I am almost totally deaf in one ear.  This means it is hard for me to tell how loud I am talking.  I make a conscious effort to keep my voice low, which means I end up repeating things a lot.  The flip side of that is that when I forget to keep my voice low, I end up with people thinking I’m stressed or angry because I speak louder than normal. And when I am stressed, my voice goes louder yet, which ends up with people perceiving me as angry when I’m not.

All this leads me to thinking about dialog.  We all know not to use dialog tags to get emotion across and to avoid things like ‘I will not,’ she shouted tempestuously.’ (I actually saw that one time.)  We all know that if we have to use a dialog tag to tell a reader what the character is feeling, the dialog is weak.

So I find myself wondering how to show an elevated tone of voice, such as me speaking louder than normal, without resorting to exclamation points, or having to tell the reader in narrative form that the character is hard of hearing.  You can describe a noisy setting and the reader assumes the character must speak up.  So using description can get the emotion behind the dialog across. You can use body language such as someone cupping a hand to their ear and the speaker then repeating their words.  But think about this.  Writing something like, ‘I knew I should have gone with you!’ implies emphasis, frustration, possibly anger, because of the exclamation point.  But if all I wanted to get across was that the character was speaking louder than appropriate and wasn’t frustrated, etc., the use of an exclamation point doesn’t work.

It all makes me curious.  How can dialog show the level of voice, without using tools such as narrative, setting, body language, or dialog tags?  I know those are all legitimate tools we have at hand, and I know they work well.  I’m just curious about how a writer could accomplish the same thing using simply dialog.  There’s the obvious dialog between two people, where one makes a statement and the other says, ‘Lower your voice’, but then it’s almost too late as the reader has already then has to re-process the first line of dialog in a louder tone.  Ah, now I’m getting off track with too many possibilities.  I’ll have to think on this a bit.

In the quiet space.

6 thoughts on “Voice

  1. Your thoughts and questions in this post echo the sort of dialog I’ve been wanting to have with fellow writers! I’ll give your conundrum some thought when I’m more rested, and if I think of anything that might help I’ll let you know. And if you think of anything, please let us know! 🙂


      • It’s a work in progress. The photo is actually of the ‘modern’ side of a tiny two-room cabin that I’ve talked about before here. I think I posted a photo of it in the snow, too. Although this is the modern room, there’s no electricity or running water. Which is why I get writing done there. No internet distractions!


    • I have a three ring binder with a collection of notes on writing I’ve accumulated. I think I’m going to flip through the dialog section and see if I can add to this. Although what usually happens is I start a thought, raise some questions in my mind, you guys come along with thought-provoking responses, and I find my answers. Now I have to do a bit of work! I’ll keep you posted.


  2. Lisa, I’ve thought about this a lot too! It almost makes me wish I could just resort sometimes to internet speak in stories… emoticons and such! I do enjoy the challenge of describing unusual speech in a poetic way, but like you, I often wish I could just do something simple like throw in an extra exclamation point.

    However: I love “‘I will not,’ she shouted tempestuously.” Not because it’s good writing, but because melodrama is fun to visualize. 😉


    • Oh, I had some great visualizations to that snippet of dialog, too. And a good laugh. Interesting to think of dialog in the poetry form. Dialog is best for me as a reader when there is a sense of the musical within it. Or when a line is so unexpected and unique that I laugh out loud or have my breath taken away. Meg Gardiner and Cornelia Read are two authors that excel in that, mystery authors, but ones that manage to go beyond the genre at the same time. Meg’s Evan Delaney series in particular. But poetry in dialog. I’m going to ponder on that.


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