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Dialogue Indicators

There's a time-worn gag out there about how if you want ten different opinions on the economy, you just have to put two economists in a room together.  I'm not sure of the exact wording, but the exact same sentiment applies with writers and dialogue.  (For that matter, writers any any kind of stylistic choice, but I better stay focused.)

I noticed this while making revisions to "I Need a Job."  I've received contradictory suggestions as to how to handle my characters' conversations.  One reader thought it was mostly fine the way I had it.  Another reader thought I needed to add more indicators to clarify who was speaking.  One reader suggested using "said" almost universally.  Another reader liked more active words like "exclaimed" and "marveled."  And so on.

The Internet is of no help - mainly because the people who offer advice are either parroting Stephen King or Strunk's Elements of Style or they're baselessly spraying bon mots left and right without much personal success to back it up.  As usual, I'll have to drop in my standard warning that almost nothing I'm about to say next should be construed as advice, as this is more of a "whining aimlessly" blog than anything else.

Quick aside: Fuck Strunk.

Say... now there's a bumper sticker you can hang your hat on.)

Coming soon to the Movies or Minutes store.

Anyway.  Dialogue indicators.  Here's a sample of my problems.*

"I don't know how to end this," said the Narrator.  

That's a fine start to a conversation.  Use of the inoffensive "said."  A character is indicated.  A leading statement to provoke exposition.  It'll do.

"How about some hyperbole?" asked the Professor.

Okay, new character!  Awesome.  And look, we're using the generic "ask."  No complaints so far.

"I'm not a fan."
"Then how about some litotes?"

Hmm... now we're getting into some controversial territory.  Mr. Narrator decided not to indicate himself after "I'm not a fan."  I'd say that most of the world can guess that he's the one speaking, since there's only two characters so far, but some people don't like it.  So is this any better?

"I don't know how to end this," said the Narrator.  
"How about some hyperbole?" asked the Professor.
"I'm not a fan," said the Narrator.
"Then how about some litotes?" asked the Professor.

If you're asking me, I think it looks too repetitive.  There's this weird thing about repetition where it gets old after awhile.  I'm not sure why that happens.

Anyhow, if I was going to put an indicator each time, I'd prefer to see it broken up a bit.  Maybe like this:

"I don't know how to end this," said the Narrator.  
"How about some hyperbole?" asked the Professor.
The Narrator shook his head.  "I'm not a fan."
"Then," the Professor asked, "how about some litotes?"

Now I've got some action going on in that third line and the fourth line's all split up.  And I might even be okay with a couple of speech synonyms tossed in there.  I know they're controversial, but I like 'em.  As long as you don't overuse them.  Maybe throw in a coupla stage actions to give the characters something to do.

"I don't know how to end this," lamented the Narrator.
Leaning over to inspect, the Professor suggested, "How about some hyperbole?"
The Narrator shook his head.  "I'm not a fan."
"Then," the Professor asked, "how about some litotes?"

Hooray!  I wrote something.  Time for the feedback...

...what?  No "lamented?"  No "suggested?"  Just "said" or "asked?"  Geeze, guys, you really didn't like that?  How do you want to do it, then?

"I don't know how to end this," said the Narrator.
The Professor leaned over to inspect.  He asked, "How about some hyperbole?"
The Narrator shook his head.  "I'm not a fan," he said.
"Then," the Professor asked, "how about some litotes?"

Why'd you go and change the second line?  What's wrong with using a complex sentence to establish dialogue?  They're a thing.  They're allowed to exist.  And what's with the war on speech synonyms?  This just looks sterile all of a sudden.

Hmm.  How about some published authors?  Yo, Leonard Elmore!  How would you do this?

Narrator: "I don't know how to end this."
Professor: "How about some hyperbole?"
Narrator: "I'm not a fan."
Professor: "Then how about some litotes?"

Why the hell are you doing it like that?  Are you writing a play or a novel?  You know, I didn't care much for Get Shorty, anyway.

How about you, Jon Tropper?  I really dug your book.  How would you do this?

They engaged in conversation.
"I don't know how to end this." Narrator.
"How about some hyperbole?" Professor.
"I'm not a fan." Narrator.
"Woooo!  I'm a character, too!" Random asshole.
"Then how about some litotes?" Professor.

Hey, wait a minute... that's the exact same thing Elmore did!  You can't just move it to the end of the sentence and pretend like you invented something!

Sigh.  I don't know what I'm doing anymore.  I guess I'll do the Lovecraft thing and just get rid of all the dialogue.



*That's not fair to you, is it?  I'm always going on about my problems, my novel, me, me me... how about you?  How's your day going so far?  Good?  I know.  Mondays.  Well, anyway, good luck today.  Hope it works out for you.