The Grammar Query Thread!

Discussion in 'Writing' started by Forrest, Aug 29, 2002.

  1. EricaW

    EricaW Registered User

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    Along the same lines: here's a clip from something I'm working on.

    *****

    "Thank you, Sergeant." Jarrod reached for the doorknob, reeling slightly as the floor lurched under his feet.

    The sergeant raised a hand, halting him. "Syg was popular. Things will be ... hard for a while."

    "I'm used to things being hard."

    "That's not the issue. You're a bit of a lone wolf, guardsman. Not that I blame you. Not all the lads warm up quickly to Andurens." Gilroy sighed. "Some have parents as fought in the last war."

    "I think it's my nature, actually." He'd never had many friends. How could he with a father like Seth?

    Gilroy ran a hand through his close-cropped hair. "It doesn't matter what kind of swordsman you are. You won't survive long in the guard without the good will of your colleagues. You've got to trust your fellows before they'll trust you."

    I trusted Danior once ... and Syg trusted me. Bleeding lot of good 'trust' did either of us. Jarrod nodded, struggling to keep his expression bland. "Yes, Sergeant."

    The sergeant gazed at him for several more moments, his expression unreadable. "Dismissed. Go get some rest."

    *****

    So I'm using actions and observations of the pov character to 'tag' the dialog here. Is this appropriate? I also am using an untagged 'internal' thought passage, indicated by italics. I've seen lots of authors doing this, and I like getting an occasional 'look' at a deeper thought processes of the pov character (makes me feel like I'm there, rather than merely observing), but is it considered inappropriate in some circles?
     
  2. Overgeeked

    Overgeeked Fishbowl Helmet

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    That's perfectly fine. But like most dialog tagging beyond 'he said' or 'she said' think of it as seasoning that could overpower a meal. Use it on occasion, but not all the time.
     
  3. EricaW

    EricaW Registered User

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    Hmmm, glancing at some of the books sitting on my desk, seems like it's used a lot more than occasionally by most of these writers. I'll admit to having an allergy to using 'he said' most of the time, for this reason. Seeing the 'he said' and 'she said' every other line tends to knock me out of the scene, so to speak. Reminds me that I'm reading dialog instead of seeing the characters interacting in my head. I hadn't given it any thought at all until I stumbled across this thread because (in my vanity) I thought dialog was one thing I'm pretty good at (most of my proof readers say they really like the way I handle it, but then, people who hate ones style tend not to read/comment on ones stories, so maybe it's a selection effect).

    Now I wonder if I'm doing it all wrong :(

    I really strive to avoid using dialog tags like 'he grunted,' or 'he yelled,' or 'she hissed,' and to avoid using adverbs to modify dialog tags unless it's utterly necessary (and I rarely find it to be).
     
  4. E_Moon

    E_Moon Registered User

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    Some things to consider. First, there's a lot less hands-on editing than there used to be, thanks to the economics of the business. Fewer editors overall, trying to edit more books, and do the other things editors must do (prepare P&L statements, stay on top of production schedules, shepherd their books through a series of conferences, etc.) Second, the acquisitions editor may not be the editor who works on the book in-house--and editors are not unanimous in their pet peeves. Third, editors who do work on the book often leave "minor" style problems to the copy editors (whose job is different, though some of them don't know it.) The copy editor who thinks he/she's a misunderstood and underappreciated writer may fail to do a copy editor's job and instead try to rewrite the book in terms of plot and characterization (not a CE's job--that's an editor's job) and thus annoy both writer and editor to the point where they "stet" even reasonable changes.

    So books with flaws--flaws that bother this reader or that--get published. Why were they chosen at the time they were accepted? Usually because of something all the gatekeepers thought made the book a potential seller, in spite of any flaws. And that something is usually compelling characters or a rip-roaring page-turning plot. Or both. If the writer has a track record of books that sell well, their books will continue to reach publication in spite of too many adverbs, too many uses of action word attributions other than "said" and "asked," or repetitions of words on a page or in a chapter. Writers--and people who are working to become published writers--are pickier about style than the mass of readers. People buy books they can fall into, inhabit--books that make them hunger to know what's next. And people aren't all the same, so for some that's a light-hearted romp of a romance, and for others it's a richly decorated tapestry set in a culture very unlike their own, and for others it's a slam-bang adventure. It's not, though, a book with a sequence of perfect sentences that never break any rule of writing ever made.

