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Posted Friday, October 14, 2011, at 2:44 PM

You don't need to steer away from writing dialogue just because it seems -- okay, is -- daunting. With a little practice dialogue gets easier, as do any of the writing steps. We talked about giving your characters voices that are uniquely their own. With that bit from Gone With The Wind I used last time as an example, we see how the conversation between Scarlett and Rhett is so well done that the reader doesn't need attributive clauses to know which of them is speaking. I'd never argue with Margaret Mitchell's techniques, but for me, I wouldn't attempt that many lines without the occasional attributive clause thrown in to help keep the reader on track.

There are some writers, and teachers, who say you should never use anyting other than "he said," "she said," or "asked," as attributive clauses. These are considered invisible words. The reader doesn't notice them, which is a good thing. But I believe a good, descriptive attributive clause can go a long way toward helping the reader better understand what the character is saying, and to convey the mood of the scene.

Take a few examples here:

"I got a promotion," she _.

"I've gained twenty-five pounds in the last two months," she _.

"Where are you going?" she _.

How would you end each of these sentences? How about:

"I got a promotion," she cheered.

I'd probably add an explanation point, as in: "I got a promotion!" she cheered.

Even though I advise using explanation points as a rule, in dialogue they're often appropriate.

"I've gained twenty-five pounds in the last two months," she . . . moaned? Complained? Lamented?

What if you wrote: "I've gained twenty-five pounds in the last two months!" she cheered.

What might that mean? Maybe she's been sick, and gaining weight is a good thing. Of course the meaning of the sentence is further clarified by its context within that particular scene, but you get the idea.

Another example: "Where are you going?" she asked.

But what if you wrote: "Where are you going?" she demanded.

That gives the question an entirely different feel, doesn't it?

And, of course, you don't have to use an attributive clause at all. You can let the reader know who's speaking by some action on their part. I tend to do this a lot in my own writing.

She stood at the sink with her hand on her hip. "Where are you going?"

You don't need to add anything else. You've identified who's speaking -- she is -- and her attitude about it by her hand on her hip.

Here are some more:

She ran into the room and did a little dance. "I got a promotion!"

Or: Running into the room, she did a little dance. "I got a promotion!"

"I've gained twenty-five pounds in the last two months." She lowered her head in defeat.

She gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up. "I've gained twenty-five pounds in the last two months."

Whichever way you decide to go when writing dialogue, just be sure that you vary it. Don't use colorful descripitive clauses with all of your dialogue. Doing so will catch the reader's attention, and anything you do to catch the reader's attention draws them out of the story you're trying to tell.

Ensure vs. Insure

You ensure (guarantee) that something will happen.

You insure your property against financial loss.

His house by the ocean was heavily insured to ensure that he would be protected against flood damage.

A Bit of Promotion:

Next week, on Friday, October 21, author Rosemarie Olhausen will be at the Hartley Public Library, with her new book, My Life with Roger: Celebrating Forty-Plus Years of Laughter, Travel and Sports.

"Writing is communication, not self-expression. Nobody in this world wants to read your diary except your mother." ~ Richard Peck

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You make writing dialog almost doable. I've been intimidated by it for years and usually try to avoid it whenever possibe.

A question: I notice you write 'dialogue' but my spellcheck wants it changed to 'dialog'. Which way is correct?

-- Posted by charliegarrett on Thu, Oct 20, 2011, at 11:30 AM

Ha! I was wondering if anyone would ask about that. Good for you!

Dialog and dialogue are seen written both ways, and I've long been puzzled by it. Why can't these spelling rules be consistent?

The funny thing about spellcheck is that on one of my computers MS Word's spellcheck wants it to be "dialog" and on my other computer Word's spellcheck wants it to be "dialogue." Both Word, but different versions... go figure.

In researching this I've found conficting statements as well.

According Yahoo Answers "dialogue" is the English spelling and "dialog" is the American spelling.

Wikipedia's Manual of Style lists "dialogue" as the English spelling, but the American spelling as "dialogue"(conversation),and "dialog"(text). Whaaat!?

The Merriam-Webster online lists "dialogue" as the preferred spelling.

So, what to do? I prefer "dialogue." It just looks right to me. I think the important thing is that, whichever spelling you use, you remain consistent.

Any other thoughts on this out there?

-- Posted by JTennant on Fri, Oct 21, 2011, at 12:14 PM

I agree that dialog doesn't look right. I always want to put the final 'ue' on the end. On the other hand, catalog looks correct to me. And TV guide lists Jay Leno's opening speech as his 'monologue.'

Which makes me wonder, since we 'speak', why is it spelled 'speech'?

My head hurts.

-- Posted by fictionfan on Wed, Oct 26, 2011, at 2:29 PM

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Jean Tennant has been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Beginning with short stories, newspaper and magazine articles, she eventually branched out to full-length work, with several novels published by Warner Books, Kensington and Silhouette. Now the owner of Shapato Publishing, LLC, in Everly, Iowa, she teaches writers' workshops throughout the Midwest, for which her schedule can be seen at: www.jeantennant.com. Jean lives in Everly with her husband, Grover Reiser, and their dogs, Kirby and Dakota. Favorite quote: "Outside of a dog, man's best friend is a book. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx.
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