My Writing Process: A Dialog Excersize

Alright, back from Sci-Fi and back to work. Good times had by all.

Today’s topic is dialog. I love dialog, to me it’s what holds a story together. Some of the most enduring fictional concepts are held together with nothing but dialog. Think about it: Kevin Smith’s Clerks has little plot, but the dialog holds it all together. The Garfield comics are little but dialog, and they’ve endured for years. There’s tons of examples, depending on how far you stretch it.

But I can’t really train you to write good dialog. Either you do or you don’t. But I can give you some options on how to write said dialog, because it’s not as straightforward as you’d think.

Here’s a fairly straightforward bit of dialog between Xander and Cathy a la the Black Womb series:

“Where do you think you’re going?” Cathy asked, holding her side.
“Out,” Xander replied, “Is there an issue with that?”
“Hey!” she spat, holding the door. “You can’t just leave.”
He stared at her for a long moment. “Watch me.”

Not the best dialog in the world, but it’s hard to write out of context. Anyway, not the point.

But you’ll notice some things. Like how after Cathy said “Hey!” the ‘she’ is still lower case. Pay attention.

This is how I used to do it:

“Where do you think you’re going?” Cathy asked, holding her side.
“Out.” Xander replied. “Is there an issue with that?”
“Hey!” she spat, holding the door. “You can’t just leave.”
He stared at her for a long moment. “Watch me.”

See the difference? I used to use periods in the dialog attribution. I knew it was wrong but still tried it as a certain style. You’ll see it all over the first Engen Books. But too many people thought it was an error, so I succumbed to public pressure. :(. Now I write in the above example.

Then there’s a different sort that has been in vogue lately, not using the quotation marks at all:

Where do you think you’re going? Cathy asked, holding her side.
Out, Xander replied, Is there an issue with that?
Hey! she spat, holding the door. You can’t just leave.
He stared at her for a long moment. Watch me.

To me that’s fine, but runs the risk of confusing the reader. I’m not sure why you’d make a choice that could do that.

Anyway, that’s my little rant on dialog. With every novel there’s a choice to be made with how you’ll present the material, and dialog is an important part of that. So think it over.

Never Look Back
Matthew LeDrew

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