    This is not to say style is unimportant--but it's also a moving target depending on what you're writing. The right style for a novel of manners (such as the Lee & Miller Liaden-universe books) may vary from character (the highly mannered, very formal Liadens) to character (the less formal, sometimes even crude, Terrans, or the alien Clutch turtles.) Style should follow the setting and characters and needs of the story--beyond basic competence with the language, it's a tool like any other tool.
     
  5. EricaW

    EricaW Registered User

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    I certainly agree with the moving target assessment. Nothing like having one reader say they love some turn of phrase or metaphor or even some plot twist and another pick the same thing apart to make my head spin and wonder what to do.

    As a relatively inexperienced writer (at least regarding fiction--just received my first short story rejection :D), it can be hard to know whose opinion is 'right.' At some point, I guess you know enough to write the best prose you can in the style that makes sense to you and hope for the best and know that not everyone is going to like it, no matter how 'good' it is--because taste is a personal thing in the end. But since fiction is ultimately meant to entertain, I really do hope that I can churn something out that a reasonable number of other people will enjoy reading.

    I already know how good it feels to have someone tell me, "wow, I got really caught up in this chapter or story!" or "I really like this character." It makes me wiggle inside like a puppy dog.
     
  6. Sarunus

    Sarunus Registered User

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    I come from a non-fiction background, and I think that I tried overcompensating by using a lot of action tagged dialogue when I first started getting into writing fiction in earnest. After one of my submissions here, I was told, fairly categorically, that action tagging is frowned upon. I changed the way I wrote, giving the 'said' tag a lot more play in my writing.

    I'm starting to think that, like any other tool, action tagging has its place. In the first draft of my last fiction novel, I used a lot of action tagging in the early stages, before I was steered toward the 'standard' tags.

    I found that, as I reread it, I got a better sense of my characters in the early half of the book. With less action tagging, I found the pace of the book seemed to pick up considerably. Of course, it could be that I was actually writing a bit tighter, but the pacing worked out in the end. It worked because character development was the goal of the early stages, and then the crescendo needed that tighter pacing.

    I find action tagging is a great way to invite readers into some of the nonverbal communication that is going on. I do think, however, that too much of it may become a bit patronizing to the reader. I wonder if it's hard for all novice writers like myself, but at some point I know I have to trust my reader.

    I don't like the 'said' tag being used a whole lot as a reader, and so I'm disinclined to use it exclusively as an author. At the end of the day, I have to like what I write. After all, I may be the only one who ever reads it. :D
     
  7. EricaW

    EricaW Registered User

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    I had absolutely, positively never heard that action tags are frowned upon by fiction editors before now. In fact, somewhere along the lines, I am pretty sure I had heard the opposite ... that they were preferable. They certainly seem to be used heavily by the fantasy writers I read and enjoy. I think that's the hardest thing as a new writer ... seeing something that works for you and that you like in fiction but then being told that 'editors and agents hate it.' I don't consciously emulate my favorite writers, but geez, I'd be lying if I said that I haven't been influenced by them in various ways or that I don't want to write in a way that pleases me as a reader.

    A lot of the time, when only two people are talking, I skip tags entirely and just have the characters going back and forth--especially in fast paced conversations where the information itself is important. But every few lines I think you need stick something in, I think, or the reader may lose track of who is saying what.

    I think action tags are useful when you want to 'slow down' the pace of a conversation or give the reader a sense of the setting or of an inner conflict the characters may have. When I write, I tend to 'streamline' on editing. I cut about 30k words out of my manuscript and brought it a lot closer to my 'goal' of having it at or below 120k (everyone tells me anything longer than that is a tough sell for a 'new' writer, even in high fantasy--another example of something that my favorite fantasy writers pretty much all violate). But now, some readers are actually telling me that there are a few places where the dialog seems 'rushed' to them ... especially in some scenes where there is romantic tension developing between the characters. The suggestions have been to include more actions and observations on the part of the characters.
     
