OK, here we are pondering about the week that was! I’ll share some links I found interesting with my own comments to them – feel free to ignore me and go straight to the original posts! 😉
Blood Red Pencil has an excellent post on Show don’t tell – with examples like I’ve never seen. So if you’re still confused about that matter (as much as I am), go and check it right now. It’s… enlightening!
If you’re a short story writer, go check Dean Wesley Smith’s goals for the new year. He might me onto something when he explains how to make a living out of your writing. As he concentrates on short stories this time, don’t miss him he New World of Publishing series. If you’re not writing short stories, what are your goals for the new year? Read his post anyway, as he explains very well the difference between goals and dreams. My goal is to turn my dreams into goals to achieve as soon as I’m ready! 😉
Agent Rachelle Gardner had a guest post by Marcus Brotherton who give an excellent suggestion on how we can save publishing. This is sort of obvious for the former ziner who went to buy everybody else’s zines (except the others never bothered to do the same – but ziners are notoriously broke. So are writers, you say? Please DO read Mr Brotherton post!), but it might come as new to you. So, writers, let’s unite to save publishing, self or not! 😀
On Self-published Authors Lounge, dear Maureen wrote an hilarious post about POV. I’m totally behind her, I’m sick of being told how to write. I’m also self-taught, don’t mind omniscient narrator and love to have dozens of POV characters (although in my latest novels they’re usually less than 10 – used to be a lot more when I was totally omniscient, haha!). But then I’m the rebel who loves to do things her own way, so the only thing I really need to do is master English grammar, the rest is MY voice, and I’m not going to change it because somebody says “this can’t be done”. I will keep using comma splices in dialog, as I know what a comma do and what a dot do, and they’re not the same thing – I might take them out of narrative passages, but in dialog, please allow me to know when and for how long my characters pause in their speech! 😉
Which brings us to another Blood Red Pencil post about commas, which I read very carefully as I’m often guilty of comma splice. But then I found out that one supposed comma splice was actually “bracketing commas” so I can happily ignore the correction, ha! 😀 And another I’ve turned it into a dash, hope this will suit my English readers better… sigh! What an author must do must do (shouldn’t there be a comma somewhere in this sentence?)! Except never forget your voice, please…
I’ll end with David Farland again, and those damned dialog tags that drive all of us writers crazy… Personally, I used different verbs for different situations, and sometimes no dialog tags at all. But Dave’s advice is the best, so just stick to it!
David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—The Dialog Tag Controversy
Today’s question comes from Ryan Call who points out that I gave some advice the other day that conflicts with common wisdom. He asks, “You said that the dialogue tag ‘said’ might not always convey what the author means and he or she might, for example, use ‘she swore,’ but I have a few problems with dialogue tags like that. First off, the book SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS (by Renni and Brown) warns against ever using dialogue tags other than ‘said’ because using dialogue tags such as ‘he snarled’, ‘she growled’, ‘he spat’, ‘she sniffed’, ‘he sneered’ and so on can create impossibilities (ever tried sniffing or sneering a sentence?). Also, such tags tell rather than show, and worse, talk down to the reader, implying they are too stupid to know how a character said something unless specifically told. An even worse dialogue tag would include an -ly adverd to further tell the reader such as: ‘he sneered sarcastically’. Self-Editing also included the dialogue tag ‘asked’ in the group of tags to avoid because the very fact that dialogue ends with a question mark already tells the reader that a character is asking a question. To add ‘he asked’ or worse ‘he questioned’ to that is both repetitive and demeaning to the reader (effectively telling them they’re too stupid to know it was a question without being told twice).
“Now, I’ve been taught that the characters’ body language and the context in which the dialogue appears should be enough for the reader to visualize or interpret the manner in which the dialogue is spoken. That also adds the benefit of not constricting the characters’ developmental scope as much, as readers are free to interpret the characters’ words to some extent, giving leeway to how any given reader will view or consider said character, thus enabling the characters to be loved, hated or whatever by each reader and better remembered by a wider readership.
“Problem is, while I’ve been told and taught to avoid such things like the plague, I see many published authors using such tags as well as extreme telling rather than showing (something all writing teachers stress that their students should avoid) in their novels.
“Now, my questions: Have you ever considered dialogue tags as a way writers talk down to their readers or as a lazy way to tell rather than work to show a scene, and who do you think is right or has it become a matter of preference only?”
Okay, so here is the answer to the question: I actually used that example as a way to pick a fight. I love Renni and Brown’s book, but on this point, their advice seems a bit extreme.
First, Renni and Brown don’t consider the possibility that sometimes we need to write down to the reader. I’ve written books to audiences from the ages of one to a hundred, and I know that my second-grade and third-grade readers are not mature enough to always understand what a character is thinking, and so they need stronger dialog tags.
You also ought to realize that even adult readers might have difficulty trying to understand what your character is thinking. In particular, people with Asperger’s Syndrome have a tough time reading facial cues in order to understand emotion. I’m not sure if this extends into writing, but I can tell you that many readers DO have difficulty trying to figure out what characters are thinking. Just as each of us has different abilities when it comes to language or math, each of us has different abilities when trying to read emotional cues. Some are geniuses at it (like my niece), while others are idiots. As an author, I wish that all readers were equally good at reading emotion’s cue. They’re not.
Last of all, one must take into account that even good readers sometimes get distracted, or might be required to lay a book down for a long period of time. Thus, a strong dialog tag might remind them of the context of the story. I kid you not, I got a nice fan letter the other day from a fellow who was reading one of my books three years ago. He got in a car accident and spent months in the hospital recuperating. Then a couple of weeks ago, he found the novel and began reading where he’d left off. He was surprised (as was I) that he could not only pick it up and remember it well enough so that he could understand what was going on, but said that he’d loved the book, despite his lengthy absence.
Renni and Brown make a good point in that many new writers go way overboard, basically writing dialog tags that are purple prose. I’ve seen writers whose characters growl one sentence, snarl the next, spit the third, and so on. Adding –ly adverbs compounds the problem. It does come off as overwrought.
But to say that you should “never” use any dialog tag but ‘said’? That’s carrying some decent advice to an extreme. In particular, if your character says something in a manner that is contrary to how one might read it within the context, you owe it to your reader to give a stronger dialog tag. For example, imagine that you have your villain pointing a gun at your hero. Your hero says, “Go ahead, pull the trigger.” One might well imagine that a brave protagonist is daring the reader. But maybe the protagonist is in despair, perhaps he’s begging? Or maybe he has given up so completely that he says it as a quip? Should we really avoid using a stronger dialog tag in this case?
Normally, I think that Renni and Brown are correct, but each case where we give a dialog tag, requires us as authors to make an educated and rational decision—not blindly follow some advice that was stylish in the 1970s for literary fiction.
Renni and Brown, I suspect, might even agree with my stance.