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Thread: The Grammar Query Thread!
May 13th, 2012, 03:59 PM #586
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.
May 13th, 2012, 04:19 PM #587
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.
May 13th, 2012, 04:51 PM #588
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.
May 13th, 2012, 04:53 PM #589
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.)
"How were the girls, darling?" Johnny might sally.
"Oh the usual ... Phyllis is moving,' Beryl would riposte.
"Phyllis is moving? Where?' he countered, quick as flash.
'I told you," she topped him.
'Did you?' he noted wryly.
'Yes, I did. To West Hollywood,' she promptly retorted.
'Oh, yes, because of the thing with the basement,' he teased.
'What thing with the basement?' she enquired archly
'You said she had a thing with her ... Oh, sorry Phyllis,' he came back.
'Who's got a thing with her basement?' she quipped.
'I don't know,' he flashed. And well, there was no way back from that!
Last edited by JunkMonkey; May 16th, 2012 at 04:34 AM. Reason: typo
May 16th, 2012, 02:36 AM #590
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.'
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 by EricaW; May 16th, 2012 at 03:19 AM.
May 16th, 2012, 09:55 AM #591
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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.
May 16th, 2012, 10:08 AM #592
Absolutely right - it should of course be "she shrilly screamed", which I use really regularly.
May 16th, 2012, 10:22 AM #593
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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.
May 22nd, 2012, 03:53 AM #594
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 by zachariah; May 22nd, 2012 at 04:06 AM. Reason: Frailty
May 25th, 2012, 06:08 AM #595
I hope it wasn't just me who was amused by this headline from ABC News:
Dog Found Lying by Deceased Friend
"Fifi 'Brains' LaRue, one of the many undead dogs from the area pet cemetary, was said to be disappointed by the dishonest conduct of local Pit-Bull Davey..."
June 1st, 2012, 01:36 PM #596
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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.
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 by sullivan_riyria; June 1st, 2012 at 02:05 PM.
June 1st, 2012, 02:12 PM #597
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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.
June 1st, 2012, 04:20 PM #598
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.
June 1st, 2012, 04:48 PM #599
June 1st, 2012, 10:52 PM #600
"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 by G.L. Lathian; June 1st, 2012 at 10:56 PM.