  8. Sarunus

    Sarunus Registered User

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    You and I seem to have a bit in common. I had heard that action tagging was preferable, and I prefer it myself as a reader. Sometimes I violate my own cardinal rule; write what you like and let the chips fall where they may.

    There's a great example on this site of a story I wrote for one of the contests. It was the first story I had written since I had gotten all kinds of great advice (and it was). The problem was that, by trying to incorporate it all, I lost my voice. It wasn't Lukin Markauskas writing. It was some other person. It came through in the writing. It was terrible. I hated it, and judging by the paucity of positive comments, I think everyone else did too.

    I do try to stay within my little rule. As long as I like it, then I'm satisfied. I think there is a side benefit to it as well, because the stories and passages of mine that have been the best received were those that came "straight from my mind to their eyes".

    I tend to do the same thing if there is a quick back and forth between characters. Why break up the pacing with tags if it's not necessary?

    I'm also a big fan of "writing big" and scaling down. I didn't come quite as high in my word count as you did, but I'm going to have to cut mine down as well, apparently.

    In any event, I'm at least pretty certain that not all agents think the same way. What one agent would put down, another might lap up. That's part of the game. I've kind of decided I can't worry about that. I'll comply with word counts, but I'm going with the idea that the rest is negotiable, for better or worse.
     
  9. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    Sometimes you just have to go for it. Like this, from James Lever's Booker prize-nominated spoof memoir Me Cheeta . (Very funny book I can recommend it.)

     
    Last edited: May 16, 2012
  10. EricaW

    EricaW Registered User

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    That is too funny. I honestly hope that you did not think I was saying that I tag dialog like the passage above! :eek:

    By action tag, I mean not using a 'tag' at all when it's not needed, but describing some action or thought the speaker performs within the same paragraph as the speech. I really find dialog tags, when they're not needed for clarification, to be cumbersome and clunky. Some people say that they're invisible, but I only find them so if they're used sparingly on an as-needed basis. I certainly don't avoid dialog tags entirely, but I actually regard the 'he said' (let alone a dialog tag that is something other than 'said,' 'asked' or 'replied') to be seasoning to be used only as needed.

    This is what I mean by action tagging (also a line of completely 'untagged' or 'naked' dialog in here). I realize a short passage taken from the middle of a scene makes it hard to know whose pov we're in (It's Ciro's, actually) and there's no context, but I just tossed this out there to show what I mean when I say 'action tagged.' Trust me, I know that characters are not supposed to hiss, laugh or even shout words out as per dialog tagging, and I loathe it when people write things like 'she screamed shrilly.' :D

    ********************

    After the echo of footsteps faded in the distance, Danior emerged from the door behind the tapestry. He shook his blonde hair from his eyes, giving Ciro a sardonic grin. "For a moment there, I thought he'd seen through my obfuscation."

    "I still have misgivings about this."

    Danior quirked a pale eyebrow. "He's already opened to dark energy, and I've already got a network of allies north of the border who can help me keep tabs on him. He'll break our way in the end."

    Ciro shook his head. "His fit of conscience at the Academy didn't inspire confidence."

    **************************************
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2012
  11. AZimmer23

    AZimmer23 Things Fall Apart

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    This is exactly what I was getting at when I jumped in on this particular strand of conversation. "Seasoning" is a perfect word. The point I was trying to make is that too many, "snarled," "growled," "hissed," etc., are distracting and pull the reader out of the story by annoying them. If your good enough to have people read your story, you don't need to prove that you can say the same thing a dozen different ways. We already know you're a wordsmith.:D

    Oh, and "she screamed shrilly" is just awful. It has alliteration, but it's redundant and is highly distracting. If I ever came across that while I was reading, I would stop and to say it three times fast. ;)
     
  12. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    Absolutely right - it should of course be "she shrilly screamed", which I use really regularly.
     
