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Dialogue as a Chat Log

Sydnie

Acolyte
I had an idea and wanted to get some input about it, and this seemed like the best place to post.

Short version: The book I'm writing takes place primarily in an online VR game. Would it be viable to present the dialogue as though it's an ingame chat log?

Long version, complete with backstory: One of the issues I'm trying to overcome right now as a writer is my overuse of "said" and "asked" in my dialogue. But doing the equivalent of running all my dialogue tags through a thesaurus isn't really better. In the latest draft, I decided to start from square one. I figured I'd clear out all the non-dialogue and put the name of the character speaking in brackets at the start of each line. My thinking was that I could then look at it line by line and figure out the best way to frame each one.

The thing is, once I started doing that, I was struck by the feeling that it looked an awful lot like a chat log in an online game. Considering the story is set in an online game, I then, naturally, had the thought that maybe that could actually work. I feel like it'd be a thematically appropriate way to present dialogue. But I'm not sure if it would be too...hm, let's be polite and say "creative". Or if it would end up reading too much like a script. I was thinking it could be an added layer to help immerse the reader in the story, but I'm worried about it having the opposite effect, since most books don't seem to be written that way.

Thoughts? I can post an example of what I mean if anyone wants~
 

pmmg

Vala
Hard to tell if it would add or subtract. When I was a new writer, I did some gimmicky stuff to try to solve dialog problems, such as italics a lot, and even different fonts. If I have any wisdom I can impart, it would be that 'said' is generally better than everything else, and better is too look for places where the tag can be dropped altogether.

Since you have the unique construct of it being an a game, some level of dialog in that form may add to the immersion, but my suspicion is that will wear quickly, so I would look for where it could shift into real dialog. I would try to use it sparingly.
 

A. E. Lowan

Forum Mom
Leadership
In the Books of Binding, we have a lot of different types of language usage, from text to telepathy to sign and all sorts of other languages in between. We use italics to indicate differences and keep things clear. Here, we have a short scene with two characters texting, and this is how we handled it...

Brian rolled over, groping for his buzzing phone. It had to be Jessie. She was the only one who texted him at all hours.

And there she was. OMG shoot me if I turn stoopid at maturity

He yawned and smiled, pushed his dreads out of his face, then tapped out, lol what's up?

Her response came so fast she must have been tapping even as he answered her. Why do adults talk instead of act? what happend 2 helping ppl? srsly??? i may do something drastic

Brian frowned. Jessie and drastic were never a good combination. I'll be right there. Where are you?



He sighed and kicked his legs up out of bed. Here she went with the secretive again.

Just at the theatre. No worries.

He stared at his phone and worried. Before coming to live with Norah, his life had been… well, ugly was a serviceable enough word for what had been done to him. What he had been forced to do. The nearly fatal beating from his ‘daddy’ when he was eleven had saved his life—it had gotten him off the streets and into this new, clean existence. He knew that this city held secrets and that the Theatre was full of them. Those secrets had teeth, and claws, and sometimes liked to eat street kids like he had been. So, yeah, he was going to worry.

Jessie had a secret. He was not sure what her secret was, exactly, just that she had one and that she ran with others like her. Jessie was going to have to come out of the magical closet some time.

Gotta run <3

Brian brushed his thumb over the little heart, wishing she meant it, and tapped out, Be careful <3

He meant every pixel.
 

Devor

Fiery Keeper of the Hat
Moderator
It sounds like it'd be jarring at first but you'd get used to it fast. If it's appropriate to the story I would do it. Or at least try it for a couple of chapters to figure out how well it works. Don't be afraid to get creative, even with these kinds of fundamentals. If it works it pays off.
 

Queshire

Auror
Sure, give it a try. Worst thing that can happen is an editor tells you to change it. I will say that readers won't notice said or asked nearly as much as you do as the author though.
 

Mad Swede

Maester
That sort of thing has been done before. Iain M Banks used this sort of style in his Culture novels, particularly when the various Minds were communicating with one another. Vernor Vinge also did something similar in his novel A Fire Upon the Deep. Try it and see how it works out.
 
My feeling is this.

If we as readers of the story are to identify more with the in-game characters—y'know, with pmmg and Mad Swede and FifthView—then maybe you should not use the brackets and strict presentation as chat logs.

If on the other hand you want readers to identify with the actual players playing the game, the chat log presentation would keep an ever-present reminder: This is a game Jack, Jane, Jill, and Bob are playing. Even if they are using avatars and different names.

A fine line exists between those two options. Both may occur at once, and the reader may become engrossed in the online milieu while still having some thoughts and feelings about the real world gamers.

But basically, this

[pmmg] Hard to tell if it would add or subtract.
[Devor] It sounds like it'd be jarring at first
[Mad Swede] Try it and see how it works out.
[FifthView] A fine line exists between those two options.

gives that constant reminder to the reader that this is only a game. Maybe whatever happens in-game isn't going to be that serious. Possibly however, the tone of the dialogue could inject more seriousness. I mean, if suddenly this were on the page

[Queshire] I will say that CALL 911 HEL SDFAE

...then readers will be left in a bind, heh.

:sneaky:
 

pmmg

Vala
I liked the example by the Lowan group. Looking at Fifth's example I am reminded that there may a be lot of OMG, and ROFL and :sleep::sneaky:(n) icons. That would start to get grating for me, specially if I did not know what some of the all caps words were.
 
It could work, so give it a try. Maybe post a few (or even just 1) sample chapters somewhere to get some feedback.

Do think through the different situations and when you apply what. For instance, will you use it for all dialogue, or only if players are meta-gaming and talking to each other. Then NPC's talking to the in-game avatars would get normal speech with the regular "he said" attached to it. Make some rules for yourself about the different possibilities, and stick to them religiously.

