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Emotion in dialogue

Switch Blayde
Updated:

Some here said you need to use dialogue tags such as "barked" and "laughed" to show emotion or tone in the speaker's voice.

Someone on wattpad asked for alternatives to "said." Someone else offered the following link. I thought the article was good so I'm including it here.

https://litreactor.com/columns/on-dialogue-tags-why-anything-besides-said-and-asked-is-lazy-writing

There are 3 examples of the same dialogue in the article. The first one uses expressive verbs as dialogue tags. The second shows how to do it with action.

I actually don't like dialogue that has an action before every dialogue (the second example). I find that more distracting than "barked" and "laughed." I want to be immersed in the conversation.

But the third example, the one in "Numero Dos," is well done (IMHO).

Crumbly Writer

Excellent writing blog, Switch, but ... "Rick caught John's eyes in a death grip"? Seriously? How can John do anything with his gun when his eyes are sitting in Rick's hand? Geez! 'D

"caught [his] eyes in a death grip" is both telling, and a reading roadblock, designed to stop readers dead in their tracks. I'm glad he replaced it.

Ernest Bywater

Here's one I found that may be of help as well.

http://www.novel-writing-help.com/writing-dialogue.html

Replies:   Crumbly Writer
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Switch Blayde


Some here said you need to use dialogue tags such as "barked" and "laughed" to show emotion or tone in the speaker's voice.


You don't always have to show emotion in in the dialogue tag, nor should you limit it so just said and asked because there are many words that can be used in the dialogue tag to best convey how the dialogue was delivered. But you do need to be careful in their use and how often you use them.

edit to fix a dropped word

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

Rick caught John's eyes in a death grip. "Don't call her a dame, you son of a bitch."


He doesn't need to growl because he deliberately looks Rick in the eye.


Nope sorry, looking someone in the eye does not imply the same degree of anger a growling. In fact, looking someone in the eye doesn't imply anger at all.

You keep asking how someone can laugh words. I want to know how you can catch someone's eyes in a death grip without ripping them out of their head.

A death grip more commonly denotes fear rather than anger.

This example just doesn't work for me.

Dominions Son

@Switch Blayde

But the third example, the one in "Numero Dos," is well done (IMHO).


In my opinion, that's the one that falls the flattest.

One's snapping his head around and the other is kicking things and then they have an nice calm conversation with not even an exclamation point anywhere in site.

If you ask me, the third is the worst of the lot.

garymrssn

How about this for an example?

Dusty looked out the open door. He lowered his tail and looked back at me. "It's raining....You know I don't like rain........Make it stop."

Replies:   richardshagrin
richardshagrin

@garymrssn

Depends on what it an example of. If it is an example of ellipses, there are too many dots. I think you are supposed to use three.

Replies:   garymrssn
garymrssn

@richardshagrin

Depends on what it an example of. If it is an example of ellipses, there are too many dots. I think you are supposed to use three.


Noted and hopefully remembered. Thank you

Crumbly Writer
Updated:

@Ernest Bywater

I like the parts about conflicts and having an agenda (#1 & #6). That distills what I was describing about my character motivation sheets. By establishing each person's goals, it's easier to tilt their conversation so it rackets up the tension in the story.

#5, about giving each character a different voice, got thru what Chris has been trying to tell me but I wasn't getting. (Now if I can just figure out how to apply it!)

#9 is good, but Harvey drops the ball. Punctuation isn't just important to get the details right, but because it affects the pacing of the conversation. As we've been discussing lately, we need to be cognizant of concurrent actions, or delays during speech. An ellipsis to show hesitation is one thing, but focusing on action can suggest a pregnant pause, as well as the character's trying to sidetrack the conversation, making readers wonder what they're trying to hide.

Replies:   Ernest Bywater
Ernest Bywater
Updated:

@Crumbly Writer


#5, about giving each character a different voice, got thru what Chris has been trying to tell me but I wasn't getting. (Now if I can just figure out how to apply it!)


For an extreme example, the London uni professor talking to the Cockney waif is a bit like this:

The prof said, "Well, young man, just what are you doing here today?"

The waif replied, "Iz bin paid ta giv dis letta to Mickey Laws!"

or a reply of:

The waif replied, "Iz gotta give dis to Mickey Laws," while holding up a letter.

- just from the dialogue you know there's a difference in education.

Perv Otaku

All things in moderation. It's just as bad to slavishly use only "said" and "asked" as it is to slavishly avoid using them.

Ernest Bywater

@Perv Otaku

It's just as bad to slavishly use only "said" and "asked" as it is to slavishly avoid using them.


true

Crumbly Writer

@Perv Otaku

All things in moderation. It's just as bad to slavishly use only "said" and "asked" as it is to slavishly avoid using them.

I don't think that Switch and I would disagree, using "yelled", "shouted" or "whispered" is fine, as it indicates how the words are spoken. I'm not quite as precise as Switch is, though, as I'll often use other descriptive actions, though I'm cutting back.

The key is to minimize attributions as much as possible (only when necessary). You can offload many by using descriptions (action sentences), but "said" seems to work best (even "asked" can get repetitious if used much).

@Ernest

just from the dialogue you know there's a difference in education.

I was varying one character's voice--trying to show how he'd been alienated and felt isolated--by giving him a lisp. After a few tries, I gave up. I had one myself. When I was about five I couldn't pronounce "S"es. My parents sent me to a language coach, and I learned how to say it, but promptly developed a problem with "th"es. My parents assumed I had other issues that speech problems. I couldn't remember the sound of the words, but that wasn't my problem. Instead, it was just incredibly hard to read, and it ultimately wasn't worth the difficulty. Having a lisp would explain a lot, but I found it easier to modify his backstory rather than slow the readers down every time he said anything.

Replies:   Dominions Son
Dominions Son

@Crumbly Writer

I'm not quite as precise as Switch is, though, as I'll often use other descriptive actions, though I'm cutting back.


There is such a thing as cutting back too far.

Crumbly Writer

@Dominions Son

There is such a thing as cutting back too far.

Right now, I'm more likely to drop a character's name, using "he said" rather than using "said" too much. I'm now using said more than any other attribute, but I don't use it nearly as much as I use the others combined. Switch has been practicing this technique longer than I have.

richardshagrin

@Dominions Son

"There is such a thing as cutting back too far"

he said cuttingly.

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