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Backwards reference in conversation?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Jun 30, 2013.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Consider the following lines:
    By now you've probably read it twice and you have a good idea about who's saying what. The question is, how did it feel the first time? When in the reading does it become unclear who's talking? Is it okay to reference back in a following line or is that too late and it's already ruined by confusion?

    I guess the following would be better:
     
  2. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Related follow-up:

    Later on in the conversation the question above is repeated, but without tag or beat:
    Since it's the same question and it's still the same scene, can I assume the reader will make the connection or should I put in a tag/beat just to be on the safe side?
     
  3. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Svrtnsse, be wary of characters using other character's names in conversation too often. If you think about it, Svrtnsse, you'll notice that people don't do it often. It makes the dialogue sound stilted, Svrtnsse.

    I think the lines do make it clear which character is speaking the lines, and I'd answer your questions that it is okay to tell the reader in the next line who spoke in the previous line. I wouldn't make a habit out if it.

    Regarding the second part: Repetition is generally bad. if you must repeat the questions, put in something like "Linus said again."
     
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  4. Asura Levi

    Asura Levi Sage

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    I don't know, it depends if I know the integrants of the 'party' already and previous dialogues to know each character better.
    If it is not too often, it is ok, but if I have to come back to the dialogue to understand it that often, I will throw the book in the corner.
     
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  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I absolutely hate this. It's something I see at work all too often and it drives me nuts. I didn't think I was guilty of it myself but I've reviewed the scene and removed names that don't absolutely need to be there.

    Some of the characters (the younger ones, Linus is about nine-ish), will use names of the person they're talking to more often than others, just like some people do the same in real life. It'll probably get annoying to read though so I should be able to get those same names out of the text in the surrounding paragraphs instead.
    Thanks for the reminder.

    I see your point about repetition. The idea here is that Linus is pretty young and even though the first comment sets off a fair bit of other conversation he doesn't realize and still wants the answer to his question (he'll get distracted again). I'm not sure how well it works or if I should skip that in favor of avoiding repetition.
    I'll have a think about it.
     
  6. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    In this particular scene I did it in two places. In the second place it was worse as one of the people talking had not had any lines of their own recently and the association went to someone else (or so I was told).
     
  7. Truepinkas

    Truepinkas Dreamer

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    I personally can't stand only being able to tell who was speaking through backward references. I find it sloppy, as I think there is always a way to avoid it if you try hard enough.

    Also, you may want to consider losing whatever actual word is said by Linnea, I think it's sufficient enough, and cleaner to just do the 'A stern word from Linnea...' bit. I don't think seeing what the actual word was adds anything unless there were something odd or notable about the specific word she chose to use. "Ahem" or using the name seem to bog down the flow. Just one man's opinion...
     
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  8. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I'll have a think about this and see how I feel about it. I felt it flowed nicely in the original version, but since I've changed that the flow has changed as well. Chances are I'll rewrite that entire line from scratch.

    ---

    For reference, the scene is "Day 2 - Scene 2" and is available in its entirety in the link in my signature. The first half is also in the Showcase forum - but I haven't updated it with today's changes there.
     
  9. Lohengrin

    Lohengrin Dreamer

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    I agree with Truepinkas, I don't like it.

    My problem is the flow, if you reveal later who is talking to who I'll have to stop and rethink about the scene. It annoys me a little and I don't see a reason to do it. This stop, even if it is 1 or 2s brings me back to reality and interrupts the flow of the narrative. I would avoid it, unless necessary... There are cases when this is necessary.
     
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  10. Ddruid

    Ddruid Minstrel

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    I have read the lines of your example and I have read them again and again. I personally don't seem to find a problem in the backwards reference. I think the flow of the conversation reads smoothly. Then again, maybe now that I know who's speaking what to whom it isn't that confusing to me. But then the reader will know too, as soon as he reads the next line. I didn't find the reference particularly annoying or confusing. Though maybe that's just my personal opinion and some readers do find it annoying.

    In that case, some light editing would suffice. The second edited version you quoted seemed very cumbersome to me.

    This one doesn't flow as well as the first and most of the added words could be easily done without. Maybe something like-

    I'm assuming Elsie is Linus's sister.

    If this doesn't seem right, then just go with what suits you. I still think the first example could work perfectly fine.
     
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  11. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    It's cool that you guys have different opinions on this. I'm not saying either of you is right or wrong - if I did I might as well not have asked at all - just that it's interesting how different people read it differently.

