How many ways can you write, looking at me, punk? Exercise

How many ways can you write, looking at me, punk? Exercise

Speech in narrative can be represented through summary, which is purely ‘telling’ in form, through to being written almost verbatim in a highly ‘mimetic’ form. By varying the ways that we represent speech, writers are able to modulate pace by summarising or extending speech, emphasise and align points of view (or, focalisation), create emphasis, implication, delay, and much more.

Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan (Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics, Routledge 2nd Ed 2002, p110-111) uses a sliding scale of seven types of speech representation to describe and define types of speech in narrative, of which five are listed below, with my examples added.

As a writing experiment or exercise, revise dialogue that you’ve already written or create new speech trying out the various forms detailed below. Take down notes of dialogue that you over-hear or remember from a conversation, and play with ways of representing it, using the five forms below.

Diegetic summary: the bare report that a speech act has occurred, and not the original words themselves. Without any specification of what was said or how it was said, e.g.:

When I came downstairs again I found Mrs Mercer sitting at the fire. She was an old garrulous woman, a pawnbrokers’ widow, who collected used stamps for some pious purpose. I had to endure the gossip of the tea-table.

‘Araby’, James Joyce, The Dubliners, Penguin Modern Classics.

Direct content discourse: a paraphrase of the content of a speech event, ignoring the style or form of the supposed ‘original’ utterance, e.g.:

On the last Saturday in November, Anna and Luke set out for the Brockwood nursery to buy she-oaks, accompanied by the Watts, who have suggested they detour into the hills to have lunch at the Wolga hotel, newly painted and restored with wide verandahs and wrought-iron railings.

Vertigo, Black Inc, Amanda Lohrey

At last she spoke to me. When she addressed the first words to me I was so confused that I did not know what to answer. She asked me was I going to Araby.

‘Araby’, James Joyce

Indirect discourse: mimetic/mimicking the real speech, to some degree, e.g.:

Mrs Mercer stood up to go: she was sorry she couldn’t wait any longer, but it was after eight o’clock and she did not like to be out late as the night air was bad for her.

‘Araby’, James Joyce

Direct discourse: a ‘quotation’ of a monologue or a dialogue. This creates the illusion of ‘pure’ mimesis, e.g.:

‘Both the wives faxed.’
‘How odd.’
‘That’s what I thought…’

Larry’s Party, Fourth Estate, Carol Shields

We were looking for a campsite. “Not  yet. No, not there,” I kept saying — mainly to myself…

‘The Drover’s Wife’, The Drover’s Wife and Other Stories, Penguin, Murray Bail.

Free indirect discourse: grammatically and mimetically intermediate between indirect and direct discourse, usually in third person but with the effect of mimicking first person e.g.:

She would find the words sticking in her throat, untrue in their conviction. Was  not everything fixable? This age of disposables, was it not also an age of fantastic adhesives? Why ‘irretrievably broken’ like a songbird’s wing? Why not, ‘Do you find this person you were married to, and who is now sitting next to you in the courtroom, a total asshole?’

‘Paper Losses’, The Collected stories of Lorrie Moore, Faber, Lorrie Moore

As he sat on the ferry one morning […] he felt himself on the verge of doing something crazy […] It wasn’t panic, he said, it was insight tantamount to a sudden excess of joy, and it was joy, not sadness, that was unmanageable and threatening to every other man and woman’s efforts to continually re-invent a sensible day. This was why he was able, unlike me, to accept his work in Treasury. It was an unpretentious and socially useful way of living a life…

Camille’s Bread, Harper Collins Publishers, Amanda Lohrey

*Our conventional orthographic cues for writing dialogue are the use of either the ‘single’ or “double” marks, with additional punctuation and layout such as paragraph indentation for a new line of dialogue and the comma at the end of the speech quote to designate parts of text as speech. Some writers also favour the dash -.

Author: Jane Messer

Author, Mentor, Manuscript Assessor - The Bold Ink

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