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Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

NaNoWriMo started today! Hu-rarrgh! So let’s get down to business, because I know for a fact you’re just taking a break from smashing today’s word goal, and research counts, right?

Today we’ll be looking at dialogue and how dialogue not only gives your characters depth and well, character, but also helps you advance the plot of your story.

I’m going to split this episode into two sections; literal advice on dialogue and then characterisation, which is a deeper and heavier topic which I will touch on.  I won’t cover grammar here because that is a lesson all of its own, but I’ll include some links for you to look at.

Dialogue is the verbal interaction between two or more characters which your reader is privy to. If the character is talking alone, we call it a monologue. Both of these are useful as writing techniques and I’ll cover a few interesting ideas soon. First, I want to show you an example of how dialogue can work:

“What are we watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“Amazing.”
“We could watch Indiana Jones if you’d like?” she said.
“Nah, Star Wars. With popcorn.”

This is pretty basic dialogue, it’s OK but it doesn’t really make for good reading and frankly, its dull. I’ll rewrite this section and you can see for yourself how a little conflict can really give it more energy and readability.

“What are watching tonight?” asked Jude.
Sarah shuffled the DVDs on the shelf to get a better look. “Star Wars, tonight?”
“That shit, again?”
“We haven’t watched any Star Wars since Sunday night,” she said.
“Yeah, I know. And the Sunday before that and the one before that! Don’t you ever try something new, Sarah?”

This rewrite has conflict, unlike the original draft. It’s pretty mundane stuff but actually gives a little bit of purpose to the dialogue – we learn more about the characters in the same amount of text without really having to change much. Dialogue is plot, plot is confrontation, confrontation is dramatic and therefore entertaining to read. If your dialogue does not advance the plot or aids in creating your character, remove it. It isn’t helping.

So, onto the juicy stuff.

Part One – Literary Tactics on Dialogue

Organics

The primary rule here is that fictional dialogue of any sort is not directly transposed from real-life dialogue. It doesn’t work, because when we talk naturally we interrupt ourselves with filler noises while we think or sigh and make gestures with our bodies. With this in mind, keep your dialogue concise, meaning you should cut it right back to the essentials only. If there is no character advancement or plot work going on, get rid of it as it doesn’t make for good reading.

While we’re at it – we don’t always use social niceties when we talk. I am forever just shouting a colleagues name, sometimes getting it wrong on purpose. It’s also not organic to greet someone formally every time they come into the room to talk. This leads nicely into using incomplete or cut back sentences. Rather than ask:

“Do you want to drink some beer with me?”

We would simply say:

“Want a beer?”

It is implied that by asking about the possession of beer, you’re likely to share it.

Tags and Vacuum Speech

Tags are really simple devices to break up the dialogue. In real life we don’t just face each other and speak blandly forwards, often we are pausing or watching the other person for reactions. Stephen King makes it very clear that simply using the word said is more than enough of a tag to help the reader keep up with the dialogue. He said, she said, or using the character name sparingly is enough of a tag to help the conversation flow.

Be careful with tags though, as they can easily become overused and distract the reader with a speedy battle of paddle war. To get around this, using descriptive tags can alter the pace of your dialogue. Descriptive tags are little actions which we all do when we talk; preparing food, typing away at a computer desk or lighting a cigarette. These descriptions give a sense of life and purpose to the characters. Caution though, avoid adverbs (usually ending in the suffix ‘ly’) such as frighteningly. Rather, describe these actions and emotions with the characters reactions.

Line Punch

Another easy little device is to alter the length of lines in your dialogue. Shortening lines in a dialogue adds some punch into the conversation by allowing the reader to break or rest for a brief moment. Overextending the reader is usually a result of boring, lengthy lines of dialogue which feel faked.

If one character is talking with lengthy lines and the responses are single words or short and sharp lines, we may assume that the second character is being evasive or unhelpful.

Tension can also be built up as dialogue lines become shorter, suggesting the conversation is reaching a climax where neither character is prepared to talk further, possibly resulting in conflict.

Part 2 – Characterisation & Dialogue

Collins English Dictionary describes characterisation as:

“Characterization is the way an author or an actor describes or shows what a character is like.”