    Makes for interesting pondering...
    Do I go back to what I wrote first?
    Do I change it around in the direction I'm currently going?
    Do I rewrite the entire passage completely?

    Thanks everyone for the feedback. It's much appreciated.
     
  12. Truepinkas

    Truepinkas Dreamer

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    Indeed, between stylization, personal preferences and subjectivity, there are countless ways to express the same thing. Your choices are what make your writing your own.

    I'll sometimes write five or six different variations of the same scene until I get something I'm happy with, starting from scratch each time. I'm sure you'll find something that strikes your fancy.

    Cheers.
     
  13. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I don't want to sound discouraging, but I think you're overthinking this one.

    Okay, so three characters are talking. I think a mix is usually the best. I like to mix actions, expressions, and dialogue tags. I'm not sure whether that answers your questions, but here's a scene from my WIP:

    I rarely use rapid-fire dialogues, but here's another example:



    Okay, so there's two examples of how I handle multiple speakers in a scene. Hope that helps. I generally try to avoid rapid-fire dialogues unless I have only two speakers, but in a scene with multiple persons speaking, it can get tricky. I break it up with inner thoughts, actions and facial expressions. While one method might work well for a particular scene, another will fit better in another instance. I realized, as I was searching through my WIP for examples, that I rarely have more than two people all talking at once. Usually, I separate the speakers from the other people present in some way, by making them silent or making them only speak concerning a certain aspect of the conversation. In the first example, I had four people in the room, but Claudia only had a few lines and Cassandra didn't speak at all. It was mostly an exchange between Vin and Yvette. In the second, there are again four people, Daniela, her older brothers, Bastian and Francesco, and Luca, the stable hand. By mixing their words with actions, I not only confirm my POV, but allow a scene to develop in a way it wouldn't if they were just words, floating in nothingness. Perhaps we need to see a bigger scene of your work here, to accurately give an answer as to which is better. From those three lines, I can't give a definitive answer on how to best accomplish it. :) Best wishes. Hope this helped you some.
     
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  14. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Yep, always over-thinking things. ;)

    There are eight people in the scene, all of them have something to say at one point or another. I've tried splitting it up with speech tags and beats and the occasional longer paragraph. I've copied a bit of it here and a link to the full text will be at the end.

    I've been starring myself blind at this over the past week or so and I could probably recite it in my sleep by now. I'm not entirely objective when it comes to identifying the speakers anymore. All characters have been introduced in previous scenes so the reader will have an impression of them by the time they get to this part. In most places there's some kind of reference to who's speaking.

    The only one that sticks out now that I'm reading it through before posting is:
    This is Linus speaking and it's not references until two lines later. The words fit with his form of speaking and the sentence follows his pattern of speaking from earlier - <exclamation>. <name>, <question>. - I'm not sure how clear that is, but I'm hoping it's something that becomes clear through context.

    Full scene at Day 2 - Scene 2 - Odd Lands Wiki
     
  15. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Okay, I'm glad you put in the longer scene. Now, I don't know where this falls in the story, or whether you have the whole book written and are editing, editing to second draft, or just cleaning house while you move on to the next chapter, but I'll leave you my impressions. Do with them what ye will.

    I felt the whole message of the scene might be buried under interactions that might sound cute, but got annoying very quickly. I envision a bunch of children firing off questions, maybe bouncing or something. While any scene can be poignant and enveloping, this one missed those marks for me because of a few things.

    1. The topics were presented awkwardly. I know children are speaking, but I literally rolled my eyes when she explained what humans were. It wasn't interesting, it felt like a thinly disguised info dump. I'd look at that part in particular, and see what you can do about disguising it better or maybe omitting it. I can't help but tell you the truth about how that section made me feel. it wasn't a nice feeling.

    2. There's a lot going on, but nothing going on. As in, there's a lot of talk about days and where they went and this and that, which isn't particularly riveting, but in the background, nothing else is happening. My examples aren't perfect ones for making my point, but in each, I use POV to give the reader a break from constant dialogue. I think you really need to work on the pacing of this. You've got a fast pace that is almost confusing, but nothing really happening. The small things you chose to point out, seemed tossed in for a break from quotations, rather than being poignant to the character or story. Think about that and see what you can do to mix this into something more powerful.

