Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Writing Lessons--We Don't Need No Steenkin' Said!

A large portion of this post is an excerpt from:

This excerpt is used with permission. My comments are in red, and marked with **. I quoted Morgan Hawke extensively because I see no reason to re-invent the wheel.

Between us, Morgan and I have published well over 45 e-books, and I stopped counting the print books after seven. Keep in mind both Morgan and I earn enough to support ourselves with our writing. We're not the ultimate authority, nor do we speak for every publisher. If the publisher you work with allows dialogue tags, then feel free to use them. Our publishers don't.

However, Morgan has a reputation for not sparing anyone's feelings. I can guarantee someone will be offended by this post and take exception. If you continue reading this post, then do so with the clear understanding that everyone has an opinion, and you don't have to agree. There is no need for a war over opinions.

Frustration is a BAD thing to generate in your readers. Books that frustrate (poor grammar, limp dialogue, wishy-washy action, weak description, over-blown description...etc.) are tossed against a wall. The technical term is: Wall-Bangers.… Another thing that drives me crazy, is dialogue that's hard to follow, without something to keep the reader on track as to who is talking (ala Hemingway)."~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~I absolutely, positively agree. Line after line of unidentifiable dialogue is LOATHSOME. **Not only loathesome, but it guarantees confusion.**Readers are good for putting a book down - to light a cigarette, go to the potty, eat a bagel, pour a cup of coffee, talk on the phone, watch TV, go to sleep…etc. Then picking the book back up again in any given location.If the reader has to backtrack to figure out who the heck is doing (or saying) what - for any reason - you did it WRONG.And your book hits the wall with a resounding BANG!First rule when writing Advertising Copy:NEVER ASSUME THE READER KNOWS WHAT THE HECK YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT.#1 Rule in the Military:IF IT - CAN - BE MISUNDERSTOOD,IT – WILL - BE MISUNDERSTOOD.
Applied to Fiction:
**This is Murphy's Law for Writers: It will be misunderstood unless you give the reader enough detail to ensure they know exactly what is going on.**

The Reader always sees what THEY want to see - unless you force them to see something else. Readers that don't know what's really going on will just make whatever assumptions comes to mind - then get confused when you start detailing the action again.But reading a million and one "He said..." / "She said..." or remarked...etc. is equally as Loathsome. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy Beginner writing.

**When you use "said, asked, murmured," and the host of other non-emotive dialogue tags, you are not only "telling" not showing, you are wasting an opportunity to enrich your story with detail and emotion.** I write my dialogue without using "said" tags, unless I am actually describing a change in voice, tone or volume in the same paragraph. And even then I avoid them. I use the speaker's actions to define who is speaking to whom. I use ACTION TAGS.

**Morgan and I both use action tags and will not use dialogue tags.** What the heck is an Action Tag?BODY LANGUAGELanguage is Visual not just a bunch of words. Watch the average conversation between two people. 90% of that conversation isn't in what's spoken, it's in what they are DOING as they are speaking. It's in their Body Language. Body-language cues the reader as to what is going on in a character’s head – in ADDITION to dialogue and internal narrative.

Don't just SAY it! ~ SHOW IT!
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~“I love you too.” She rolled her eyes and sighed dramatically. “Oh yes, I truly do love you.”“I love you too.” She dropped her chin and pouted. “Oh yes, I truly do love you.”“I love you too.” She glared straight at him. “Oh yes, I truly do love you.”“I love you too.” She turned away and wiped the tear from her cheek. “Oh yes, I truly do love you.”~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Body-language cues the reader as to what is going on in a character’s head – in ADDITION to dialogue and internal narrative. **Note the emotions are different for each example, and very clear." Example:“Amun, what are you doing out of your suite? It’s not safe.”Amun abruptly pushed away from Luxi.Luxi gasped as her mind suddenly returned to her in a tangle of heat and confusion. What had just happened?Amun blushed and frowned past her shoulder in annoyance. “Your timing is utterly inconvenient.”“So I see.” A tall man in a dark bodysuit strode past Luxi, toward Amun. A long tail of distinctive silver hair fell to the center of his back. He came to a sudden stop and turned around. His steel gray eyes widened then narrowed. His face was cast in deep shadows under the lamplights, but there was no mistaking who he was. “Well, hello Luxi. Cheating on me already?”Leto? Luxi winced and turned away in painful embarrassment. Fate and Glory, it figured… The only two men she’d kissed in several cycles would know each other.Ars frowned at Leto. “You know Luxi?”“Quite well, actually.” Leto’s smile was thin and sharp. “We shared a tramway car.”Oh you bastard… Her cheeks heated with a sudden rush of hot memory. End Example.From "Fortune's Star" - by Morgan Hawke

Don't just SAY it! ~ SHOW IT!

Description in your FictionToo many conversations read like a TV show with the picture too snowy to see anything clearly. Hell, too much FICTION is written that way too. (Sigh.)If you want to write Fiction with clarity, you have to VISUALIZE what is happening in your head. Play the scene out in your imagination and view it, just like a movie. If it shows up in your mind's eye - it belongs on the page.

**The beauty of using action tags is that your work lengthens considerably when you use action tags, yet you are not wasting space bludgeoning the reader with boring introspection while you rehash exactly what their emotions are in a scene. By showing the emotions clearly by character action you create a tight, well written dialogue that moves the reader along the plot. She identifies with the characters smoothly, and nothing pulls her out to remind her of reality.**Okay, so where was my Setting description in that hunk of dialogue, you may ask? It was at the BEGINNING of this scene, (which was not posted.) I do what they do in the movies: I Set the Stage at the beginning of every scene THEN put the actors and action in. This way the setting does not bog down either the action or the dialogue.Morgan

If you want to see what a publisher has to say about "said," please go here:


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