Posts Tagged dialogue and author voice

Let pollocks be pollocks – a little chat about dialogue tags

On Facebook, I was having a deeply serious conversation about the use of exclamation marks, and my friend Indigo Roth said this:

Should it be:

“Pollocks,” he exclaimed.

Or

“Pollocks!” he exclaimed.

(Indigo actually used a more anatomical word, but I don’t want to get my blog blacklisted for bad language so I have used a substitute.) Anyway, we were saying…

Without the exclamation mark, said Indigo, it’s hard to get the impact in dialogue.

I replied:

Just write “Pollocks.” I wouldn’t bother mentioning that he has exclaimed it. The word already has the impact you need.

‘No shouty?!’ said Indigo.

No shouty, I said.

But,’ said Indigo, ‘how did he say it? Quietly? At a bellow? Isn’t the supporting explanation necessary? Though in general, I prefer less enthusiastic punctuation.’

Aha, I said, do you need a supporting explanation? Think of the scene. Presumably, whoever ‘pollocks’ is being said to will react more to the word ‘pollocks’ than to any tone it’s said in, unless the tone is very unexpected, such as a giggle. In that case, it’s worth stating how it’s said because that’s extra important information. Otherwise, I would let pollocks be pollocks.

Here, the discussion ended, but this leads to another question. What effect do you want?

If you add an explanation of how pollocks is said, you interpose yourself between the reader and the text. If that’s your intention, good.Much depends on your book’s style. You might be deliberately shepherding the reader – for instance, if your book has an obvious narrator, the reader is experiencing everything through a filter. Similarly, if your book has a comic tone but the narrator is not a character, the narrative might have a sensibility that comes across in this kind of descriptive line (‘pollocks,’ he spluttered).

But otherwise, the reader will connect more directly with the characters if the dialogue tags are low key. ‘Pollocks,’ he said. Don’t be afraid to use ‘said’. It’s almost invisible, which lets your characters’ own words shine.

Also, I might be tempted to leave the tag off altogether. Not every line needs one. It may be obvious from the order of paragraphs who said what, so you don’t have to label each line. The punctuation will tell the reader the word was spoken out loud, so you don’t need a dialogue tag for that reason.

And if you’ve used a word or a statement that is strong enough, and the reader knows the characters well, you can try letting it stand on its own.

‘Luke, I am your father,’ he bellowed – here, we might connect more to the writer than the characters, because we are seeing the writer’s experience of the moment.

‘Luke, I am your father.’ Wow. The writer got right out of the way. I’m sharing the moment with Luke.

Speech bubbles pic by Petr Kratochvil

PS There’s loads more about dialogue in my characters book

PPS If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s been going on on at my own writing desk, here’s my latest newsletter. You can subscribe to future updates here.

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How to write sparkling, meaningful dialogue – Ep18 FREE podcast for writers

Dialogue is an art in itself. It’s much more than characters talking to each other. Great dialogue can convey subtext, hidden agendas, freudian slips, personality, the author’s themes. It gives the reader the sense of watching a story’s characters in real time, witnessing them with our own eyes. But how do we get all that in? And how do we make it read naturally?

That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode. Asking the questions is independent bookseller Peter Snell. Answering them is me!

Stream from the widget below or go to our Mixcloud page and binge the whole lot.

PS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.

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Masterclass in writing style and voice – Ep13 FREE podcast for writers

What do we mean when we talk about a writer’s voice or style? How do writers develop this? How might they make it distinctive? Might it change over the years or even from book to book? How can writers learn style from other authors… without sounding like a copy or pastiche? How do you find your true voice, your unique voice?

That’s what we’re talking about in today’s episode.

Asking the questions (or most of them) is independent bookseller Peter Snell. Answering them is me!

Stream from the widget below or go to our Mixcloud page and binge the whole lot.

PS If you’d like more concentrated writing advice, try my Nail Your Novel books. If you’re curious about my own creative writing, find novels here and my travel memoir here. And if you’re curious about what’s going on at my own writing desk, find my latest newsletter here and subscribe to future updates here.

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9 tips to nail dialogue – guest post at Ingram Spark

Well-crafted dialogue brings characters, literally, to life.

Dialogue is immediate, it has energy, it’s a tool for subtext and for x-raying the characters’ personalities and hearts. With all that to consider, writing fine-honed dialogue is almost a literary discipline of its own.

Today I’m at the Ingram Spark blog, with 9 key tips for writing and revising to make your dialogue sing. Come over.

PS There’s an entire chapter on dialogue in my characters book.

PPS Editing fast, editing slow, finding experts… here’s what’s been happening in my own creative worlds this month

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How to find your author voice – interview with Joanna Penn

author voiceHello! I’m slightly late posting this week because I knew I had this waiting. Joanna Penn invited me back to her podcast to thrash out a thorny topic – how to find your author voice.

We discuss what voice is, how to develop it, how character dialogue differs from narrative voice, how authors might adapt their style for different kinds of book, voice considerations for non-fiction, the value of experimenting and – that perennial favourite – why literary fiction might take so darn long to write. Plus side helpings of Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater, so bring a picnic.

You can get it on video, audio download or written transcript – it’s all here.

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