    3. POV. I think we're in Enar, but that's the problem, I'm guessing. We didn't get anything personal. We didn't hear a single thought, see a single thing through his eyes. If I were watching kids bickering, I'd have thoughts: Her bright little eyes looked up at Enar, threatening to wrench his heart free of his chest. "Where did the other day go, Enar? Did it just disappear?" Something like that will give us a clear POV, help establish Deep POV. We would certainly get a different feeling from Enar if it was written: The excitable little girl screamed at her brother, berating him. "Linus, stop it!" A drop of spittle flew from her mouth and landed on Enar's plate as her face reddened. Enar pushed away his tainted food. "I'm no longer hungry."

    SO yes, I'm sure you've described these people before, and I'm not advocating adding tons of material, but I would recommend looking closely at this scene, jotting down the major points you want to hit, and making sure everything that happens supports that goal. I think the insistence by the little boy of re-asking the question could be really funny and speak volumes of the children and Enar. But right now, the words aren't doing the work you need them to.

    If it were me, and I was still writing this, I'd skip on to the next part. If this is a first draft, don't fret about it. Just move on and edit it later, when you've gotten the whole first draft done. I wrote an article on editing, (three years in the making), that says tightening up dialogue is one of the later steps. I adhere to it when I write and edit, and I think over-thinking one scene is what gets people discouraged faster than about anything else.

    If you know this scene has issues, take a note of it and move on. Then, when you're ready to tighten up dialogues and scenes, come back to it and with your goal firmly in mind, begin adding and cutting until the goal is reached to your satisfaction. It takes a long time to be able to do it in a few passes. In fact, last night, I did a spell check on 100k words and was floored when I found spelling and grammar flubs in something I've read several times and call second draft. That's why having a process is a really good thing. It forces you to move on and come back to things when you're ready to deal with them, rather than worrying yourself until you're so stressed out the edits look like a disjointed mess (my seventh novel can aptly be called an over-edited disjointed mess). :) I think the scene is fine as it stands for you to move on, but when you come back to it later, keep POV in mind, because it will make this scene so much more powerful than it is right now. If you NEED to make changes immediately, try adding a little internal thought in and taking anything repetitive out.

    Oh, here's the article, in case it helps: Target Editing - A Time-Saving Strategy for Writers
     
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  16. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    Thank you very much for the detailed feedback. I'm currently working on the first draft of the story and I've moved on to the next scene already.

    I'm posting here to get feedback both on what I've written and on the writing itself. It's fine to point out where I'm going wrong or where something's unclear or what I should try and think about.
    Sure, it's disappointing (but not too surprising) to learn that what I wrote isn't as awesome as I thought it was, but it's also great to get some hints on why it isn't.

    :)
     
  17. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    You're doing fine. My first drafts look exactly the same. It was hard to tell from the original question what exactly you were tightening up, so I gave it a thorough go over. Awesomeness comes from the voice and POV. Don't worry, you'll get there. The very fact that you care and are thinking about these things, mean you are going to make quick progress on your path. Don't let a scene hang you up, though. Push through it and get the work done, Then, when you're really ready to edit, work from big picture things, down to small things, like word choice and nit-pickiness. If you're still forming the story, it will only be frustrating to strive for perfection in every scene. :)
     
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  18. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    The original question was just: "Is it OK to indicate the speaker in the line after the one in which they speak?"
    But, as with so many (all) other threads here the question changes with the answers that are received.
    Thanks to everyone who helped out and share their opinions and advice.

    :)
     
  19. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

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    It's also possible to be a little too committed to identifying a speaker fast. I've always thought things like John shouted "Look out!" read wrong, that by putting the tag first they're missing the sense that first you hear the sound, then after a couple of words "your" head has turned and your mind has placed who's saying it. That in those cases the ID should be no sooner than that, though also no later.

    (It's a variation on how hard it is to write Suddenly, ... and not have the bulky word make things feel less sudden.)
     
  20. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    Ahh... well, I'm a big fan of saying something like: John grabbed for Alice's arm as the bridge fell away before them. "Look out!"

    Yeah, it looks really amateur to use only "he said, she saids" for everything. As I mentioned before, I like to use a mix and aim for how I want a scene to flow. Pacing is something you just have to do over and over to get good at. When you read your work aloud, sometimes, you can see how the pacing is affected by "saids" and you just know it's better to go about it differently. However, it takes time to learn how to determine what's the best course of action when a scene doesn't feel right. In a rough draft, I rarely worry about it at all. It's just something that is best cleaned up later. That being said, if your rough draft is a complete mess... it can be discouraging and daunting to begin editing. Personal experience talking here... :) I think I've made every terrible mistake possible and learned every lesson the hard way. But that's how I get better, by taking the hard road. What can I say?
     
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