D – Dialog

My A to Z Challenge theme is teaching you how not to write a book, or a short story, or any piece of creative writing whatsoever. For more information, including links to previous chapters and lessons, please refer to this post. Now buckle in and proceed with…

THE WORST ROMANCE NOVEL EVER WRITTEN IN 26 DAYS.


PANDORA’S TACKLEBOX

Billionaire Highlander cowboy Hawk MacHardcastle is tired of living the jetset life of champagne, bucking broncos, kilts, fast cars, and burning bundles of cash for warmth. Desperate to find meaning in his life, he retires to his family’s isolated cabin in the wilds of New Jersey, on the shores of majestic Lake Latrine.

There, Hawk plans on self-reflection and pursuing the great love of his life—fishing. However, Hawk’s self-imposed loneliness comes to an end when he makes a most unusual companion and fishing buddy.

Dropsy Velvet was once a young woman living on the shores of Lake Latrine with her settler family. However, a curse turned her into a mermaid and now she lives, sad and alone, in the depths of the lake. She hasn’t had human contact for close to fifty years, thanks to everyone either being terrified of her or thinking they’re drunk when they see her—but Hawk may be the connection to the world she’s been craving. Charmed by her innocent face, sparkling wit, and huge bare breasts, Hawk decides to help her find a way to lift the curse, as she will lift his: the curse of ennui and affluenza. But time is running out, for something sinister wants to flush Latrine away forever.


Dialog

“You’re a mermaid?” Hawk asked.

“Yes,” she said. She lifted her great shimmering tail out of the water and slapped it back down, splashing him.

“I’m not just drunk?” he asked. He looked at the two bottles in his chair’s cupholders. Usually, it took a full keg just to give him a buzz, because his body was so ripped and full of testosterone.

“No,” she said.

“I didn’t know there were mermaids in the Latrine,” he said.

“Just one mermaid.” She sighed.

“How did you get in there?” he asked.

“I was cursed…cursed by an evil witch to spend my days in this form,” she said.

“A witch?” He gasped. “There’s witches around here too?” Everything he knew about Latrine was a lie, apparently.

“There used to be one around here,” she said. “They now say she hides in the forest.”

“Is she a hippy?” he asked. “How does she survive in the forest?”

“Her magic is ancient and powerful,” she said. “I fear one day she will emerge and take me as her captive, forever.”

He narrowed his eyes and puffed out his chest. “Not on my watch,” he said.


WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED HERE?

Good dialog is a beautiful thing. It can break up chunks of text that would otherwise make a reader’s eyes glaze over. It can move the story forward. It can tell you a lot about the characters, their emotions, and their motivations. When each character has a distinct and effortless voice, dialog is juicy and interesting, like overhearing gossip.

What can ruin dialog? As seen above, too many speech tags. ‘He said’ and ‘she said’ or ‘he/she asked, sighed, yelped, screamed, or ejaculated’ makes dialog choppy and awkward. If characters are distinct enough, there’s spots where you don’t even need speech tags, because the reader will know who is speaking. Also, combining actions with speech is a much more effective way of indicating who is speaking and the prose flows better. For example, instead of writing: “I never met a real-life mermaid,” Hawk said. “I must be dreaming.” A better example is: “I never met a real-life mermaid.” Hawk gazed at her in wonder, unable to tear his eyes away from her succulent dorsal fin. “I must be dreaming.” This not only makes the dialog smoother, but tells you something about the characters, as well. Like how a mermaid with a dorsal fin sounds much cooler than a regular old mermaid.

Make your dialog sound like people having a conversation, not like robots beeping back and forth.

60 comments

  1. I was lucky I had an English professor for 2 years in a row, when I was studying Shakespearan prose (not kidding).
    He said, if there are two people talking, you shouldn’t need tags. Words in their dialog will hint at “who has their gums flapping.”
    When there are more than two, that’s when you need to get creative.
    Dear Megan, you certainly are that and more!!

    Sir Leprechaunrabbit 🍀🐰
    @leprchaunrabbit
    yourrootsareshowingdearie.wordpress.com

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  2. “Amazing!” Sue replied, raising her hands and widening her eyes.
    “What is amazing?” Megan asked, confused.
    “I can’t believe you pointed this out!” Sue exclaimed happily.
    “Why is that?” Megan continued, questioningly.
    “Because I think I do this very thing!” Sue concluded, triumphantly. “I’ve read about it everywhere, but only now does it become clear!”

    Sue Hernandez
    WordPress Blog: Learning to Write and A-to-Z Challenge (#965)

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  3. Mermaids? Did you write mermaids? Just a note to say this lovely story made me laugh out loud. Maybe it was the testosterone! Good reminders for action tags. Mermaids and cowboys — a great combination.

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  4. I think a lot of it goes back to voice, as you said. As long as the characters are distinct, we can tell who’s talking without the tags, but in a general exchange of information or ideas, when any of a group could be speaking, the tags are needed.

    And I bet certain readers interpret voice easier than others, picking up on the differences in characters more than other readers. Just as some readers mostly skim along, eager to find out what happens next, while others take it word-by-word and see all the spelling and grammar errors.

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  5. I think I got it right until beta readers get involved. Some say not enough, others say too much, and about the same page. It makes me think it’s subjective. I’ve read best sellers who need more in places, and some who overwhelm the text with tags. I’m trying to find a happy balance but it ain’t easy! 🙂

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  6. Thank you for such an awesome blog post. I found you on the A-Z challenge list and now I shall be following you to see what else you do with this.

    Ok that sounded less creepier in my head haha. Its still a really good post though

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  7. And isn’t it beautiful how the mermaid tells her whole story to a stranger, right away, just like that, as if that was the most sensible thing to do? Right, this is a fantasy story, but it should still be realistic (er… yes I’ve just said that).

    I used to be like that with dialogue tags. Then a critique partner told me something that really came to a revelation to me: “You write as if you think your dialogues are not strong enough. They are. You dont’ need to spoonfeed readers about who’s speaking.”
    Good girl! 😉

    @JazzFeathers
    The Old Shelter – Jazz Age Jazz

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    1. Very good advice! I think it gets distracting when we’re reminded too often who is speaking. It makes you trip over the prose.

      And Hawk and Dropsy are destined for each other, duh. That’s why they tell each other their stories right away! 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  8. Great advice. And wow. For me, aside from the dialogue what threw me off was how he believed so fast that he was talking to a bona-fide mermaid. It’s their first meeting so there should be some denial or thinking he must be more drunk than he thought. It’d be more believable if he went along with his ‘hallucination’ and be shocked the next time he sees her (not having drunk anything) and realizing he was talking to a mermaid.

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    1. Hahaha, Hawk is a very trusting man, I suppose. It must be all that time spent in the Highlands and riding bucking broncos. He’s seen and done it all.😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

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    2. Well behind the ripped and testosterone filled manly man, Hawk is as gullible as man can be and a true romantic at heart. Of course, the succulent dorsal fins would have given away too much in case the splash from the tail fins didn’t !

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