This is topic Writing Static In Dialog? in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :

I'm considering changing a bit of dialog in a story I am working on in which two characters are communicating through walkie-talkies with poor reception where static is masking some of the words said.

What I'm struggling with is how to write this in the dialog. Here is a snippet of dialog:

A voice awash in static erupted from the security desk drawer. “Marvin? I heard shots fired! What the hell is going on down there? I’m coming down!”

Any ideas on how I can present this with the 'static' in the dialog. I was thinking of something like this:

“Marvin? I heard <cht> fired! What the hell is going on <cht> there? <cht> coming down!”

another alternative:

“Marvin? I heard" -cht- "fired! What the hell is going on" -cht- "there?" - cht - "I’m coming down!”

I'm not entirely sure I want to do this at all, because it might be distracting, but I think it would help put the reader in the MCs shoes in trying to deal with the person on the other side of the communications.

So any suggestions? And would people find this distracting?

Posted by Natej11 (Member # 8547) on :
A few things to consider. One is that in tense situations well-trained soldiers tend to get more and more terse in communications so they don't flood the radio and block out important messages.

Another is that they tend to talk fast, so even a minor burst of static could eliminate part of or all of the message.

The mechanism you use to indicate static, <tch>, seems fine to me. I've also seen ellipses used.

Posted by Owasm (Member # 8501) on :
Since static is distracting, the reader is going to have to deal with it, if you want it as part of your dialogue.

Rather than (cht) why don't you put in asterisks. I don't know what you're *** talking about. Why don't you just *** it.

Or maybe some other non-letter character. maybe use fssssst or something else that's onomatopoedic.

Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :
I should clarify that these aren't trained soldiers, one is a security guard at an office building, the other a zombie who was a lawyer in life.
Posted by pdblake (Member # 9218) on :
I'd go for ellipsis personally, the asterisks look more like you're censoring swear words.

Do you have to use dialog? Could you not for instance say that Stan thought Olly said something about a piano falling from the sky but the static chewed up half the words and he couldn't be sure. Then Stan looked up...

Obviously you would use much better prose than this.

Posted by tchernabyelo (Member # 2651) on :
I'd suggest the answer lies in what POV you're using.

If you're in one character's POV, then their dialogue will be complete, because they know what they're saying, and won;t know which words the other person did or didn't hear.

I think your <cht> approach is fine. I really wouldn't use asterisks or it looks like you're blanking out swear words or something. Ellipses could be misread as being pauses or silences, rather than bursts of static.

Posted by Osiris (Member # 9196) on :
@pdblake, I have it as you said, not in the dialog, in the current version. I was considering that it might add interest to actually 'show' the static rather than tell it.

@tchern, indeed, this dialog is not the POV character's dialog.

Of course, I just realized if I do this for this bit of dialog, I'll have to do it for areas where I don't want to, so I'm leaning towards scrapping the idea.


Posted by Wordcaster (Member # 9183) on :
I would use ellipses or maybe "--" to signify breaks in communication and would also qualify it outside of the dialog. Astericks do not convey the right meaning and I do not like strange conventions like <cht>.

But that's me.


Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
What Wordcaster said. Once you've mentioned that the transmission is breaking up (have some character complain about it) then you can use ellipses to indicate the lost words, and after that the reader will reasonably assume static ate them. This is how I've seen it done in the past as well.


Posted by enigmaticuser (Member # 9398) on :
I personnally like static...or at least I like to write it. I'd never really considered some might not like to read it. I would chime in for not using *** for same reasons. I'd favor elipses (but as someone pointed out it could be seen as pauses), so -- makes sense.

But, just came to me, would it be possible to have no showing of the static. Like "I hea ots fire wh ts ing up ere?"

On second thought, that looks like crap. I just chalk it up to brainstorming.

Posted by EVOC (Member # 9381) on :
Elipses is the way to do this (imo). You establish the pauses are caused by static prior to the dialogue. This is how I have done it and seen it done.

It is not distracting and a reader knows its static from the sentence before or after.

Posted by Grayson Morris (Member # 9285) on :
I like the the <cht> technique as done in the first example (inside the quotation marks). Ellipses are usually interpreted as omitted words or pauses; asterisks, as omitted profanity. And <cht> brings alive that staticky sound. I like it.

I think you could do it in the first occurrence, then leave it out in subsequent occurrences. But either way, in every batch of dialogue you'll need to omit the words that go missing as a result of static.

Another option is, perhaps, the dash:

"Marvin? I heard - fired! What the hell is going on - there? - coming down!"

Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
I think I'd be inclined to use the dash, perhaps with open-and-closed quotation marks around it as well. To use the above example, "Marvin? I heard---" "---fired! What the hell is going on---" "---there?---" "---coming down!"

That'd probably look better with some narrative around it, though...

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