Rule 1: Never open a book with weather. I'm with him. Be original, not mundane. Yes, people do mundane things, but I don't often start the day thinking, "It's a gray day, the clouds hang low in the sky. In the distance I hear a role of thunder. That's when the vampires attacked and made this story actually interesting." I start with "OH MY GOSH, FREAKING VAMPIRES!!!"
Rule 2: Avoid prologues. I love it. Tell the story as it happens, with as few flashbacks as possible.
I really like rule three, never use a verb other than said to carry dialog. I know there are those here, and many writers and English teachers that tell people to be creative and avoid using he 'said' or she 'said' as often as possible. Those people annoy me, he grumbled. That style gets on my nerves, he belched. Get it?
Rule 4 plays into that. Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said', he said loudly.
Rule 5, you're only allowed 2-3 exclamation points per 100,000 words. When I see too many of these (!!!) I think, what do you do when someone is really angry? CAPITALIZE ALL THE WORDS, I GUESSED GRAVELY!
6. Never use 'suddenly' or 'all hell broke loose'. I used suddenly a lot in my first draft of my WiP. Suddenly I realized how much I was doing it and how annoying it was. That's when all hell broke loose (because what would a story be if hell meandered gravely?)
7. Use regional dialect sparingly. Mark Twain could have used this lesson. Yes, I get that hicks towk difr'ent than udder fokes, but it's annoying to read.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. When it comes to important characters, I'll try to find an appropriate spot, usually when someone is first introduced, for the person introducing them to give a one or two sentence description of the person. Minor characters are more vague. They're not important enough to have fully-fleshed bodies.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Like that house across the street built of brick and mortar with a winding sidewalk leading to the oak door. The door that always has a wreath of pine and red berries each winter. On the side of the door is a white mailbox with gold lettering that blah blah blah. I usually realize at the end of those paragraphs that, even though I was still reading, I wasn't paying attention because it got boring.
10. Try to leave out that part the reader tends to skip. Much easier said than done. Obviously you don't want to write something no one is going to read, but how do you find that? The best thing I can think of is to have friends read it and make a mark as soon as their attention wanes.
I'm going to take a stand avidly against rule three about never using a dialogue tag other than said. I think that is bad advice.
Sometimes, there is extra information that MUST be imparted by the way someone says something. Sometimes the words themselves take on an entirely different meaning depending on the tone of voice being used.
"This sucks," he grumbled. This is the type of example people always give for "never use anything but said," because this is a time when all you need is "said." If someone is complaining that "this sucks" obviously they are doing just that, complaining. The word grumbled is redundant.
Consider this though:
By the time John and Jane finally arrived at the party, it was absolutely packed, people crammed in the tiny apartment from wall to wall. "This party is way too crowded. Screw this," John whispered to Jane.
The fact that John is whispering to Jane is something that cannot be directly inferred from the text. Even replacing "whispered" with "said" we only know that he was speaking to Jane. But for all we know, he might be speaking loudly, as if to proclaim "I am too good for this party."
So consider the following: 1) "This party is way too crowded. Screw this," John said. 2) "This party is way too crowded. Screw this," John whispered. 3) "This party is way too crowded. Screw this," John said loudly.
In this scenario these 3 sentences have 3 entirely differnet interpretations. Case 1, maybe John is just speaking aloud to hismelf, out of habit. He probably can't be heard over the noise of the party, which he might think is a good thing. He was just vocalizing his thoughts, perhaps, not really trying to prove a point. In case 2, he was probably whispering to Jane, trying to get her to leave the party with him. This tells us that he really doesn't want to be at the party to begin with, and may be looking for an excuse to convince Jane to let him off the hook. In case 3, John is proclaiming to everyone in the room that he is too good for this party, perhaps that he likes his parties more exclusive, and too many "rif rafs" have been let in this time, etc.
My point is that, sometimes, the word replacing a dialogue tag with "said" actually changes the meaning of the words. I also claim that adding adverbs to "said," when done rarely, is also ok, but again only when the information is NOT redundant.
So my personal rule of "said" and "said-isms" is the following: always use said, and avoid adverbs on the word said, unless doing so fails to give the reader all the necessary information to interpret the dialogue correctly.