The key words here are describes and shows. As with any writing devices, it is always preferred to show the reader rather than tell them (especially when it comes to exposition). For this reason you must consider your character in detail and then use their dialogue or monologue to effectively portray who they are. This is tricky, but with some background notes you should be able to overcome dry dialogue. The following are not in any particular order of importance.

Emotional conventions are habits learned from background and upbringing. They will add life and realism to your characters with proper use. In some cases however it is always best to avoid stereotypes, even mild ones, as these may seem trite.

books on bookshelves

Education

Education is an important consideration. Educated people behave differently from those with a poor or no education. Characters are likely to appear less aggressive (although appearances can be deceptive) with an education, avoiding direct confrontation and possess a wider vocabulary than others while likely to use correct grammar. Educated characters are also likely to use literary devices like rhetoric to convey their meaning and intent. Conversely, those with a poor education are more likely to use colloquialisms and repeat themselves..

Gender (Stereotypes)

Gender in dialogue only really refers to the stereotypes. Generally female dialogue is considered to be wandering and generally less competitive with a focus on establishing common ground, than male dialogue. This doesn’t mean your female character has to be these things, of course not. However it does highlight how readers perceive female dialogue to be. Finally, it is considered to be widely accepted for a women to be more emotional in public, whereas men are often ridiculed or treated with a measure of discomfort for showing strong emotions in public. Play around with these ideas, and be happy with how much you include in your dialogue. Stereotypes can be ignored!

Family & Religious Background

Every family is unique with its little quirks and traditions and sometimes religious practices plays into those quirks. Where family promotes its own habits of emotion, religion often has social constraints and these will help define your character and their dialogue. Usually a strong religious background will prevent cussing or taking a deities name in vain. A character with strict parents, for example a stern military figure, may remain taciturn and stoic during most of the dialogue and may struggle with showing emotions. Those with a formal upbringing are less likely to interrupt others and use formal titles when addressing figures of authority. Think about where your character has come from and who they are forming a dialogue with.

three women wearing turbands

Ethnicity

Ethnicity is a tricky element of a character. As mentioned previously, it is best to avoid stereotypes, but then again, they exist. Ethnicity tends to be tied closely with the previous sections of characterisation. Consider for a moment a high powered business man standing before a board of shareholders. Chances are you imagined a white caucasian man in a suit. Now imagine this business man has received news of the death of a friend, does he; break down in tears or does he clench his jaw, finish the meeting and go home to his den and drink whiskey in stony silence?

Consider a street vendor who sells food receiving the same news, surrounded by his community and friends. Is he more likely to break down in tears than the previous example? Likely, yes. In some cultures it is perfectly acceptable for anyone to drop to the floor in tears, or wail freely. The point we’re trying to make here is that emotion and dialogue are connected, and different ethnicity’s will react to strong emotion or sudden change with different responses. Linking back to education, you may find that the business man will respond to grief with definite terms and phrases, whereas the street vendor is likely to repeat themselves and stammer, vocalising their dismay openly and sporadically.

Circumstances

Circumstances alter our dialogue drastically and are strongly linked to the timing of the characters dialogue. Consider the following lines:

“An hour into our night patrol and suddenly we’re taking fire, tracer rounds lighting up the ridge dead ahead. A storm of bullets was tearing our position up and I had trouble shouting out call signs – I had to check for injured but I couldn’t move my damn lips!”

This is an example of character describing a previous incident. When reflecting, people tend to focus on giving the reader a sense of backstory and details which had likely been soaked in subconsciously. If the action was taking place in real time, either through a flashback or direct descriptions the dialogue would be very different. Keep the context, cut the dialogue right back to something simple, your character probably doesn’t have time to think of a full sentence:

“Taking fire, find cover!”

Or in our previous example, no dialogue at all. Sometimes silence is enough for the reader to get the idea.

Concluding this episode

Some of the best advice you can get is to break the rules, play with your dialogue and proof it many times. If you’re not happy with, move on and come back to it. If you’re unsure, read out the lines as if you were acting and see if the dialogue for each character sounds different enough to be real.

Here’s a nice link for grammar in dialogue. It’s nicely worded, but be aware that dialects of English, such as UK and US English will have a few different ideas. Personally I think if you stick to one type you’ll be fine!

Finally, if you can get a copy, this is the best book I’ve seen out there for UK grammar.

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Getting closer to NaNoWriMo!

