Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Theory Meets Narrative: Dialogue and Pacing

I have resolved upon myself to begin a new series keeping pace with a sensible continuity. Stay Posted! 

Dialogue and Pacing

One of the most important things to keep in mind with dialogue is that there are certain inflections that can be inferred from word order and syntax. The use of a comma, semi-colon, or frequent single subject-verb sentences can convey emotions like fear, or elation, or any number of feelings that character may desire to express. As always, because we need to imagine the character as a thinking, breathing, autonomous entity. If we visualize ourselves as translators of sorts between our reader and the character, this task will become much easier than others make it out to be. In the following lines I will write up a short narrative and then analyze it to show how I implemented pacing via syntax usage.

"I'll have what she's having, or whatever I can get for less than five bucks. I'm broke as shit..."
 "Don't say that Harv! We got the goods. Next thing you know they'll be painting our names on the sides of skyscrapers everywhere. Features, shows, plays, albums, you name it, all up there for the world to see! Get whatever you want. I'm buying.
"Are you being sarcastic? Or Facetious? or... Whatever. Pass the coffee. You know I took this job hoping that it would lead to good life experience, something I could be proud of. But there's only so many plastic covered living rooms you can stand in San Bernardino before you just want to lie down and die."

"Yeah... that reminds me. You got nominated."

"Are you shitting me?" 
"No sir-re-bob..." 
"Gee-zus... I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here."

"You can't think of it like that Harv... Optimism man! Go for it."

"I need to go back to school. I know I can do better than this."

The dialogue here involves two people, Harv, who is having second thoughts about his job and the unnamed counselor. There is also an unknown third, that never speaks but is assumed to have been spoken to with Harv's initial line. Now, at face value this dialogue can go anywhere it wants, so pay attention to what we do with the syntax here. The use of the [...] (an ellipsis) can do many things to a dialogue, and is always at risk of being overused, however it's primary connotations are with uncertainty and rest. It provides an undefined pause in your dialogue. This is not to be confused with a [,] (comma), which is only a passing breath between phrases. To illustrate what I mean, lets take a look at one of Harv's lines:
"Gee-zus... I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here."
If we wanted to stress the nature of the business as the cause of Harv's disillusionment, we could move the [...] to follow "business."
"Gee-zus. I'm never getting out of this business... I'm gonna die here."
If we wanted to stress the nature of Harv's existential suffering and darkening vision of his life, then  we could move the [...] to follow "here."
 "Gee-zus. I'm never getting out of this business. I'm gonna die here..."
As you can see, changing the ellipsis to a period in the first illustration following "Gee-zus" does things to the pacing on it's own. In this instance it creates a mood of affirmation, as if the lights in his mind have finally illuminated the disgust he has with his life. Although in the following phrase, clearly Harv is left knowing that he is clueless of how to escape his profession, and therefore feels consigned to death.

In the third line of dialogue beginning with, "Are you being..." Harv's alacrity in his voice comes out with the quick succession of complete thoughts followed by question marks. This quickness of pace comes from the fact that when reading a short sentence, especially in a declarative or exclamatory mood, the reader simply reads them quickly. They are only surface level observations that are what they are. If the sentence is longer, it takes longer to read, and therefore coveys the power of a deeper thought.

Another thought, though a minor addition was breaking up the unknown counselor's reply, "No sir-re-bob." This break up just shows the reader that the word has an even pacing. And that I mean with this is that each article of the reply is broken up into 4 parts, therefore the reader will read it in 4 equal parts. Like I said before, it's a minor addition, but it adds some flavor to an otherwise straightforward dialogue.

Anyways, there is more that can be said, but in the interest of time we will stop here. I hope you enjoyed this format. I'll be experimenting with it for some while. If you enjoy it feel free to let me know. Likewise, if you don't, let me know as well. Otherwise, until next time!

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