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Placement of Dialogue to Associated Action?

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Old 05-09-2010, 05:45 PM
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Default Placement of Dialogue to Associated Action?


Does anyone have suggestions on placement of dialogue to associated actions?

Here's an example:

"Where did you go last night?" John said.

"No where," Richard said, smiling.

versus:

"Where did you go last night?" John said.

Richard smiled. "No where."

I think in this case, by knowing Richard is smiling, before hearing what he says, it affects how you interpret the speech. I think the action before the dialogue is better.

I was running through my current novel draft and realized that by making this shift most of the time, putting the action before the dialogue, it increased the effectiveness.

Anyone have any tips or suggestions for this strategy?

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Old 05-09-2010, 07:10 PM
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My tip is to not just stick with one as a rule! Variety is key. Do it with the beat first where you think it's more effective, but don't do it everywhere. In this particular situation, I think you're right--the smiling sounds like it should come before the "Nowhere."
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Old 05-09-2010, 11:47 PM
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And yep - 'nowhere' is one word.
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Old 05-10-2010, 11:35 PM
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Originally Posted by SW View Post
And yep - 'nowhere' is one word.
Ah. I read it as "No, where?" and was about to suggest a correction.
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Old 05-11-2010, 01:55 AM
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Dialogue is my achillies heel. However I would make the following suggestion, and add some descriptives too:

"Where did you go last night?" John asked, his eyes narrowing suspisciously.

"Nowhere," Richard replied with a little smile, which said a lot more than his words alone.

Okay, I'm getting carried away now. But you get the idea, I hope it's helped in a someway.
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Old 05-11-2010, 02:31 AM
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[quote=Redlorry;309361]Dialogue is my achillies heel. However I would make the following suggestion, and add some descriptives too:

"Where did you go last night?" John asked, his eyes narrowing suspisciously.

"Nowhere," Richard replied with a little smile, which said a lot more than his words alone.

************************

'Nowhere," Richard replied with a wry little smile."

Leave out; which said a lot more than his words alone. Let the reader draw their own conclusions as to what the smile means. It's cumbersome and it tells the action rather than letting the action speak for itself. Good characterization will stand on it's own.
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Old 05-11-2010, 02:43 AM
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Like I said! lol
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Old 05-11-2010, 04:03 AM
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Originally Posted by briank View Post
I think in this case, by knowing Richard is smiling, before hearing what he says, it affects how you interpret the speech.
Well yes, of course, because if he's talking and smiling at the same time he'll look and sound like a ventriloquist's dummy.

Originally Posted by briank View Post
I was running through my current novel draft and realized that by making this shift most of the time, putting the action before the dialogue, it increased the effectiveness.
Probably an illusion.

You have 3 choices. Richard smiles then speaks. Richard speaks then smiles. Richard speaks while smiling.

Some people argue that you can't speak while smiling, that they're mutually exclusive, so they'll throw your book across the room and kidnap your children if you try to get your character to do that. Try saying "Oodles of noodles. Blah blah-de-blah blah" while you're smiling, for instance. Take a look in the mirror while you're at it, and see how it comes across. Not pretty, is it?

That leaves smiling before and smiling after speaking. I don't think there's a case to be made for either being more effective because they're conveying two different things, the first where the character smiles then speaks, and the second where the character speaks then smiles. Either is fine if appropriate.

If you were to consistently use:

Richard smiled. "Oodles of noodles. Blah blah-de-blah blah."
... I'm sure it wouldn't do any harm at all.

Cheers,
Bob
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Old 05-11-2010, 04:53 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob View Post
You have 3 choices. Richard smiles then speaks. Richard speaks then smiles. Richard speaks while smiling.
I can smile and speak - and I look fine - I just checked.

The thing is as a writer you are in charge of how you present something, what happens etc.

Read a few books see how other, successful writers do it. Personally my character's, if happy, always smile when they talk. It doesn't have to be literal, as long as it paints the picture of someone happy in conversation.
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Old 05-11-2010, 06:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Redlorry View Post
Read a few books see how other, successful writers do it.
Actually, having seen it discussed in writing forums many times over the years it's something I tend to notice when I'm reading novels. My experience is that it's relatively uncommon to find people smiling and speaking at the same time. Mostly they tend to smile before or after, rather than during.

Cheers,
Bob
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Old 05-11-2010, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob View Post
Actually, having seen it discussed in writing forums many times over the years it's something I tend to notice when I'm reading novels. My experience is that it's relatively uncommon to find people smiling and speaking at the same time. Mostly they tend to smile before or after, rather than during.

Cheers,
Bob
I have to agree. Whenever I see it used as a tag (e.g. "Of course I'll come," Richard smiled. "I love SUVs filled with chocolate pudding!") I cringe. You can't smile words. He said, smiling or He said with a smile are a little better, but I'm with you in preferring it before or after.
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Old 05-11-2010, 08:04 AM
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I beg to differ I am sitting here reading this as I type and I am smiling because I'm proving you wrong!

My children think I've gone mad as I am talking to the computer and grining like the proverbial Cheshire cat - but it can be done!

<runs off before NW goes all ninja with the chocolate pudding>
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Old 05-11-2010, 10:49 AM
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Some people argue that you can't speak while smiling, that they're mutually exclusive
Lol! One can certainly speak while smiling. It's the "You can't smile words" that people get up in arms about, and frankly, that's difficult to do, such as: "Nowhere," Richard smiled.

Blegh.

Usually, with dialogue, I think about how the character is acting, and what the character's thinking. For example:

"Nowhere," Richard said, smiling.

and

Richard smiled. "Nowhere," he said.

. . . are both different to me. The first feels as though he's being genial and cooperative with John because he's answering right away; the second feels as though he's being secretive because of the implied pause associated with the beat "Richard smiled." Both are correct, but they each have different connotations and might each give the reader a different feel in the same situation.
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Old 05-11-2010, 01:03 PM
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I just did some unscientific research, taking novels by Mark Twain, Stephen King, Joseph Conrad, and Upton Sinclair. I opened each book to several random scenes of dialogue, and they never have someone smiling and talking at the same time. They might build up a giant hunk of pre-speak action like, " ... The stranger looked over his shoulder, gesticulating wildly and laughing. Then he said, "Blah blah blah." But usually, they have few tags, and then they are just "he said" or "she asked" or something similar.

But I bet after you get famous, you can have your characters make any gestures they want when they talk and no one will argue with you.
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