We’ve got some more unusual literary devices for your perusal today. We’ve scraped the barrel and hoisted the sales to bring these weirdly named tricks to add some flare and depth to your writing styles. See if you can make use of them in your month of writing – the fun unfolds!

Anadiplosis

Is it Ana-dip-losis or Ana-di-plosis? I’m going with the latter! This odd sounding technique is actually very simple – when you break a sentence down into clauses, you can choose to end a clause and start the next clause with the same word. It’s a really simple technique and adds weight to the authority of your tone. For example:

“That man speaks in lies, lies carried from the grave!”

Those smart ancient Greeks like to use this method, it pops up everywhere. My favourite example:

“The mountains look on Marathon – And Marathon looks on the sea.”

They’re quite simple to create and can be used in fiction, prose and poetry. This isn’t to be confused with a chiasmus which inverts the meaning between the clauses of a sentence – more on those later!

Bathos

Bathos uses a dwindling cohesion of metaphors and descriptions to show growing passion of the topic – it’s also used to create silly comedy. I am not a comedian, but here’s the best example I can come up with:

“He urged his friend to stop, to think about the children, to really consider what he was doing – how could he use French mustard on roast beef?”

OK so my example wasn’t great, but used properly bathos can create a strong contrast in the tone of your piece or add a delicate level of wit to something which is actually quite serious.

Chiasmus & Antimetabole

These two are so close together as literary devices that they are often used interchangeably. They’re not entirely the same however. They are used ideally in speeches or perhaps opening lines as rhetoric. When a sentence is repeated by its reversal, to convey an idea or define a point, it is called chiasmus (ki-as-mus). In an antimetabole (anti-me-tab-o-lee) however the words and grammatical structure are also reversed. My example of an antimetabole is one which I have to say a lot during my day job:

“I work to live, not live to work,”

All I’ve done is swap the word work and live around in the second half of the sentence to change the meaning around. For a chiasmus I’ve had to take an example from online, because it’s pretty difficult to distinguish the two types (and some are listed under both literary devices!):

“Never let a fool kiss you or a kiss fool you.”

Thank goodness for examples!

Dactyl

Sounds a bit like a dinosaur type creature, right? Well, Dactyl is an old Greek word for a finger and here’s why we use it to describe this literary device: a dactyl plays on a single word of three syllables, with the verbal accent of the first syllable emphasised over the second and third. The technique is used mostly in poetry (some say overused) to the point where its kind of normalised now. The opposite to this is the anapest, which puts the emphasis on the second two syllables rather than the first.

So, a dactyl in poetry (which is in itself a dactyl, PO-e-try) can consist of a series of dactyls in order to provide a meter for the reader, some say this gives the poem or piece of work a galloping effect -which people then link to The Charge of the Light Brigade, a famous and overused example online:

Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward

All in the valley of Death

You could argue that a dactyl can build a rhythm in your written work when the time is right, whether that’s a galloping charge of mounted soldiers or the specific beat of a drum, dactyls can be used as a literary device to help convey strong imagery.

This wraps up today’s unusually named literary devices. We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about some weird but cool and subtle tricks to add life to your fiction. Let us know if you have any success or if you’ve got any questions. Maybe you can improve on our descriptions? We’d love to get you involved!

J.D. Ferris, CC

Literary Devices – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 1 – Four ideas on How to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

NaNoWriMo is just around the corner and I bet you’ve got loads of ideas ready to go – you just need to start writing. But have you considered the literary devices you could use to add style and flare to your work?

Don’t worry if you haven’t, we’ve picked a few out for this week and we’re going to share them with you in a really easy way to understand. We’ll pick a few more as the days go by, so check back to learn more as you go.

It’s a great little break to read – and totally guilt free, since we’re all learning!

Let’s begin!

abstract anatomy art blur

Anthropomorphism (and personification)

This one is an odd concept, but straight forward. Anthropomorphism is when you give human qualities or traits to non-human creatures, objects or events.

Anthro comes from the study of humans and morphism means to change or develop.

Anthropomorphism is very similar to personification, which gives human characteristics to objects or creatures – except that anthropomorphism is used to make those things appear or seem to be human.

Here are some reading examples to help you identify anthropomorphism:

Animal Farm (Orwell) uses animals for political satire and statements in a way that seems friendly and safe. It conveys his messages without being threatening to the reader, in the way that a news article or science journal might.

