Dialogue and Interiority

Lately I've been watching The Wonder Years episodes. I used to watch the show when I was a kid and I loved it, and watching it now, it's still great. In fact, while watching the Pilot episode, I thought how excellent an opening it would be for a MG novel!

But one thing keeps striking me as I watch--and anybody who has seen it will know what I'm talking about. The dialogue vs. adult Kevin's narration throughout the episodes. You know exactly what Kevin is thinking as he interacts with teachers, friends, Winnie Cooper, because his adult self gives narration the entire time. And I can't help thinking it really is like watching a novel!

Here's an example:

It's one thing to have great dialogue in our writing, but it's another to have the interiority to go along with it. Interiority, dialogue tags, thoughts, whatever you want to call it. And it's important to know where to place a character's thoughts and where to let the dialogue alone do the work. Having the right interiority is also a great way to add "voice" to your writing as well, and let readers know who your character is.

Random thought:  It's funny, if you were to take out the background narration in The Wonder Years, the characters in the show do a lot of standing around, staring at each other without adult Kevin talking!

At the LA SCBWI conference this past August, Deborah Halverson talked about the importance of using your dialogue tags to develop character. She said that strong dialogue is inseparable from the narrative that surrounds it. To take out common words like look, stare, or gaze; turn to, smile, laugh, frown, grin, feel, brushing hair out of eyes. She said there is nothing revealing about these--that it's important to use the action in dialogue tags to reveal more about the character.

So tough to do, too, because I know I have my characters smile and frown and look at things! But she said to use things that illuminate their personalities with the actions they do. It's really made me think a lot about what a specific character would do, or how that person would act!

Do you find you have a hard time tagging dialogue or adding interiority at times? I'd love to hear your thoughts!


Morgan said...

I never thought about that before---the whole Wonder Years playing out exactly like a novel would. It's so true! And I must've not gone to Deborah's class with you, cuz I don't remember that! But man, there are SO many details to every single line... hard! But I love Deborah's thoughts. Thanks for this, Cort!

Anonymous said...

I remember the Wonder Years, I used to love it. And I used to have a major crush on that boy.

The things I have problems with in regards to dialogues is making each character sound like themselves. They can't all be using the same expressions or share the same traits.

Emily R. King said...

I'm always cutting out my dialogue tags because I realize I don't need them. This is a good problem to have. :)

Leigh Covington said...

Oh man, you totally have my mind turning with this. I love it. I have a hard time with my dialogue tags and making the actions and things that I show relevant to the character or story. That is frustrating. The rest I like. :) And WOW --- haven't watched the Wonder Years in forever, that was fun.

Reader said...

Love your blog.

Loved the Wonder Years. I don't see it much these days since no channels I have show it. But I remember last Christmas there was a marathon on TV one day. So fun to see all the Christmas episodes.
For some odd reason, when I read Gary D. Schmidt's books The Wednsday Wars and Okay for Now, it brought me back to the Wonder years feeling. Neat.

Great blog by the way. Newish to it and great to learn from another writer. I especially love finding ones that love MG!


Unknown said...

How fun! I used to love The Wonder Years. This show would definitely make a great resource for MG writers!

As for dialogue tags - I think less is more. :)

Great post!


Rebecca Barrow said...

Uh oh...my characters are always brushing hair out of their eyes! Better get to cutting (words, that is, not hair. Although if it's getting in their eyes so often maybe they need it, haha!)

David P. King said...

Always loved that show. People kept comparing me to Savage when I was that age, too. My sisters were of no help. Great post! :)

Robin said...

I loved watching The Wonder Years and hearing Kevin's adult voice. With my first drafts, dialogue tags and (good) interiority are really hard for me. In revisions though, it's my favorite thing to play with.

Thanks for this post!

Kelley Lynn said...

Awesome post my dear! I love this show :) And really good points!

PK HREZO said...

Interiority is something I struggle with cuz it sometimes feel like a fine line between show and don't tell. But using the unique dialog tags are uber hard. I really have to work on that, but it's so true that we overuse those common ones. They're a crutch for sure.

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