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Subject: "Ten fun writing fiction rules" Previous topic | Next topic
Mesg #90781 "Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
Author Info Member since Jun 13th 2002
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Date Sat May-05-12 12:25 PM
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Tue May-08-12 11:27 AMby Weird Jim

I just ran across this list. I thought it fun and instructive. I liked the comment on not using dialogue verbs other than 'said', although I may not entirely agree.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/feb/20/ten-rules-for-writing-fiction-part-one

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Replies to this topic
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Chaos, May 07th 2012, #1
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Weird Jim, May 07th 2012, #2
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Erin_M_H, May 07th 2012, #3
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, RavenCorbie, May 07th 2012, #4
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Weird Jim, May 08th 2012, #5
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Erin_M_H, May 08th 2012, #6
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, RavenCorbie, May 08th 2012, #9
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, bonniers, May 08th 2012, #7
           RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Erin_M_H, May 08th 2012, #8
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, CatrinP, May 09th 2012, #10
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Weird Jim, May 11th 2012, #11
Hissing, RavenCorbie, May 11th 2012, #12
      RE: Hissing, MarFisk, May 14th 2012, #14
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, godpantsminus, May 12th 2012, #13
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, mpv.muthu, Aug 11th 2012, #15
RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Laevus, Aug 13th 2012, #16
      RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Weird Jim, Aug 13th 2012, #17
           RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules, Laevus, Aug 13th 2012, #18

Mesg #90809 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Chaos     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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591 posts
Date Mon May-07-12 01:46 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

On the dialogue verbs: If a character shouts or whispers, the reader ought to know, especially if itīs important who heard him speak; I think thatīs a no-brainer.

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Mesg #90811 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon May-07-12 06:10 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

Mon May-07-12 06:33 PMby Weird Jim

>On the dialogue verbs: If a character
>shouts or whispers, the reader ought to
>know, especially if it�s important who
>heard him speak; I think that�s a
>no-brainer.

Perhaps, but I would like to asseverate that the article is correct in saying that anything other than 'said' is author comment (or author sticking their nose in).

Ok. So I had to copy paste that word.

Also, there are exceptions to every rule, so it's said.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90812 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon May-07-12 06:56 PM
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In response to Reply # 2

I disagree. The narrator's POV is no less valid for the manner of someone's speech than it is for the rest of the book. If my POV character says that his Aunt Maisy hisses in his ear at church, while his cousin Delia Mae whispers words she oughtn't, that's better in both cases than "said."

Why should we as writers be told to use the precise word, to say "strode" or "ambled" or "strolled" or "limped" rather than "walked" -- and then be told to forget all about specificity and nuance for dialogue tags? Why believe they are any less important?

-- Erin

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Mesg #90813 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author RavenCorbie     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Mon May-07-12 09:49 PM
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In response to Reply # 3

I agree. I also think there are times, perhaps rare, where the words don't indicate how the words are said. While an exclamation point can always indicate volume, there's still a difference between cheering loudly and, say, snarling loudly -- if the tone is *different* from what the reader expects, I don't know why you wouldn't put it in.

That said, I think one of the differences between "walk" and "said" is that we have the actual speech with a dialogue tag, whereas the verb IS the showing with other types of verbs. Without a movie, we can't see the character walking the same way we can see what their actual words are and the punctuation they, the characters, used. So, vivid, strong action verbs ARE showing for all actions except dialogue, whereas dialogue itself is the showing part of speech -- and then the dialogue tag becomes telling instead of showing.

Just as I think there are good times for both telling and showing of scenes/events, I think there are times when you need telling with dialogue as well, but I'm guessing that's one of the reasons for the "rule" and why it only applies to dialogue tags.

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Mesg #90816 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Tue May-08-12 11:26 AM
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In response to Reply # 3

Tue May-08-12 11:28 AMby Weird Jim

Aunt Maisy hisses in his ear at church

A simple typo could make this quite funny.

However, I went looking for something that would bolster the 'no' side, and look what I found, and by whom.

http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/said.shtml

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90817 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Tue May-08-12 12:47 PM
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In response to Reply # 5

Sure, verbs can be misused, as can adverbs. And so can pages and pages of showing something where only a sentence or two of telling would suffice for the story at hand.


Most of the time, I use said/asked/replied/answered, a related sentence of action ("She slammed the pot down onto the stove, wincing as it cracked the glass cooking top."), or skip attribution entirely. I'm just saying I'm not banning a whole group of words from my writing merely because they're out of fashion with writers (I've yet to hear some non-writing reader complain).

-- Erin

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Mesg #90824 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author RavenCorbie     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Tue May-08-12 11:42 PM
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In response to Reply # 5

Hmmm...

One of these caught my notice: snarled.

Why? Because in the last Dresden Files book I read, I remember thinking, "Gosh, why does he have to <i>snarl</i> everything?"

Which means that I agree . . . it did take me out of the story, but only because that one word was used SO frequently. I actually didn't notice all the snarling until it really became obsessive. To be honest, I also notice all other words that an author repeats over and over again. I know I do it with "manage to" -- my characters are ALWAYS managing to do something, sometimes multiple times per page. It's not a Verb-of-Speaking (to riff off a common Russian issue with Verbs-of-Motion), but still a problem.