Haha, speaking of redundant, I just looked at that hatrack link to OSC's thoughts on the matter. I've read all the "Uncle Orson" writing tips in the past, but it's been awhile. Essentially I've just repeated everythin he suggests, except, I'm sure, not as elloquently. So that's where I got my opinions on said-isms from :P
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Yep, I really like the, "Get your filthy hands off me" example he uses there. I like how he demonstrates different ways to use it. Some don't use any kind of tag, but still give an entirely different meaning due to the actions.
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There must be exceptioons to the exclamation mark rule. Let's say you're having a friendly chat with the Regimental Sergeant Major (I don't know what you call hiom over the pond) when an improperly dressed private comes into sight.
'I only saw him the other day, he seemed OK to me... OI! WHERE'S YOUR RUDDY CAP, YOU 'ORRIBLE LITTLE WORM!'
That's almost a novel's allowance used in eight words. But I'd agree about not using them routinely.
[This message has been edited by RobertB (edited October 26, 2007).]
Exclamation marks in dialog wouldn't count the same as exclamation marks in the narration. Yes, in the narration, perhaps two or three times in a novel--but in the dialog, I'd say you'd have a bit more leeway.
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By the time John and Jane finally arrived at the party, it was absolutely packed, people crammed in the tiny apartment from wall to wall. John leaned close to Jane, putting his mouth to her ear. "This parti is way too crowded. Screw this."
No need for anything other than said, and in fact no need for a dialogue tag at all.
The only exception is that I have a problem with said following one of those exclamation points he says not to use. "Help!" he said. That just looks funny to me so I probably use shouted.
[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited October 26, 2007).]
One of the best openings I ever read opened with the description of a storm. Well, it wasn't your average description. It was interesting and said a lot about the novel. It also was not a passive description. It did not run a page and a half, either. Half a page. No more. And it was great.
As to using more than "said" -- yeah, I agree. There are times when other ways work better.
Avoid prologues? Nah. Avoid stupid prologues, yes. But some prologues do work better than first chapters. If there is a big event, an inciting incident that happens at some distance in time/location from the real start of the story, by all means, use a prologue to show it. Just, please, don't put it all in italics.
Avoid detailed descriptions of characters -- boring ones, yes. Avoid those at all costs. Sometimes, though, a detailed description can be loaded with subtleties that show the characters in greater depth.
Descriptions of places or objects -- don't do boring ones. But there are times and places where some depth is necessary and enjoyable. You just have to figure out when those are and how to make the descriptions interesting. For one thing -- use specifics rather than generics whenever possible.
Leave out the boring parts? Hear, hear! Please do so. Lengthy info dumps that are more for the author's chance to show off his research or knowledge are a place to start. Scenes that have no plot point to them and don't show something new and interesting about the characters probably deserve the ax, too.
quote:Franklin knew that this was the moment he would get control of the sixth graders, or lose them all together. A paper airplane just nose dived to miss hitting the substitute. A paper spitwad splatched with a clang on the waste basket. He could see their eyes all measuring him up as he told three girls to stop talking for the third time. This was the moment. The pivot point. The test of his authority.
"I have had enough of this. You will all stay seated, keep you hands to yourself, pay attention, and keep quiet," he said meekly as he fidgeted with his briefcase handle.
"Yes, sir," Johnny sneered.
Can't very well do without that "meekly," and "sneered" is terse and illustrative. I think AstroStewart and JeanneT are both right to a point. Resistance to anything other than "said" should be very strong as should resitance to the adverbs, but there are times that timing and effect warrant their use.
'Meekly' isn't so bad,as it shows how out of his depth the teacher is. 'Sneered' is unnecessary; what's wanted is a really sarcastic comment from one of the kids.
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I generally, usually, mostly, use action to show who is talking. My characters don't stand there like statues while talking. Of course, this is a reaction to them telling me not to do the other things.
"I don't think this is right." Jimmy slipped three more shells into the clip. "What if someone gets hurt?" as he eyed the machine guns, assauult rifles and hand guns. "Don't worry about it, It is going to be fun." Bob set the last screw into place to lock the site in place on the rocket launcher. "This will be so funny, they will be talking about it for years to come." "Um, Yes," Jimmy wiped his mouth. "They sure will be talking about us." He had to grab his hand to stop it from shaking long enough to top off the clip.
If I did the discriptions right, which I never do btw, I can provide a lot of information about what is going on around them and what they are talking about and about them, and not jar them with tags. Of course, few of my actual writing tells as much as the example above. Usually mine writing would have them grabbing a glass, scratching himself, moving a piece of paper or something else that just avoids he said she said, or he wimpered, or she ejaculated.
