PDA

View Full Version : Who's talking?



tashirosgt
2010-Feb-20, 11:05 PM
An interesting aspect of literary style is how careful a writer is about attributing quotations to characters. Sometimes it will be clear from the context of a story which character is speaking. In that case it is clear enough to give direct quotations alone.

For example:

"Where are you going with that suitcase, Eddie?"

"I'm not going nowhere with it. I'm just carryin' it up to my room."

"Set it down on the floor and open it up. I want to see what you've got inside it."

"You ain't got no right to tell me to do that!"

I think some writers carry this style of dialogue to an extreme. They write entire pages this way. They even let characters speak two consecutive paragraphs, each in its own set of quotations. It becomes difficult to remember which character is speaking which lines. Heaven help the reader if three characters get into the conversation.

When I abstractly consider the idea of annotating each quotation with a phrases like "Eddie said", "Eddie replied, "demanded Tom", "Tom yelled" etc., it seems that this would make dialogues sound tedious. However, when I am reading that passages written that way, they usually sound fine.

I think another useful technique is to put information about the speaker's action near the quotation.

For example:

"Where are you going with that suitcase, Eddie?" Tom stepped forward, partially blocking the stairs.

"I'm not going nowhere with it. I'm just carryin' it up to my room." Eddie stopped and the heavy burden made him put both his hands on the handle.

"Set it down on the floor and open it up. I want to see what you've got inside it." Tom placed his hand on the top of the suitcase and gently pressed down on it.

Eddie stepped backward and jerked the suitcase away. "You ain't got no right to tell me to do that!"

I think this style of presentation is easy to understand. It is harder to undersatnd dialogues where statements about one character are grouped with quotations made by another character.

I'm curious whether any writing teachers or literary critics have expressed opinions on these questions of style.

Paul Beardsley
2010-Feb-20, 11:32 PM
If it's two characters talking, the best approach is "X said" after the first line of dialogue and "Y said" after the second. Presumably they alternate from there on; if so there's no need to tell us who said what. If there is scope for confusion later on, spell it out again. The word "said" is practically invisible. If the speaker is whispering or screaming, by all means tell us "she whispered" or "he screamed", but don't do it just to avoid saying "he said".

By all means tell us "he put down his heavy burden" if you want us to picture him doing it, but don't put it in just to avoid telling us who is speaking. At the same time, don't feel compelled to accompany every "stage direction" with a line of dialogue.

Tobin Dax
2010-Feb-21, 01:00 AM
If a character speaks more than one paragraph of dialogue, the rule is that the new paragraph starts with quotation marks but the first paragraph does not end with them. If this is not followed, then it's likely a typo.