Even though you’ve read dozens or even hundreds of novels, when you sit down to start writing one yourself you’ll occasionally hit a wall and wonder how it’s done. Here are a few common areas related to capturing thoughts and dialog that writers may not find intuitively obvious:
- When a character speaks long enough for it to occupy more than one paragraph without any sort of interruption, including he said, the beginning of the statement has a quotation mark but it doesn’t end with one until the speech ends. This shows the reader that it’s the same person continuing to speak. When he’s done, then you close it out with a quotation mark.
- A spoken sentence contained within quotes ends with a comma, not a period, provided you’re going to add he or she said at the end; otherwise use a period. If it’s a question you obviously use a question mark but there is no need to capitalize the he or she when you designate who asked. It’s possible that some word processors in their infinite wisdom may capitalize it for you but this is incorrect.
- When a character is thinking something it is usually italicized. However, don’t go on and on with pages of italicized text. This is where viewpoint comes into play in the narrative. For example:
- Steve can be such an idiot, Jack thought.
- Jack shook his head and rolled his eyes, thinking Steve should shut up and quit acting like such an idiot.
- Speaking of italics, they also come in handy for emphasis, such as exclamations you want to give a little extra punch. Don’t use them too often, however, or they lose their effect. Same goes for exclamation points! Use them sparingly, please! Even if a conversation is clearly intense you don’t need to end every sentence with one! It really gets annoying to the reader! See what I mean? It’s better to use narrative and detail so the reader is well aware of the mood in the given scene and therefore knows the tone and emphasis the characters would employ in such a conversation. It’s also seldom justifiable to use more than one!!!!!! Capische?
- It is a good idea to remind the reader who’s speaking occasionally, even if it’s a soliloquy by the main character unless there is absolutely no one else in the story. If it’s a dialog it applies, also, unless it’s obvious from the context. This can also be done by inserting names into the dialog itself, such as, “Come on, Jerry, it’s time to go.” Conversely, don’t insult the reader’s intelligence by including it too often. Strive for balance.
- Don’t over-use the various synonyms for said; use them sparingly and with deliberate intent to help convey the emotional content and avoid adverbs. For example saying “he shouted” is much more effective than “he said loudly.” The worst thing you can do is distract from the story by trying too hard to be clever and impress the reader, a practice known as overwriting. If it contributes to the mood such as yelled, whispered, grumbled, explained, muttered, etc. then it is probably okay but go easy on the others. Said, stated, replied, commented, acknowledged, agreed, argued, asserted, opined, and numerous others all have a place but don’t feel you have to use them all within a given conversation. Set the mood then let the characters do the rest with what they actually say.