Yeah, i usually use action to tag dialogue, too. Then I encountered a whole group of people (well, three, I guess) who claimed they had never encountered that before and were all confused. Go figure.
I think it's okay to use something other than "said" once in a while. Sometimes it's much more efficient. But it should be done deliberately, and with discretion. Same with weather, same with descriptions, same with adverbs.
The worst said-bookism I've ever come across is from Christopher Paolini's Eragon:
quote: "I'm sorry," Brom apologized.
[This message has been edited by annepin (edited October 27, 2007).]
All of this just goes to show that there are no rules to fiction writing. Instead, any writer would be well advised to consider anything and everything said about fiction writing, no matter what the source (even from Mr. Card), to be good suggestions. No matter what someone's rule is, sooner or later you will see it broken, even by the author that said it themselves.
As an example, consider Mr. Card's rule to never hide something from the reader that the POV character knows. While it is a very good suggestion, it is one he broke himself in Speaker For The Dead with Jane, the AI who hides information quite a lot. And that novel was a Hugo and Nebula winner.
Instead, I would strongly suggest for authors to find what works for their own writing, as well as to find their writing voice, then just write what feels right. On the other hand, for beginning authors who still have not figured out their own unique style, it is well advised to follow most of these rules. To do otherwise may very well brand an unknown author as an amatuer.
quote:"I have had enough of this. You will all stay seated, keep you hands to yourself, pay attention, and keep quiet," he said meekly as he fidgeted with his briefcase handle.
I'm not so sure meekly is needed. What about this?
"I have had enough of this. You will all stay seated, keep you hands to yourself, pay attention, and keep quiet." He fidgeted with his briefcase handle.
Actually, I would likely do it more like this.
"I have had enough of this." He fidgeted with his briefcase handle. "You will all stay seated, keep you hands to yourself, pay attention, and keep quiet."
quote:Hm, it occurs to me about said-bookisms... Do you think it's one of those things that readers don't necessarily mind or notice, but that writing community has jumped on?
The first article I read on this was in 1990, in Writer's Digest, so it's been around for at least seventeen years in the writing community. That was the year I started writing, so I don't know if it was around before that.
Readers don't always know the specifics of what makes a story strong or weak, but they can still feel the strength or weakness of it.
In my opinion, Rowling's strength was in her characters, not her prose. Yes, you can get a book onto the shelves while breaking many good writing practices--that doesn't mean it was as good as it could have been. I enjoyed the Harry Potter series, but I still found plenty of places I felt were weaker then they needed to be. I feel a book can be good and still have problems.
[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited October 27, 2007).]
A good teacher can fidget; it's mostly an act, and they may be really tensed up and nervous inside. As long as you sound confident, that's 90% of it. I once walked into a class I'd never met before, where the teacher had totally lost control. They were chucking paper balls all round the room. 'No, please don't do that.' 'Please' is a dead giveaway if you really want to avoid 'meekly'. I just bellowed 'Stop that!' a couple of times, and they stopped. I was very new to the school, doing a bit of supply work, and believe me I was unsure of myself!
Posts: 185 | Registered: Oct 2007
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quote:Can't very well do without that "meekly," and "sneered" is terse and illustrative.
One does not say a sneer. It is a facial expression. My objection to that kind of thing tends to be that it is all too frequently sloppily written. Of course, you can do it without either word as has been illustrated. In fact, it is done better without either word.
Johnny smirked at the quaking teacher. "Yes, sir."
However there are times when a carefully used adverb or non "said" tag could be appropriate. I don't like "never do this or that" rules. They are at most guidelines.
As for the Paolini saidism, it's pretty bad but I must admit I've seen worse. I have actually SEEN an author use ejaculated as a tag which just makes me choke.
My favorite "rules of writing" come from Mark Twain in one of his rather scathing essays. Here is a shortened version (which I stole so I'll give a link). The original with his comments about Cooper's writing is worth a read, but it's long. My own personal favorite is Rule 3, but Rule 4 is particularly good too.
Twain's Rules of Writing (from Mark Twain's scathing essay on the Literary Offenses of James Fenimore Cooper)
1. A tale shall accomplish something and arrive somewhere.
2. The episodes of a tale shall be necessary parts of the tale, and shall help develop it.
3. The personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.
4. The personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there.
5. When the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have a discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighborhood of the subject in hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.
