I have a piece of dialogue which sounds great in my head, and the way the character says it is important, but it never looks right when I type it out. At first I tried this:

“Looking and looking... in all the wrong places.” He dragged out his words in a sing-song sort of way.

It didn’t sound like I wanted it to when I read it over. I changed it to this:

“Looking and looking... in allll the wrong places.”

That doesn’t look quite right, either, but it gets it across better in my opinion. Would this be acceptable? Is there perhaps a better way to describe it?

  • so you're asking for how best to write something that is sang in a very slow drawn out way? – BKlassen Oct 28 '19 at 15:10
  • It would help if you could set the scene a bit, with who the speaker is, what's his role in the story, what is being looked for and why are the seekers looking in the wrong places? For example, is this a hero who is looking for his misplaced keys? Or a villain who beat the Heroes to the MacGuffin and is taunting them? – hszmv Oct 28 '19 at 17:57

Usually, that is left for the imagination of the reader. You might want to avoid misspelling on purpose. You can swap the order of the speech and its description. Doing this you can prime the reader to "hear" the dialogue in a different light:

He sung the words, dragging out his L's, "Looking and looking... In all the wrong places."

Since your second example has the L being dragged, the problem with the first example is that he dragged not all the words, just the L. Notice that I didn't specify which L was dragged. It could be all of them or just one. Each reader will have a different opinion, and that's good. It makes them relate to the text by using their imagination to fill in the blanks you intentionally left.

You can't avoid being misread and misinterpreted. Each reader will get a different experience from your text, and it is this experience that matters. The Death of the Author.

Character dialogue can be written in any way you want. Yes, you can misspell on purpose. Some authors even put the text in italics to show it was intentional. Just like the use of exclamation marks, it is a matter of style.

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Purely as a reader, I think your second, misspelled version is much better. It's as brief and as precise as possible. It's not unusual for dialogue to be improperly spelled to represent accents or other speech patterns; you are probably familiar with the pattern of writing -ing as -in'.

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If you want to place particular emphasis on a word in a piece of dialogue, you can use italics:

"Looking and looking... in all the wrong places."

There is also a convention - though admittedly, mostly in visual novels and roleplays - to put a tilde at the end of a sentence in place of a full stop or exclamation mark, to indicate a more playful or sing-song tone of voice:

"Looking and looking... in all the wrong places~"

Like any linguistic device, of course, you'll want to avoid over-using these. If everything is in italics, it starts to lose its effectiveness (see: every comic book ever).

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I would also suggest the spelling change so that the first line is "Lookin' and lookin'..." as that is closer to how the word would be pronounced in a sing-song quality. If the speaker is the villain, you might want to show a quick progression through the first part, and a slower progression for the second part, which the pidgeoned spelling of Looking without the trailing "g" followed by a punctuation ("In alll... the wrong... places") will help. If this is a surprised reveal, it might also serve well to split the quote on the second "looking" and allow the heroes to turn to see the villain and the thing they wanted to find, at which point the villain finishes the dialog.

Without any context as to the events surrounding the line, and now intended example voice for us to hear (Is he Joker? Hagrid? A Scotsman? American? Kiwi? Non-native English speaker?), it's rather hard for us to help write the dialog for you. Sing-Song voice doesn't help... Everyone does "It's Raining, It's pouring" in a sing-song voice, but it will be read differently depending on whether you're writing an episode of Barney and Friends or a horror movie complete with creepy child singing a nursery rhyme.

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