Things I learned this week #3

Dialogue. Well, not the actual dialogue, but the stuff that comes just before and just after it. Its not the important stuff really, but like a Christmas present wrapped in old sliced meat paper, bad structure can ruin everything.

Typically, this is how I write a speaking scene:

Bob walked into the office.

"Hello Frank," Bob said, taking off his hat and hanging it on a hook. "Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank stared at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather?" Frank asked, frowning. "I hadn't noticed."

Now there ain't  nothing wrong with that on the first review. Third person limited is noce and neat, with most action happening with Bob, and the reaction occurring with Frank. But its the god damn averageness of the flow that, with the help of my trusty editor, I'm starting to notice in my writing. 

Lets call the above option Dialogue Structure #1

Here is an alternative. 

Bob walked into the office, taking off his hat and hanging it on a hook.

"Hello Frank. Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank frowned as he looked up at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather? I hadn't noticed."

So that is DS#2 and all I did was move all the action to the start of the dialogue.

DS#3 is a variation; you just put the dialogue first and the action after.  

I have been doing a bit of back and forward recently, changing from #1 to #2 then back again. This has let to a version of #1 I call #4. (feeling very creative this evening)

Bob walked into the office.

"Hello Frank," Bob took off his hat and hung it on a hook. "Bad weather today, huh?"

Frank stared at him from over the top of his glasses.

"Weather?" Frank frowned. "I hadn't noticed."

See DS#4 is #1 with all the tags removed and the present tense verbs turned to past tense. 

I know that this is english class 101 and as obvious to most as how terrible that scene is, but I seem to have an inbuilt need to write the first draft as DS#1 and only in the revision change it to #2 , #3 or #4. Why? mostly I just hate the amount of 'saids' that are scattered through my book like stale breadcrumbs. Or worse merely changing said 'saids' to something worst, like 'exclaimed' or 'whispered' 

The problem is that I just can't tell any more if i'm making my prose better. I know it is a question of style, so I guess I'm putting my question to you.

What dialogue structure works best when reading? And Why?


Blog, tumblr, twitter. -- What started as a rant about how hard it is to get published, is now a journal of how hard publishing is.


  1. Travis, I started out with tags on my first draft. That was before I learned how to do it better (assuming that I actually am :) ) Then I reread, cringed, stomach went into knots. I hated the tags. They made my writing choppy. I switched to action. I feel that it does a better job of drawing the reader in and helps familiarize them with our characters. You have to have a few tags though, specially if conversation is happening between more than two people, or it can get confusing. My characters use their bodies when they speak, facial features shift one way of the other. I figure if that's how I express myself, why can't they? After spending a long time switching things around, I wasn't sure if I was improving it or making it worse. My solution was to print out my manuscript and fix it on paper. Then I updated the changes on the PC. I've also done what you labeled DS#4. If the action falls in the beginning too often I find that it loses smooth flow when reading. That's why I reread out loud. If it sounds ick to me then I should probably change it. Just my thoughts.

  2. Variety is the spice of life. Pepper is also good.

    I like onions, too, but your mileage may vary.


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