6. When the author describes the character of a personage in his tale, the conduct and conversation of that personage shall justify said description.
7. When a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven-dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a Negro minstrel at the end of it.
8. Crass stupidities shall not be played upon the reader by either the author or the people in the tale.
9. The personages of a tale shall confine themselves to possibilities and let miracles alone; or, if they venture a miracle, the author must so plausably set it forth as to make it look possible and reasonable.
10. The author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones.
11. The characters in tale be so clearly defined that the reader can tell beforehand what each will do in a given emergency.
An author should
12. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it. 13. Use the right word, not its second cousin. 14. Eschew surplusage. 15. Not omit necessary details. 16. Avoid slovenliness of form. 17. Use good grammar. 18. Employ a simple, straightforward style.
quote:'Meekly' isn't so bad,as it shows how out of his depth the teacher is. 'Sneered' is unnecessary; what's wanted is a really sarcastic comment from one of the kids.
That depends upon what you want to achieve. A more sarcastic remark (which we know the "yes, sir" is because of the tag) would have a very different kind of effect in both characterization and perception of the scene. My example is not intended to demonstrate that you cannot write really good sentences using different words -- it is intended to demonstrate that these tags may be the *best* set of words for certain objectives and effects. (Timing, humor, characterization, terseness, etc.)
quote:I generally, usually, mostly, use action to show who is talking.
I do to. I think that there is a hierarchy of good methods. Using tags and adverbs for timing and effect can be very useful in certain circumstances, but I would only use them if there was no better way I could craft to accomplish the effect. Using "said" is the next best thing, but it should also be used sparingly. The best option (I think) is to make the speaker evident in the context of the action. I think the best writing uses them all, but works toward the most sparing use of them.
quote:I think most readers would rather read a book with a great story, than a book with great writing.
To me that is like saying most people would rather ride a bike through a great route rather than ride a bike with wheels. Great writing will make any story more enjoyable, and crappy writing can ruin the best of stories. (And mediocre writing can render the best of stories into a mediocre experience.)
quote:All of this just goes to show that there are no rules to fiction writing.
quote:Instead, I would strongly suggest for authors to find what works for their own writing, as well as to find their writing voice, then just write what feels right.
Not absolute rules -- but very consequential guidelines that all good writers will have their eyes on. The existence of exceptions to the rules of grammar doesn't mean that you should ignore rules of grammar. The results would be awful. However, a very skilled writer who had a solid skill in grammar could write something like, say, Uncle Remus and break many rules. But I wouldn't attempt such a thing without a firm ability in grammar and good writing guidelines.
The pros get away with breaking the rules not only because they are established, but also because they have a solid understanding of and are well practiced in following those guidelines. It also goes to say, then, that amateurs are less likely to have the skill to pull off the exceptions. But I don't want to discourage anyone from trying their hands at rejecting a guideline or two. Chaos is bad, but experimentation is good.
quote:I'm not so sure meekly is needed. What about this?
The fidgeting in your first rewrite doesn't convey a meek voice, which is imperative to what I was trying to do. The *timing* doesn't work for the second in order to get the (attempted) humorous effect. The best way seems to be to use "meekly" in this particular case. As stated above, I'm not saying there isn't other ways to write those lines that aren't better in *most* situations. I'm just saying that they are probably best for the effects I wanted to create.
(I should give credit here -- I've recreated an example here that is very similar to one in the book The Art of Fiction, by David Lodge. This book deals with a wide variety of writing topics and I highly recommend it.)
quote:And I disagree still on the "meekly" thing. There are plenty of more effective ways to convey meekness.
You may be right, but I haven't found a way that has the same timing and effect. The timing and effect reach beyond just describing the meekness. If the *only* thing I had to worry about was conveying the meekness, I would probably say you are completely right. But it is not the only thing.
quote:Think of the physical indications of timidity and use them.
Sure. But I'm still not getting the meek voice, and the contrast of the strong words with the meek fidgeting doesn't have near the impact. The terseness and timing of "meekly" in my example immediately alters the impression of the words that came before it in a way that would be difficult to accomplish otherwise.
Just to make it clear, mfrevald, I agree with you on your earlier post. In no way was I suggesting that there are no rules to writing good English, but rather, that there are no rules to writing good fiction. To me, there are two parts of writing: the mechanics of good English covering grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and the mechanics of story telling, covering characterization and plot.