In general, I wouldn't worry about he/she said/asked dialogue tags. They're semi-invisible to readers, and much better in almost all cases than the alternatives. You don't want to have people ruminate, laugh, wail, cry, cheer, hiss, drone, and so on every other sentence. Once or twice a page maybe.

Of course, in some cases you can simply drop the dialogue tags. If it's a conversation between two people, then give them a dialogue tag the first time they speak, and then sprinkle them in every now and then.
"I heard the bad guys invaded," Bob said.
"Really?" Alice asked.
"That's the rumour I heard in the bakery."
"That's bad."
"We'll be fine," Bob said.

That works just fine (except that the dialogue is terrible of course...).

Alternatively, add in some action beats. As in, make the character do something, before or after they speak, which tells the reader who's talking. It also adds some motion to your scene, gives room to show emotions, and shows the characters moving through and interacting with the world.
"I heard the bad guys invaded," Bob said.
Alice looked up, fear in her eyes. "Really?"
"That's the rumour I heard in the bakery."
"That's bad."
Bob swallowed a bite of his sweet roll. "We'll be fine."

Same terrible dialogue, but I hope it gets the idea across.
 

Sydnie

Acolyte
I went back and gave it a look a bit later, and honestly, I think the novelty of the idea has worn off. It just looks kind of, hm...I think "gimmicky" is the word I wanna use here. I think it might be a cute nod for readers who are really into online games, but for everyone else, it feels like it'd just come across as an open declaration that I'm bad at framing dialogue.

I also brought this idea up with a friend of mine, and she raised a pretty good point: since the story takes place in a VR game, the characters are actually speaking to each other, not just typing in chat. A trick like this might make more sense if it were the latter case, but since since it's the former, I think it would still be kind of jarring. Maybe I can still find places to use it where characters aren't verbally communicating, but I'm starting to think it's not the way to go for dialogue as a whole.

I guess it's time to admit to myself that I'm just looking for any excuse to avoid the daunting task of having to actually think about how I frame my dialogue and rewrite it accordingly~
 
I write GameLit. I have a variety of ways the characters communicate--private chat, party chat, territorial chat, global chat, telepathy, inner dialogue between two personae of a single individual, and more. I thought about using something like chat logs for some of the communications, italics for others, etc., etc., and gave up on all those ideas. I sparingly use tags, trying to give some kind of indication of the speaker in some other way. If it's necessary to distinguish that a conversation is happening via a certain medium, I'll mention it, but otherwise try to keep such mentions to a minimum, trusting the reader to figure it out.

I try to think how the audio book will sound when I'm writing, even though I've yet to publish any of my work in audio format. I read somewhere that the associated audio book version of a print book or e-book must exactly match in content. For instance, if you start each line of a dialog with [Character1] or [Character2] in the e-book/print book, then the associated audio book will by necessity need to include those names. If you have several lines in a row of dialog, each one starting with the speaker's name, it could be a bit annoying for some listeners, especially if the narrator is using different voices for the different speakers anyway.

One narrator went on record saying they didn't care for the wide use of "said," because they do voices when they narrate, and the listener knows who is speaking then without the need for "said."
 

pmmg

Vala
Why wouldn't the audio book be treated as its own piece of art and the story altered to fit the new style? If it was converted to a graphic novel wouldn't one remove most of the descriptive passages and let the pictures show it.
 
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No, the audio and print don't NEED to match exactly. There is a % required in order for Amazon/Audible to list it as Synced or whatever they call it. Right now, my book 1 on audio and in print are different because I added a novella to the ebook/print versions, but because of licensing with the narrator, they are still 2 books on Audible. Annoying as heck, but it is what it is until I produce a combined audiobook.

I told my narrator to go ahead and stick in determiners where he felt they read better for audio because the voice I am using gets relatively informal or stylized without determiners. So, "said" isn't a big deal to drop out.

That said, I don't write for audio, and even reviews have said that the books are complex and better to read.
 

pmmg

Vala
Ah. Good to know. If i was to do an audio book i think i would like someone who spoke with a foriegn inflection to read the part and then i could remove all of the reference to speaking with a foreign sound, for one.
 
I had an idea and wanted to get some input about it, and this seemed like the best place to post.

Short version: The book I'm writing takes place primarily in an online VR game. Would it be viable to present the dialogue as though it's an ingame chat log?

Long version, complete with backstory: One of the issues I'm trying to overcome right now as a writer is my overuse of "said" and "asked" in my dialogue. But doing the equivalent of running all my dialogue tags through a thesaurus isn't really better. In the latest draft, I decided to start from square one. I figured I'd clear out all the non-dialogue and put the name of the character speaking in brackets at the start of each line. My thinking was that I could then look at it line by line and figure out the best way to frame each one.

The thing is, once I started doing that, I was struck by the feeling that it looked an awful lot like a chat log in an online game. Considering the story is set in an online game, I then, naturally, had the thought that maybe that could actually work. I feel like it'd be a thematically appropriate way to present dialogue. But I'm not sure if it would be too...hm, let's be polite and say "creative". Or if it would end up reading too much like a script. I was thinking it could be an added layer to help immerse the reader in the story, but I'm worried about it having the opposite effect, since most books don't seem to be written that way.

Thoughts? I can post an example of what I mean if anyone wants~
Sounds really interesting. You could just omit the words ‘said’ and ‘asked’? Once the reader realises who is talking you don’t need to keep using command verbs.

Conversely, it could read like a play or drama where the characters names appear before every dialogue - a la Shakespeare, which could also work?
 
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