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.