from an invisible narrator. If we're to see her as our avatar we need to know why she's doing it and what she expects to see, or accomplish. The feel of the story is far different, in the reader's view, if she's looking for evidence, expecting a trap, wanting to kill something, or... If she's our protagonist we need to know the scene as she knows it, not as a dispassionate outsider imagines it. Remember, you can tell us how she feels, and how she speaks. But we can't hear you, and you can't tell us how to read a line of your dialog.
    There were small streams of light coming in, but her human eyes could not make anything out.
    Again, a report by you, on what you visualize—including an editorial comment on vision. In her viewpoint, she makes the judgement that while there is a trace of light coming into the room, it was dark enough in there to hide anything, so a torch will be needed. That sets up for what comes next.
    Valfredo walked into the room and grabbed something which he then handed to Sarah.
    Another overview. But you and I don't live in overview, do we? So how can the story seem real if we hear it in synopsis?

    For you this is a story. For Sarah this is life, lived moment-by-moment. If you're reading a story do you want a history of a series of events in the life of a fictional character? Or do you want to live the story in real-time? If she's our POV character and Valfredo walks in, he won't pick up "something," from her viewpoint. She'll see him pick up a torch, or pick up what looks like a stick with some sort of substance smeared on at one end and ask him what it is. And as soon as she knows it's a torch she'ill apply the knowledge and say something like, "That's what I need, Valfredo, a torch." Or you might say:

    Valfredo came into the room, and without leaving the doorway she she pointed, as she called, "Val, do me a favor and hand me that torch. It's too dark in there to see anything without it."

    In short, stop telling the story and begin showing it.

    Obviously, if you knew how to do that you'd already be doing it. So you need a bit of background and some examples. This article is one I often recommend, because it gives an overview of a very powerful way of placing the reader into the protagonist's POV. For why that's necessary, this may help.

    Chew on that first article till it begins to make sense. Play with it a bit. And if it seems like something worth pursuing, look at the book the article was based on. It's filled with handy tricks and techniques that will make you say, "Why didn't I think of that?"

    Hope this helps.

  9. #9
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    It's very helpful, thank you! Based on what you said, I guess I tend to write from a narrative POV. Shoot. I really do like being able to write both Sarah and Valfredo's thoughts and opinions on things. Is there a way I can do that and still make the story interesting? Maybe third-person multi (still have to do more research on that)? It's close to impossible for me to describe sounds, and if I write only from Sarah's POV, all she'll hear from Valfredo is a variety of sounds. If that's all I can write about his "voice", I don't know if I'll be able to write the story! I have no idea how to write (or show) sound, especially if there's more than one sound for him to make a sentence. I've already tried it that way; it didn't work.

    For now, I'll keep writing the story with whatever voice comes naturally. I just really need to get the storyline down. After that, I can rewrite it in whatever POV works best to make it interesting. You guys have been so helpful, thank you!

  10. #10
    Rogue Mutt
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    Something I read in this book recently that might help you is learning to read as a writer. The idea is to read a few books that would be similar to yours, which in your case would be Young Adult fantasy with dragons and such, and catalog the techniques the authors use, such as the point of view. The author suggests actually outlining each book to give you an idea of how to structure your novel. Especially for someone who didn't even know what YA meant that seems like a good idea to help you understand the greater writing world.

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