  13. AZimmer23

    AZimmer23 Things Fall Apart

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    I am right there with you; my background is journalism and while I've tested the waters of fiction in the past, 2012 is the first year I've really jumped in (how's that for a cliché?). Actually putting myself out there to be critiqued by someone other than my girlfriend was scary, but it definitely helps one learn the ins and outs much quicker than just sitting on story after story. So does consulting writing websites or following writers on places like Twitter or Tumblr. Neil Gaiman's Tumblr feed was one of the first places this was brought to my attention.

    I used to use action tags 4-5 times/dialogue (and a lot of exclamation points [yikes!]) and it really detracts from the flow. Once or none per dialogue really helps it move along much more fluidly.
     
  14. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    The New York Times is doing a series on grammar - this one on commas is brilliant. Plus, the writer is Professor Yagoda, so you can pretend you're learning from a Jedi Master!

    Edited to add: Aagh! I tried to resist commenting on the article, but the opening response was too good to miss! I'm weak...I need help.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2012
  15. zachariah

    zachariah Speaks fluent Bawehrf

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    I hope it wasn't just me who was amused by this headline from ABC News:

    Dog Found Lying by Deceased Friend

     
  16. sullivan_riyria

    sullivan_riyria Creator of Worlds

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    Help settle a debate I'm having....which is correct:

    Gwen clawed at the latch and pushed, but the inside bolt was thrown.

    or

    Gwen clawed at the latch and pushed, but the inside bolt had been thrown.

    The editor is changing the "had been" to "was" stating - that it is "jarring having two different tenses in the same sentence." My wife and the editor are arguing and I don't know who to believe. The editor is saying.... "Basically all of her "past perfect" issues can be answered with the response: Past tense doesn't have to be perfect. It isn't necessary to specify that something was done further back in time than something else if it is all in the past anyway. Past perfect kills immediacy in the text."

    But I thought that was the whole purpose of past-pefect to begin with...isn't it used EXACTLY to explain the order of two things happening in the past?

    My thought that the second indicates that someone in standing at the door and throwing the bolt at the same time that Gwen is pushing...but the fact is the bolt was thrown an hour ago when the people went into the room so it would have to be "had been" to indicated that the throwing of the bolt happened at a point of time earlier than when Gwen tried to get into it.

    I don't know who to side with ... editor or wife.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2012
  17. Juliet

    Juliet Registered User

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    I'd agree with you; using past perfect makes it clear that the action has happened and been completed, which ensures clarity for the reader here. And I don't think it affects the immediacy of the sentence.
     
  18. JunkMonkey

    JunkMonkey Registered User

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    I agree with you too.

    'Had been thrown' also has the implication that the throwing of the bolt at some previous time was a deliberate act. 'Was thrown', to me at least, would imply that the bolt just happened to be in place.

    'Had been' is a lot stronger.

    And it's hardly jarring. I read my pre-teen kids stories with more complicated syntax and they have no trouble.
     
  19. Scorpion

    Scorpion Registered User

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    Good point JunkMonkey. I also agree that 'had been' is fine. Trust your wife ;-)
     
  20. G.L. Lathian

    G.L. Lathian G.L. Lathian

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    I don't agree with the others or with your wife sorry!

    "Had been" to me, implies that it was a direct action to stop her from opening the door. As if someone had thrown the lock deliberately trying to foil her from opening the door. I'm guessing it's an action scene, given the setting, so maybe it has been locked intentionally to stop her escaping. If that's the case, it seems right. If not, you're gaining nothing except an extra word, because the reader does not need to understand the past perfect tense to make sense of this action.

    "Was" makes it just seem like it's locked. It could have been two days ago or an hour ago, but it was thrown at some point. Identifying the past perfect tense isn't necessary, because - and if it does, it needs a bigger identifier - it does nothing to take away from your story.

    Also, think of MC position. She's your POV, now is she going to understand it 'had been thrown' given her minute understanding of the situation? 'Was' fits, because the latch is locked. Setting up past perfect tense doesn't do anything to help the text translate its message.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2012