Moving on in the series, we’ve reached One – dialogue, or for Halloween, disguise.
Two – rhythm and reason
Three– challenge, compare, and contain
Under the heading dialogue, I’ve grouped: dialogue, point-of-view, and voice. The ABCs and 123s pyramid was created to be a memory assistant. Since dialogue is, in essence, character’s voices, I figure they belong together. All three can illuminate or obstruct your characters and plot. In the case of nonfiction, dialogue, point-of-view, and voice may impede your writing if not used properly.
You’ve heard it said, “Show, don’t tell!” One way is to let dialogue do the work for you. Dialogue pushes Action, in a natural way, not forcing things or creating false scenarios. Conversations are a great way to begin a piece, chapter or even end the work. Movement equals Action.
To accomplish movement in conversation, keep several things in mind. One: See if your dialogue streams like a natural conversation. If you’ve trained your ear to hear exchanges around you, then you know how to catch dialects and trending words or phrases. As you edit scenes, are you incorporating one particular phrase or habit, something specific, to a character?
Two: Be on guard for inconsequential chatter. Summarize trivial dialogue and move on, don’t use ubiquitous pleasantries to tie up your word count. Avoid the trap that you have to write the whole conversation. Shorten a phone call to a word intro, then get on to the meat of the dialogue. An example: Give a brief “Good morning,” setting the time of day, and then go on, there’s no need for both characters in a scene to exchange a heartfelt “Good morning!”.
Three: Approach dialogue in a different manner. Try using indirect dialogue in summary. Example: After an inspiring jam session, Roland announced to his band mates his desire to propose to Cynthia after the close of the last set. No direct exchange, yet the scene is set and expectation levels are rising.
Four: Allow your main character to ‘talk’ to himself/herself. Internal dialogue is a great way to move the story and give insight to a character. If your work is in third person, construct the discourse aloud, internal chat is not just for first-person narrative.
Last week I mentioned dimension comes in different forms, saving dialogue and point of view for this week. Before I tackle point-of-view, I want to pass along some tag lines that may be helpful instead of “says” or “talks”:
Strong verbs go a long way, whether you’re penning fiction or nonfiction. Choose them well, to accomplish a multitude of goals: pointing to characters’ emotional, physical, and even psychological states of mind.
Speaking of states of mind, may I add a personal note? I promise it has to do with tag lines. Recently, I made it through the first book in the 50 Shades series, however, the trio rests on a side table, collecting dust. No offense to Ms. E.L. James, really. Interestingly, I’ll take this opportunity to name overused tag lines from her books, in case you want to add them to that above list: growls, hitches, groans, moans, grunts, squeezes, smirks, murmurs, frowns, distracts, reciprocates, and I’m certain there are others 😉 .
On to point-of-view. One camp of scholars says there are three ways you can select your narrator to tell a story: first person, second person and third person. The subcategories of these three are: first person narrative, seconder person narrative and third person narrative plus third person omniscient. Since this campground is familiar to me, I would like to examine first person narrative, third person narrative and third person omniscient. Second person narrative is rarely used, the ‘you’ type story or piece doesn’t connect well with readers, unless you are teaching. 😛
If I want to tell a story in my own voice, I can do that using first person narrative. I can be a part of the story. However, when I edit my work, I need to watch for emotions and thoughts of characters, other than me, slipping in. A character can only see what’s going on inside his/her own mind.
With third person narrative, the narrator is not part of the story, but an observer. There are a lot of ‘he/she’ actions and none of the ‘I’ stuff. So when you edit, check for a slip in point-of-view and fix any inconsistencies where the action shifts to ‘I’. We won’t differentiate what’s going on inside the mind of the characters because the narrator, outside the story, has a limited knowledge: the narrator only discerns what is seen.
Third person omniscient is the trouble maker! If you pick this point-of-view as the narrative voice, editing for uniformity may be tricky. The narrator is outside the story, observes everything, including what the characters may not recognize, hence the term omniscient. Think of a TV show or movie. You watch the action, the characters’ dialogue, plus identify their thoughts. This is the omniscient POV. When all the thoughts and emotions are known to readers, the narrator is using third person omniscient. So when editing a piece for discrepancies, watch for slips into third person ‘limiting’ the characters, or an occasional ‘I’ creeping in.
Which point-of-view you use is different from voice, but they go hand in hand. For instance, first person narrative has traditionally been past tense: looking back. Occasionally writers use present tense. What to watch for in first person? Switching tenses. Be familiar with parts of a sentence, matching tenses in nouns and verbs. Diagnose active versus passive voice. Use a careful eye as you edit third person narrative and omniscient, matching tenses and voice.
How to tell the difference between the active and passive voice? Rebecca Johnson, @johnsonr, gave this example recently, “If you can insert ‘by zombies’ after the verb, you have the passive voice.” (Source: Twitter #zombiegrammar.) Additional assistance on distinguishing voice may be found at Grammar Girl.
Editing for dialogue, point-of-view and voice, is Developmental/Project Editing and Rewriting, which is parallel to Substantive/Structural Editing. Any editing with major changes, falls into these categories. Ideally, this series will help you develop an eye for writing as an editor and you will only become sharper as your writing skills morph into editing expertise. You’ll find you won’t need to scrap so many drafts, and you’ll be so proficient, you’ll transition to Proofreading and Copy Editing in no time!
Until next time, namaste
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Next week: Two – Rhythm and Reason
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