Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Beat this

Writtenwyrdd has a post about "The Rules" of writing which set me thinking. I'm sure writtenwyrdd is right and you can get too hung up on rules like never using a dialogue tag other than "said" but I think I've found out why that rule is needed.

I needed something to read and I picked up a book from the Oxfam shop. It was The Love Academy by Belinda Jones and in it she avoids using the word "said" whenever possible and sometimes in situations where I would have said that avoiding it was impossible. These are some of the delights that ensue:

  • "You're going to Venice?" he clarifies.

  • "I know," I whine.

  • "Well, you should never have told her in the first place," he glowers.

  • "I didn't do it entirely on purpose," I squeak, seeking mercy.

  • "Oh, that's perfect," I cooed.

Those are all from the first chapter. Other alternatives to "said" include: notes, wails, confides, teases, smiles, quips, enquires, tuts, observes, gasps, assures and prompts.

A favourite alternative to "said" which was used several times was "understates", as in
"She is not easily forgotten," he understates.

I think the editor was on holiday. Remember, this is from a published book. I'm sure you can do better.


Ms Scarlet said...

'She smirked'....
I hate 'she smirked', or the use of 'smirk', with a passion... it's up there with 'nostrils being invaded...'

writtenwyrdd said...

Notice I say "rules" in quotes, lol. They are supposedly rules because they supposedly are helpful for clear writing. Meaning before rules, always, though. And this creative author apparently went for creative in a way that distracted from the purpose of writing fiction. Tsk, tsk.

I really love the alternate dialog tags that use an action that isn't wordlike. But what I've found that really is strikingly bad? "he averred." Who says that, ever???

fairyhedgehog said...

Scarlet-Blue: I agree that "smirked" is bad. Nostril invasion is rather worse, though, I feel.

writtenwyrdd: "he averred" is pretty horrible. It's not a word I've ever found a use for.

Wolverine said...

I've got a language arts teacher who is strict. You have to come to her class on the top of your game. I wrote an essay in five minutes that took most people twenty. She says I rush, but I put a lot of good work into that. I saw most people staring into space most of the time. She made me write it again because I was fast and used 'said' to many times, and I started two sentences in a row with 'He'.

fairyhedgehog said...

Wolverine: current advice to writers who want to get published is to use said rather than anything else.

If you end up with too many "said"s, you can sometimes just not put who's talking if it is only between two people or you can use "beats" - that is, actions like:

"I don't know what's wrong with you." Barry turned away in disgust.

(The second sentence is the beat and it tells us that it's Barry talking.)

I think that teachers don't seem to keep up with fashions in writing so their advice tends to be rather out of date. Your teacher sounds like a nightmare.

Robin B. said...

Whoa. Truly, I wonder how some people are published. Maybe published a while back? Or maybe just dumb luck.

fairyhedgehog said...

Robin: 2007 and she has several books out. I don't know if that should cause you to hope or despair.

Ms Scarlet said... in 'he averred a guess'?.... I shall go and look it up...

fairyhedgehog said...

I had to look it up, Scarlet. It means "assert with confidence" according to Wikipedia.

If two savvy women like us aren't sure what it means then it has to be very obscure.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Great comment trail.

Beats, huh? Is that what that's called. I prefer to use that myself.

I read an awful book once. Back when I had to finish every book I started. I've heard from others that they actually liked it. Everytime I tried to read it, it got so heavy, my hands sunk to my lap. It was paperback. But I finished the damn thing. The story line was good. The writing must've been horrible. It's been so long and I've blocked that memory now.

fairyhedgehog said...

Great comment trail.

Only the best commenters come in here, Sarah!

A good story line can keep you reading past terrible writing. I've just finished a book, though, that was back story up until nearly the last chapter. I kept reading hoping that something would happen but almost as soon as it did, the story ended. I felt cheated.

Kevin Musgrove said...

I would have sworn that dialogue was lifted from the Nuffield English Language 16+ coursebook of 1976.

I have been known to aver once in a while. And a good posit can be very satisfying. But it only works when your tongue is very firmly stuck in your cheek.

fairyhedgehog said...

Kevin: Posit is good, although it made me think of possetting.

Robin B. said...

2007? Whoa. Several books? That causes me to be irritated by the insult of it, FH.

Doesn't it make you,I don't know, frustrated?

Stacy said...

I'm late to the party, as usual.

My least favorite dialogue tag is "ejaculated." As in, "Why would you do that?!" he ejaculated.

I just came across that in Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study in Scarlet, but I suppose I can forgive it since it was published so long ago.

That, ah, said, I don't mind other dialogue tags as long as they're used to good effect.

fairyhedgehog said...

Robin: in your shoes I'd feel more than frustrated but I haven't written a publishable novel yet.

stacy: 'ejaculated' always makes me smile. Yes, it's terrible but in a funny way. And I don't think it had the same connotations at the time of Conan Doyle.

Stacy said...

: )

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