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To Be or Not To Be In your Dialogue

If you’re a member of this site, you already know the significance and necessity of subtext.

You also know that symbolism is perhaps the most potent form of visual subtext. Today I’m going to throw you in the deep end and discuss the “symbolism of dialogue,” also known as;

Poetry.

Poetry is a beastly subject.

You’ve most assuredly studied some of the famous, great works and may even have a few poetry books on your library shelf… but few, of even us writers, actually delve into the workings of poetry;

a vast ocean of art and science.

I dare not attempt to explain the full magnitude of this ocean in an online article. I’m not going to define the different forms of poetry: Lyrical poetry, Narrative poetry, Odes, Sonnets, Triplets, Tercets, Ballads, Haiku, Tanka, Cinquains, Limericks and others.

Instead I strive to explain the relevance of including poetic influences in your work, possibly enlighten you to some of the fundamentals, to set you on a new course of bringing greater depth and meaning to your work, and perhaps most important, a stronger sense of memorability to your writing.

I encourage you to explore poetry in all its forms to expose yourself to new written frontiers and expand your personal horizons as a writer…

However, in comics, games and screenplays, you are unlikely to incorporate larger works of poetry, but rather, create moments of “poetic dialogue.”

So grab your latte and let’s get into it!

 

Metric Verse

Rhythm and Meter are broken down and assessed in spoken language by syllables and pronunciation of words. (It may sound obvious, but make sure you acknowledge this.)

More specifically, where poetry is metered (having a recurring pattern); each line can be broken down into feet, and each foot in turn, broken down into stresses.

I’m about to throw a bunch of stuff at you…

Don’t get overwhelmed.

You don’t need to memorize all this. You just need to understand the concepts.

Learning scansion (the technical term for breaking down a line into its feet and stresses), literally signals how to read a line. Ultimately, this process is very much like story structure itself. While you can’t force your reader to read dialogue the way you intend, by adding this level of thought and design, you deliver “invisible direction and influence,” just like the reader doesn’t see the structural mechanics of your narrative, yet takes the very journey you lead them on.

Metrical Lines

  • Monometer = 1 foot.
  • Dimeter = 2 feet.
  • Trimeter = 3 feet.
  • Tetrameter = 4 feet.
  • Pentameter = 5 feet.
  • Hexameter = 6 feet.
  • Heptameter = 7 feet.
  • Octameter = 8 feet.

Stresses

The most common stresses contain 2 parts;

  • Iamb = light stress then heavy stress.  (pronounced “I am”)
  • Trochee = heavy stress then light stress. (pronounced “Trow Key”)

Normally to indicate stresses you use a little floating “u” or undertie for the light stresses and a slash for the heavy. I can’t reproduce the u’y thing here, so I’ll settle for a tilde “~.”

Other stresses include;

  • Pyrrhus = two light stresses
  • Tribrach = three light stresses
  • Dactyl = heavy stress then two light stresses
  • Amphibrach = light stress then heavy stress then light stress
  • Anapest = two light stresses then heavy stress
  • Bacchius = light stress followed by two heavy stresses
  • Antibacchius = two heavy stresses then light
  • Spondee = two equal stresses
  • Cretic = heavy then light then heavy
  • Molossus = three heavy stresses
  • Catalectic = a line missing one syllable from the first or last foot

“Bat MAN. Bat MAN. nah nah nahnahnah…”

You know the song.

Light stress Bat, Heavy stress Man.

Trying singing it in reverse and see how awkward it feels…

or how bout this one;

“SPI der MAN. SPI der MAN.

Does whatever a spider can.”

That first bit of the SpiderMan song is cretic. Again try singing it with different stresses and see how alien it feels!

It sounds complicated, but it’s that simple!

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