This form of literary device gets a lot of use in children’s books, cartoons and animations. My favorite example of this is Redwall (Jacques) which uses animals as humans to create a story which is endearing to adults and children, and plays out the story in a safe medium for children to digest.

boy child clouds kid

Bildungsroman

Weird name, right? Bildung is old German for learning or experience, and roman means novel. Hope that clears it up! This form of literary device is more a style of writing. Usually the content of this form of writing is focused on a young protagonist growing or developing to adulthood, in which experiences may alter the outlook of the protagonist either morally, intellectually or physically. It does not have to be focused on the young however, and pretty much sums up every protagonist story ever written.

I’ve got two examples for you; A Christmas Carol (Dickens), where Scrooge goes from being a terrible old miser to realising that he can provide a positive impact on people’s lives – if he could just give up his old ways.

If you have time to watch it, the TV series A Game of Thrones is filled with bildungsroman themes; Jaime Lannister being a popular one; the guy is pretty much a rich, stuck up, entitled prick who is happy to kick a boy out a window, until he loses his hand – not great for the perfect swordsman! As time goes by, Jamie realises that his worth in the world is limited and goes through some drastic moral changes.

brown and white bear plush toy
No pain, no gain, huh, Ted?

Consonance

Another one people get confused with, mainly due to similar literary devices being very close in nature. Consonance uses the same consonant repeatedly, usually at the end of a word, in a series of words, for example; my luck sucks or no pain no gain. Consonance must not be confused with alliteration, which uses vowels in the same way, usually for the first letter of words. Consonance is also different in that it uses the sound of a letter rather than the actually letter, such as; no knocking now.

Why do we use consonance? It’s used a lot in poetry to create a hypnotic beat to the rhythm of a piece, apparently our brains enjoy this sort of thing!

Double Entendre

This is usually a figure of speech or phrase with a double meaning. The first meaning may be obvious whereas the second meaning is likely to be risque, overtly informal or generally inappropriate. They’re great devices for discrete insults or witty remarks or as humour in a manner much like innuendo.

A reading example follows my favourite story as a child; In The Odyssey (Homer) Odysseus, when capture by the cyclops, calls himself Nobody. When the cyclops is blinded by Odysseus and he escapes with his soldiers, the cyclops shouts out for help ‘Nobody has blinded me, Nobody is going to kill me!’ Of course, no allies for the cyclops came to help, since no one was there to hurt him!

That about sums up our writing advice for today, check back soon for more insights into creative writing techniques, or sign up to our newsletter for updates as we publish more articles. We hope we’ve been some help!

Good luck with NaNoWriMo!

J.D Ferris, CC

Literary Devices Part 2 – Four more ideas on how to add something to your fiction, prose or poems

Literary Devices Part 3 – How to avoid Exposition Pitfalls in your fiction, prose and poems

Literary Devices Part 4 – Dialogue techniques and capturing fictional realism

Literary devices part 5 – The Mood; setting, diction and bounce

Inktober Continues: Week Three in Review

Another week has gone by in the blink of an eye and so we have arrived at my third review. This week my brain became scrambled quite early on! I have no idea how it happened, but I misread a prompt from my digital list and created a completely unneeded illustration. Though I felt extremely embarrassed at the time, it allowed me to create a piece to catch up with which I was really pleased.

 

Storm in a Teacup.png

 

My favourite of my traditional Inktober pieces were two connected drawings. They were just silly pictures that were easy interpretations of the prompts but by golly gosh they were fun and (I think) very cute!

IMG-20181021-WA0004

IMG-20181021-WA0005

This next picture is my favourite of the week! It felt a bit cheat-y and I loved it! Creating digital art is still very new to me and the little things make me giddy. So the prompt was twin witches and it wasn’t long before the idea of bookends came to mind and voila! I copied and flipped the sketch of one twin, so it was easy to then add details that made them different.

 

Twin Witches.png

 

So that was pretty much my week, filled with art and checking with J.A that I had read the prompts right.

If you like these check out the rest on Instagram or Twitter where I can be found @SmidgeDraws

Tools used-

Pigma Micron pens, Sketchbook

ipad 12.9 inches, apple pencil and Procreate
Smidge, of Smidge Draws for CreatorConsortium.com