I think some of this discussion confuses the two. To become a good story teller, a writer has to become a good communicator first, and that means learning good and proper English. An author makes it impossible to communicate effectively if they don't know the language. Once the mechanics of English have been mastered, then the author can deal with the mechanics of story telling, but not before. At that point is where an author can ignore the language issues because they are writing well, and just start to write what feels right.
[This message has been edited by luapc (edited October 27, 2007).]
quote:Just to make it clear, mfrevald, I agree with you. In no way was I suggesting that there are no rules to writing good English, but rather, that there are no rules to writing good fiction.
Right. I was only using grammar as an analogy. I was using grammar to demonstrate how exceptions do not indicate the "rules" can or should be ignored. Now apply that to things important to story telling like POV, tags, etc., and we see that they have exceptions -- but the fact that they have exceptions does not make them unimportant.
Still, I think your last statement:
quote:At that point is where an author can ignore the language issues because they are writing well, and just start to write what feels right.
...applies to what I'm saying, too, and we seem to at least be close to an understanding.
quote: the contrast of the strong words with the meek fidgeting doesn't have near the impact.
While I disagree.
Showing is almost always stronger than telling. Saying he is meek doesn't have much impact. Showing that he is behaving meekly does.
But it is also a decision each author has to make for themselves. You have to go by your own feel which is why I say that the "rules" are guidelines. But it takes a lot of practice to know when you can ignore the guidelines. Inexperienced authors do well to follow them.
quote:Showing is almost always stronger than telling.
One of the difficulties I am having with this discussion is that I agree you are right in probably the vast majority of the cases. But even you qualify the above with "almost." I think all writing benefits from timing and placement, but it is especially important for humor. My example may or may not be a good way to demonstrate this, but certainly there is humor that would benefit from the kind of timing I am using in my example.
I'm not sure I've explained this very well, so I'm not sure you understand what I'm getting at. The effects I'm talking about go well beyond just getting the "meekness" described effectively. They consist of twists, surprises, double-takes, double meanings, irony, and even characterization of a narrator.
I have no doubt that you are right about how to express the simple concept of "meekness" in regard to the character. But I'm interested in how we create effects using the meekness tag that go beyond simply conveying that he is meek.
quote:The fidgeting in your first rewrite doesn't convey a meek voice, which is imperative to what I was trying to do.
Actually, I think you're mistaking what I did for a re-write. If I were to re-write it, I would use a different action. I would have sought an action an action that did show meekness. Said is useless in that example because we know he owns the dialog due to the actions involved. After that, you can add whatever action you want to convey his meek voice.
I agree that you can use something other than said. I'm the one who posted the link to OSC article where he illustrated that point. I just don't think the "meekly" example is a good one, in this case.
I still feel OSC's statement is succinct.
"You should only replace said or include adverbs modifying said when the dialogue itself does not contain enough information to let the reader know how the words were spoken."
So, yes, "meekly" fits the criteria. But the part that really didn't work for me is that I don't think meek itself works in that scene. To me, meek implies humble, spiritless, and submissive--I have trouble fitting those into the scene that is described.
Again, I just don't like to use the word never when it comes to advice on writing.
[This message has been edited by lehollis (edited October 27, 2007).]
In photography as in writing, has rules of thumb, not laws. One must first understand the full powers of those rules of thumb before you can get the full effect of ignoring them. The problem with beginners is that they want to break the rules before they even understand what they are and why they exist.
I don't follow a lot of the rules of writing. I developed bad habits that have become part of my style. Of course, a big part of my problem was that I started writing long before I understood the rules and still don't know a lot of them.
One of the beauties of writing, especially in English, is that we have a lot of tools to work with. We just have to figure out how to use them to our advantage.
I know how I would like to write and should write, but when the urge to try to write that way comes over me, I shrug and go back to my normal style.
Did anyone get the true meaning of all those rules? It all comes down to letting the writing be hidden by the story. To write in a way that does not draw attention to itself, but the story you want the people to enjoy. The "rules" are an attempt to explain some of the ways to remove the writing from the story.
It's funny, but in the last four years there have been so many discussions of rules. Some people are determined that they are fine breaking whatever rule they want because they understand the cost...and too often they don't even understand the rule.
Which rules are good and which are bad is up to you. You will find out eventually which ones are good and bad by what the readers tell you. The best compliment I have ever had is when someone told me that my writing was almost transparent...I hope to hear it more often.