A lot of my writing includes dialogue – conversation between two or more persons. When the people within the conversation are of different genders, it is easier for the reader (and writer!) to keep who is saying what when by simply using pronouns. But when they are of the same gender, it can get to be confusing if not done right.
One way to do it wrong, so very wrong, is to repeatedly use names.
“Lorna, did you go to the bank today?”
“Yes, Paula, I did.”
“Good, Lorna. You needed to do that.”
“Paula, are you saying I am forgetful?”
“Never, Lorna! Well, maybe.”
See? Annoying as hell. For f…fudge sake, don’t do that! We don’t do it in real life so why on earth would characters do it? Say the names once then move on. If the dialogue is longer than, say, a page, the writer can toss in a cue now and then to remind the reader who is where.
“Hon, did you go to the bank today?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Good, you needed to do that.”
Lorna turned toward her partner. “Are you saying I am forgetful?”
“Never! Well, maybe.”
I just tried to read a bit of online erotica. Purely for research of course. But that research was ruined by the constant use of names. Every single change of speaker had the name of the person they were speaking to. What might have been a decent story was lost and the reader was experiencing the wrong kind of frustration.
Another error with dialogue is the use of pretty words for ‘said’. Just use ‘said’ and the reader will bleep right over it without noticing yet keep track of who is saying what. But again, don’t do the ‘said’ with every line, just do it often enough to remind the reader.
I don’t think I will ever understand the concept of ‘show vs tell’ but I keep trying. The writer needs to show the reader vs telling them. For example, show them facial expressions that reveal the emotion without telling them the emotion.
Lorna’s lips formed a hard, straight line. “I am not forgetful.”
Lorna was angry. “I am not forgetful.”
Which do you, the reader, prefer? If I did it right, you should prefer the first as I showed you Lorna’s anger without telling you she was angry. The first is also stronger and the second more passive.
Lorna’s reading a book that has four main characters, all women. It doesn’t seem to be that good of a book because she’s had to write notes about each character in order to keep them straight. *I* said it is a bad job of the writer. *She* says she is just confused. Which goes back to the writer not doing a good job of making each character distinct enough to set them apart, make them real. Each character needs a distinct voice in the reader’s head. Lorna says they are all the same and are interchangeable. Not good. Personally, four main characters are too much unless the writer can give them each that individual voice. If they are that interchangeable, then they need to be trimmed down in number. Can the same plot go forward with just two? Probably. Or maybe two are the main characters and the other two are team members, kind of like the poor red shirt ensigns from Star Trek. Stepping forward when needed then fading to the background when not. My first full length book I wrote had at least nine main characters. Far too many which is why the book kinda ended at about 250 thousand words. It was awful, awkward, and even *I* had trouble keeping them apart. It is a good story and someday I will take it apart and re-do it but wow, that’s a lot of characters.
PS – As I spend time in The Pit, I spend time thinking. And lately my thoughts are about writing so hence a post about writing.