dialogue tagged posts

Critique Technique Table of Contents

Here’s a Table of Contents of all of the Critique Technique posts to make it easier to go directly to the post you want to read.

Introductory Posts

Part 1: Critique, Technique, and Procedure

Part 2: Series Overview

Reader Response

Part 3: How Do You Feel?

Part 3.5: Authorial Intentions and Tracking Your Own Responses

Beginnings and Endings

Part 5: Weak or Missing Hook

Part 6: The Wrong Beginning

Part 7: Scene and Chapter Endings

Part 8: Story Endings

Characterization

Part 9: Characters and Conflict

Part 10: Poor Characterization

Part 11: Lack of Character Development

Part 12: Showing and Telling in Character Development

Part 13: Timing the Reveal

Part 14: Out-of-Character Behavior

Part 15: Unclear Character Goals

Part 16: Unclear or Insufficient Obstacles

Part 17: Dialect, Foreign Language...

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Critique Technique, Part 27— Narrative and Dialog

Two people talking
Photo by Ambro, courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This article introduces a series on narrative and dialogue. Stated most simply, narrative and dialogue are the tools writers use to tell their stories. They take different forms and serve complementary functions, but with plenty of overlap.

What Narrative Does

Writers use narrative to:

  • Describe—to show—action (“Bob ran down the street after Alice’s car”) or emotion;
  • Describe a person (“Alice’s hair was dyed souvenir-shop-coral red”), a place, or a thing;
  • Make connections between people, places, actions, emotions, or things; and
  • Provide the reader with whatever other information she might need.

It is the words not placed inside quotation marks or used for internal monologue, that is, the character’s though...

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The Art of War for Writers

Small 4-star rating on dark blue background

Put James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers next to Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style on your bookshelf—or better, within easy reach! It’s that good.

Using famous and long-ago Chinese general Sun Tzu’s The Art of War as his model, Bell presents vital and valuable information for writers in bite-size chunks. These nourishing and digestible non-chicken nuggets add up to a lot of chapters, yet only two are longer than five pages.

That’s what makes them so useful: you can read a few, set the book aside to ponder them, and then come back without being overwhelmed with information. These chapter titles will give you a sense of what I mean:

  • From Part I, “Reconnaissance”: 21. Put heart into everything you write.
  • From Part II, “Tactics”: 36...
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Critique Technique, Part 36 — “As You Know, Bob…”

Two people talking
Photo by Ambro, courtesy FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whenever characters speak, they’re transmitting information, to one or more other characters and/or to the reader. That information can be truth, lies, or something in-between; it can be emotional (a state of being or feeling) rather than factual; it can be directive (an order or warning) or informational; it can be direct or indirect; it can be any combination of these. This is nowhere near a complete list.

It can also be boring as hell.

What happens is that sometimes, with the best of intentions (or maybe just not knowing any better), an author will use a character to dump information on the reader, rather than doing it himself through narrative. No matter how it’s done, info-dumping isn’t a good technique.

This probl...

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Critique Technique, Part 34 — Imbalance Between Narrative and Dialogue

Old woman falling down
Image courtesy of Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

OK, I admit it: saying there’s an imbalance between narrative and dialogue in a piece of writing is like saying there’s an imbalance between the ice cream and the banana in a banana split. For some people’s tastes, it’s not possible to have too much ice cream. Or too much banana.

But for most of us, there’s a sweet spot—pun fully intended—around which a little bit more ice cream or banana, or a little bit less, would still be OK.

The same is true of the balance between narrative and dialogue. Except that the range is wider. Much wider.

It’s possible to write and publish a story that has no dialogue whatsoever. I’ve done it...

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Critique Technique, Part 33 — Contradictions

Contradictions are the stuff of conflict. Contradictions between

Angry couple standing back to back
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
  • characters’ words and actions,
  • what characters say to different people and/or at different times,
  • what characters do at different times or in different circumstances, or
  • the responses of different characters to the same stimulus

all increase a reader’s tension and interest in the story.

At least so long as the contradictions are intentional on the author’s part.

If they’re not, that could be a problem. Or an unintended or unexpected opportunity. Your job as a reviewer is to not only spot the contradictions, but to evaluate them for effect, motivation, and intent.

Intentional or Unintentional

The first thing you need to assess...

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Critique Technique, Part 32 — %*@!$#^!!!!

Let’s get this out of the way right up front. This post is about the “f-bomb” and various other phrases and four- through fourteen-letter words that are generally not used in polite company: swear words, curse words, obscenities, vulgarities, the whole lot, and the words we sometimes substitute for them. As a matter of convenience, I’ll call everything swearing.

A simulated swear word

I know you’ve all heard the usual advice to writers and their reviewers: if swear words are natural parts of a character’s way of speaking, don’t be shy about using them, even if that’s not the way you speak.

But that’s not really enough advice for a writer, nor is it enough for a critiquer trying to determine if such language is being used as it should. That’s what I want to get into now.

Use...

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Critique Technique, Part 31 — The Wrong Words

Authors can and do go wrong with their word choices, or use words the wrong way. This isn’t just a case of not understanding Mark Twain’s definition of the difference between the right word and the almost-right word: the lightning versus the lightning bug. It is that, but it’s much more.

Pencil eraser erasing "wrong word"
Photo by ningmilo via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There are at least half a dozen ways an author can mess things up for herself and her readers when it comes to word choice. They are: using words that are wrong for

  • The story, usually in narrative;
  • The character, usually in dialogue; or
  • The reader, in either one.

Authors can also simply use the wrong word when they don’t know the difference between two or more words or what a word actually means...

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Critique Technique, Part 30 — Too Many Words, or Too Few

In the movie My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, the Cockney flower girl turned high-society woman of charm and mystery, sings to her would-be boyfriend, “Words, words, words, I’m so sick of words….”

For some writers, that’s not a problem. In fact, they’re too in love with words, and think the more of them there are on the page or screen, the better. Then there are the others who, Eliza-like, want no more of them. Or at least darn few of them.

The days of padding a piece with any and every extraneous available word, á la Henry James, are over. (Well, for new or getting-established writers, they’re over. For über-successful authors like Stephen King, Tom Clancy, or George R. R. Martin, padding may not be intentional, but it’s not edited out, either.)

At the othe...

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Critique Technique, Part 28 — Awkward Dialogue

Woman talking on pay phone
Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Ah, dialogue. It’s hard for many writers to do well. When it works, it crackles, sings, inspires, enrages, chills, thrills. But when it doesn’t, it might do that too, but for the wrong reasons! It may be stiff and stilted, choppy or verbose, confused or confusing, or have other problems. Any or all of those characteristics can be acceptable, even necessary, when they reflect the character of the speaker. When they don’t, there’s trouble.

Natural Dialogue vs. Written Dialogue

There are many reasons for this. First off, dialogue in writing—all writing: fiction, memoir, and non-fiction—is not natural, but has to sound natural when read, especially out loud...

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