The writing process – Look who’s talking

As promised, another instalment summarising some of what I have learnt as I pursue a path as an author of books. This post is dedicated to speech, dialogue, spoken word, the sentences between inverted commas that can bring a story to life.

When I wrote Misspelt Yoof, there was obviously going to be a cast of characters and these characters would need to interact verbally. I open the book with a Preface in script format. It’s pretty much strict dialogue with brief descriptions of action or scenery. With a script the focus is really in the voice of the interlocutors (Ooh! Snazzy word alert!) and the reader gets to imagine how they sound which is kind of cool.

The script format was good for the Preface but I wasn’t going to write the entire book in script format. That would leave far too much detail, inner thoughts, background details out. So, I had to start using the old He said / She said method. I remember a long time ago, a teacher going on and on about how terrible it was to use He said / She said over and over again in a dialogue. The teacher professed that there were thousands of more descriptive verbs to use instead of the basic To Say something: Shouted, Remarked, Deferred, Mentioned, Uttered, Whispered, Exclaimed… The list is endless.

With that bit of knowledge engrained in my mind, I did my best to avoid using He said / She said more that once in a dialogue between characters. I even threw in some tasty adverbs to give it some flavour. Looking back on my effort, I sometimes think I might have over done it.

Again, referring back to Stephen King’s On Writing, sometimes dialogue has to be simple and straightforward. What brings it to life is the setting or the action. You have two people trying to discuss the finer points of a band’s set during a live concert and you can be fairly certain they are shouting to be heard. Place a bunch of intrepid teenagers in a graveyard at Midnight and you can expect them to whisper. See what I mean?

Then there is the fine line of too little dialogue punctuation. Personally, if there are more than four lines of dialogue, I like to add verbs just because I feel like the reader can get lost with who is doing the talking. I see this from time to time in books I read and I hate it. I need to know who’s talking. Period.

My last bit of insight regarding dialogue is the actual punctuation. From what I have understood double inverted commas are used for British English text. Single inverted commas are used with American English text. Nowadays the lines are really blurred. As a British citizen I try to use S instead of Z in words like ‘summarised’ however it looks like the American “Zee” is gaining uptake.

Notice in that last sentence my use of single and double inverted commas. I use single inverted commas when I want to specify a word. Another method would be to use italics. I use the double inverted commas to identify a figure of speech like an onomatopoeia. There’s always a chance that I’m making a mistake with my use of inverted commas but it seems to work for me. The main thing is to be consistent.

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