Monday, February 14, 2011

Balancing Dialogue and Action in Scenes

Dialogue is a critical component of stories.  Today we look at how to use dialogue without overusing it or - worse still - using incorrect attribution.

Announcement: Readings This Week
Grad Reading - Tonight (Monday), 8pm, Gilman 388
Turnbull Lecture - Tomorrow (Tuesday), 6:30pm, Mudd 26

An extension of voice and action - not a replacement.

Dialogue Tags
Refer to the Article on 12Writing regarding effective dialogue tags.  See also the PDF on the student portal.

Today's Readings
For "Everything That Rises Must Converge," do a quick survey.  How much of the dialogue has tags?  How often is the speaker revealed through action instead?  Repeat this for "In the Garden of the North American Martyrs."

Both of these stories feature characters who are nearly diametrically opposed.  As these characters interact, notice how dialogue and physical action are used together to convey one character's attempt to influence the other.

Question: Why do these characters want to manipulate one another?  Is this grounded in the character of the individual or the specifics of the situation?


  1. House party on Guilford.
    Jack entered through the backdoor. “Hello people, what’s going down?”
    “Hey man. Nice of you to show up. The party started hours ago.”
    Jack protested, “No way! I asked and was told it started at eleven.”
    Before a response could be uttered, Margaret burst in through the front door. “It’s always been my dream to go to a party where people only speak using correct grammar and everything! This is wonderful!”
    “…what is going on?”

  2. "I'm sorry! I didn't mean it! U-uh..." Mickey says to his girlfriend, Jenny.
    "I don't want to listen to your drunk babbling!"
    "Kristen I don't care what you want, where the hell is the keg?"
    "Wait, holy shit. Look outside. Do you see what I see? How much have I had already? I swear I see something in the sky...."
    "Who cares! How can there be no kegs at the Bet Rho Omicron (BRO) house?!"
    "Did someone check outside, maybe they left the keg outside. You know what I'll go check." Ralph walked out sullenly, his girlfriend had dumped him yesterday, and he was the only one without a partner.

  3. “Wow, what a great party,” Evan Wiley said. “You know what'd make this party better?”
    “I don't know. What?” said Manish.
    “theres only guys here, so i'll practice asking a guy to dance.”
    “you know what man, thats a terrible idea. Instead, lets chain-smoke outside.”
    the two boys left the boring party and went outside. They each rolled up a joint, and started getting high.
    “dude, you are so high.”
    “no seriously, aliens!”
    Guy A looked up. When he did, he saw the largest spaceship he had ever seen; even bigger than the ones from movies. Alien girls came down. And... THEY HAD BUD LIGHT!!! The two guys got beamed up into the spaceship, and there was nothing but alien girls. The had a great party, but then realized that the bud light was pure LSD. The two buts died instantly.

  4. "I'm so nervous. Look, even my bones are chattering!" The grim reaper raised his arm and showed his chattering fingers.

    "Naaa," Molly said as she looked up from her ice cream bowl, "It's all good." But she went back to eating. "Awkward," she thought to herself.

    Grim looked up from over his dish of ice cream and sighed. Pushing the bowl away, he said, "There's something I need to tell you."

    Molly continued to look at her ice cream. "Go for it," she said.

    Grim paused. "I love you," he said. And he leaned over the table, closer to her.

    Their lips touched. And instantly, Molly had her breath sucked out of her. She fell limp in her seat. "Aw, dammit," Grim said, "I hate it when that happens."

  5. “Here,” the grim reaper shoved a jerky hand forward with a bouquet of decaying roses.

    Steve Jobs grinned weakly from his wheelchair. His own decaying flesh was appropriate for the Grim Reaper’s purposes. “Grimmy, you shouldn’t have. I’ll put them in a vase so they won’t rot during the movie. Or, if you could…I can’t really reach.”

    They both walked over to the corner of the restaurant, seating themselves at a table. An old woman looked up from her breakfast and spotted them. She screamed out, “Oh God! HELPPPPPPP HELPPPPPPPPPPP!” Steve looked over at Grim, who sighed. “Do you usually make this kind of commotion on dates, Grimmy?”

    At that moment, the Grim Reaper sagged in the chair. “Well, this one time, I was on a blind date with a blind man. He asked if he could ‘see me’ and then proceeded to reach out to touch my face. He did and well…he died.”

    “Aww. That’s just terrible,” Steve said to Grim.

    Grim sobbed, “All I ever wanted somebody to live. And well I just feel like giving up.”

    Steve sympathized, “Well I’ll be here for you until it’s my time to go.” He then lifted his hand to tap the Grim Reaper’s shoulder to comfort him. But suddenly, his skin became a pale color, all his hairs became white, and his eyes slowly closed.

    The Grim Reaper agonized, “Why does this have to happen to me!”

  6. I stare myself down in the mirror and become disappointed. I haven’t been on a date in years and I’m really scared about this. The phone rings, its my friend, God.
                “Hey, whats up?” I said. He sensed the sadness in my voice.
                “Nothing much, you?” he said, “Don’t you have a date or something today?” he quickly added.

                “Yeah, hope it doesn’t end up like the last ones.” I responded.

    All of my previous dates ended up with trips to the morgue.

                “You know, there’s this one girl I know,” God said cheerfully. “I think she might be your type.”

                God always tried to set Grim up with girls. Despite his almighty ability to rule the world, he never seemed to know a girl that could stand death

                “She’s suicidal,” God said. “It’s worth a shot.”

                Grim nodded. There was a crackle on the other end of the telephone line, and Grim was whisked away to a fancy dinner restaurant, sitting across from a girl.

    There he saw her, the beautiful glint in her blue sparkling eyes, like when the sun shines onto the glistening ocean at dawn. He realizes this is what they call, “love at first sight.” He gazes into her eyes, past the plates of salad just served to them.

    “Well, hello there. You must have been a mermaid, because your eyes are as beautiful as the ocean,” he said, trying to be seductive.

    The girl looked up at the hooded figure in front of her; her sunken face suddenly lit up.

    “Death?! Oh my goodness, are you really him? Golly gee, I’ve been waiting all of three months for you to show your sorry little hooded head. Where were you the night of the 21st, when I threw myself out the window? Did you place that trampoline there, you saucy little thing. Playing hard to get, I like that. What about that night I placed that pretty little tie ‘round my neck, was it you who undid the knot? Damn near broke my back, I did. ‘Magine mysurprise when I woke up in the hospital rather than in the comfort of your cool home? But now I’ve seduced, haven’t I, and you have come at last. Praise the Lord and his son Jesus Christ, they gone sent me a miracle! And that miracle is you. Now get ova here and gimme some of that black plague suga!”

    OMG it was this girl. “Ohh, I just um, remembered something that I have to …get to. I’ll call you though!”

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