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Thread: The Grammar Query Thread!
May 5th, 2012, 03:08 PM #571
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May 11th, 2012, 02:07 AM #572
I think a lot of the 'rules' in writing are not meant to be kept all the time. Sometimes, for instance, bending over backwards to avoid the use of a 'to be' verb in a sentence results in something that is far more cumbersome than simply saying something like, 'She had been living in London for two years.'
Same thing with showing not telling. We may not need to experience every little thing the protagonist saw on her way to work, for instance, or receive every little detail about what someone wore or what a particular character looked like.
One thing about the 'don't use anything except 'said' in dialog tags rule: it really makes me notice how many successful, popular and well-published authors break this rule ... a lot. It does kind of bug me when it's done to excess, especially since I try so hard to avoid it in my own writing, but it obviously doesn't make editors think these writers are too amateurish to publish.
May 11th, 2012, 03:50 PM #573
May 11th, 2012, 05:51 PM #574
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An alternative to action words replacing "said" is to replace the attribution with the action (as someone else said, using a separate sentence.)
Communication is more than words--it's gesture, facial expression, tonality, etc. Your POV character can have thoughts, can gesture or move; the non-POV character's facial expression, posture, etc. can be interpreted by the POV character--all of these giving more information in the scene than even the strongest attribution-action. Also, some attribution actions are impossible: words are not shrugged (shoulders are shrugged.)
"I never liked Sally." Grace turned the pen in her fingers, not looking up. "I know she was your friend, but..."
"You never gave her a chance." Anna turned abruptly, trying to steady her voice. Grace was Grace, after all; it would do no good to quarrel now. Sally was dead.
"I'm sorry," Grace said. "I didn't mean to upset you. It's just that--for some reason--Sally left me her mother's collection of prints."
"She what?" Anne whirled around.
Grace looked up, dropping the pen on her desk.
"Her mother's collection," she repeated. "I have no idea why. And you know I'm not any kind of expert on art. You are. They should have gone to you...you're her friend and you know art and how much she treasured that collection. I was hoping you'd...well...take them."
May 11th, 2012, 06:22 PM #575
May 11th, 2012, 06:33 PM #576
I prefer to use action tags instead of dialog tags when feasible, but I think in the end it's all about balance. It's good to 'see' what people are thinking and feeling during dialog, and it gets terribly tedious to have 'he said' and 'she' said going back and forth over and over (or untagged dialog going back and forth until you forget who is saying what and get the feeling that the people are interacting in a bubble). But too much information of any kind can be distracting too.
May 11th, 2012, 06:44 PM #577
In the long run, I think it all comes down to personal style. Plus, I come from a journalism background, so there's that.
May 11th, 2012, 07:08 PM #578
But if your personal style happens to result in something that editors put down before they read three paragraphs, then it is a problem ... I didn't think the action tagged passage was bad. There were a couple of places where it maybe needed streamlining and polishing (like the repeated word), but I think that goes for nearly everything that anyone writes off the top of his or her head initially. E Moon has written a lot of good and successful novels, though I'm sure that every published author has had her share of rejections and frustrating projects that don't go anywhere.
I'm halfway through a fantasy novel by a very successful, well reviewed and bestselling author (I won't name names), and I just opened it to the page I was reading the last time I put the book down. On it, pov character has spat, declared and gasped as many words as he's 'said,' and there are many lines of 'action' tagged dialog (but again, I always thought that action tagged dialog was supposed to be a desirable way to keep dialog from becoming monotonous and had no idea that it was something that editors would categorically reject).
Another fantasy novel I read recently (that is also very well reviewed and has made the bestseller lists) had adverbs modifying dialog tags like they were on sale two for a dollar. It kind of annoyed me (often the context of the dialog made it clear that the speaker was being humorous or loud or whatever, so the adverb didn't even add anything), but I liked other aspects of the story well enough that I stuck with it. I did wonder, though, why the editors didn't strongly encourage the author fix some of those during the revision process.
This gives me a sneaky suspicion that whatever it is that editors use when they are deciding whether to accept or reject manuscripts, and whatever it is critics and the general reading public use to decide whether they like books, it is not based on all those 'rules' that the writers of books on craft (and our former English teachers) told us to break sparingly, if at all.
If we read something we don't like, we can nit pick all the errors to death and cite those errors as the reason we dislike it. If we read something we like, we don't notice or care about the errors and if someone points them out to us, we shrug and say that person is being nit picky.
It seems that there is an intangible quality to 'enjoyable' prose, and this makes it very hard for an aspiring writer like myself (and who is already a little awed at being in a forum where people who have written things I've read and enjoyed post regularly) who is in the process of revising my first novel to objectively assess the quality of our own work.
Last edited by EricaW; May 11th, 2012 at 07:28 PM. Reason: clarify example
May 11th, 2012, 07:48 PM #579
What I'm trying to say in my usual kack-handed way is: if the word is the right word, then use it. It doesn't matter how many times it gets used in a page, if the writing is carrying the reader along, no one will notice.
May 11th, 2012, 08:00 PM #580
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May 13th, 2012, 01:19 AM #581
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?
May 13th, 2012, 02:10 AM #582
May 13th, 2012, 03:06 AM #583
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).
May 13th, 2012, 06:41 AM #584
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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.
May 13th, 2012, 02:43 PM #585
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 ), 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.