I think the key is here, though (from the article you linked to):

"You can use said bookisms once in a while. Think of them as those little silver candies you use for decorating cookies. If you put dozens of them on one cookie, the cookie looks silly and is hard to eat. Like the silver candies, use these phrases carefully and use them only on special occasions. Characters can occasionally shout or murmur something."

I think this is what Erin and I are saying. We agree that there's a problem if they're overused; we don't agree that they should NEVER be used. It's a problem if you're just trying to be "cute" or artsy and use synonyms because you think "said" is boring. But sometimes, the synonym brings in the POV flavor or a specific nuance that you really can't get from the words. This is especially true when the MANNER of speaking is opposite or different from the direct meaning of the words. And that is an excellent way of portraying subtext, and a subtle form of conflict.

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Mesg #90818 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author bonniers     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Tue May-08-12 02:42 PM
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In response to Reply # 3

Tue May-08-12 02:44 PMby bonniers

Yes, if you need a dialogue tag, you should use it, but tags aren't necessary nearly as often as most writers seem to think.

In most cases, you don't need to describe either how the person walked or how they talked. What is said, or what is done, is usually more important than how it was said or done. (Not always, of course. I'm not into universal rules, no matter how cute and funny lists like that are.)

In action, you probably wouldn't want to say "He limped across the room" unless you wanted to remind us that the hero was, say, a partly disabled veteran. You'd be more likely to say, "Despite the crowds, he had returned with the drinks before she finished repairing the damage to her shoe." That he had to walk across the room to get the drink is probably secondary in most stories.

Similarly, with dialogue, an action or thought is usually more informative than a dialogue tag.

Despite the crowds, he had returned with the drinks before she finished repairing the damage to her shoe. 'I hope it's cold enough. The bartender was hoarding ice cubes against the coming global shortage.'

To his relief, she laughed. 'That was a feeble joke, but thank you for trying.'


Overusing dialogue tags makes your prose seem florid and overwritten. It's like the "every verb with its adverb" problem -- the problem is neither the adverb nor the tag, it's poor writing. It's simpler to ban every use than it is to learn how to write crisp sentences and good dialogue with effective tags.

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Mesg #90819 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Erin_M_H     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Tue May-08-12 04:05 PM
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In response to Reply # 7

Yes, I agree completely. As I said to Weird Jim just above, "Most of the time, I use said/asked/replied/answered, a related sentence of action ('She slammed the pot down onto the stove, wincing as it cracked the glass cooking top.'), or skip attribution entirely."

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Mesg #90827 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author CatrinP     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Wed May-09-12 07:57 PM
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In response to Reply # 1

To throw another point of view out there.

The last time I wrote 'said' as a dialogue tag was 2005 in a first draft.

I avoid both 'said' AND saidisms (shouted, snarled, etc.) The most I will use is 'whispered' on rare occasions.

Instead of dialogue tags I use action or descriptive beats. I also make sure the dialogue matches the tone of voice.

I do use growled, snarled, moaned, hissed and the like but without dialogue. These are actions my characters (most of them werewolves and vampies) do that are not associated with words they speak.

But that is my 'rule' for me. I don't expect anyone else to apply it to themselves.

  

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Mesg #90834 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Fri May-11-12 06:03 PM
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In response to Reply # 0

Now all that having been 'said' (grin), I doubt very much if it would throw most people out of your story if you used bookisms as long as it was a good story, well told, with continuity and transitions enough to keep the reader oriented to what is going on.

Famous writers have used dialogue verb tags. Jack London being one, and being aware I found myself trying to visulise one of his characters as he snorted a remark. But I also realised that it characterised the man, putting him in a negative light. You can't really hiss a remark, either, but if a character 'hissed' something, this also would characterise.

However, I still think avoiding them where possible, is a good idea that makes for better writing. It's probably OK to use them in the first draft, otherwise the storytelling could suffer if you get stuck trying to avoid them.

Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #90835 "Hissing"
Author RavenCorbie     Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Fri May-11-12 08:19 PM
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In response to Reply # 11

That reminds me . . . The "hissing" thing has been bothering me, actually. I don't think it's impossible. I've always interpreted it as a more breathy-than-normal whisper -- that is, a really harsh whisper, which turns all vowels into sibilants. I know I've certainly heard people talk that way.

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Mesg #90859 "RE: Hissing"
Author MarFisk     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Mon May-14-12 12:41 AM
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In response to Reply # 12

It's not only possible, but if you look up hiss, only one of the definitions requires "s"s. That's one of the "writers and editors leap on" items that has grown beyond its correct roots.

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Mesg #90840 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author godpantsminus     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list Click to send message via AOL IM
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Date Sat May-12-12 03:16 AM
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In response to Reply # 0

I may have missed it on the multitude of lists provided, but I think i may have stumbled onto a rule for writing fiction:

"Never go to bed inspired."

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Mesg #91322 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author mpv.muthu     Click to send email to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Sat Aug-11-12 11:16 AM
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In response to Reply # 0

The link is good and reveals many practical views of several established writers. Fine to learn and follow what was shared by the seniors.

mpv.muthu

  

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Mesg #91344 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Laevus     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Aug-13-12 08:50 AM
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In response to Reply # 15

That was an interesting read for someone just starting to step into the expansive and scary world of writing like myself.

I was quite surprised by the "only use said" point that has been discussed already here, and it certainly wouldn't enter into my own personal rule book. I would however be careful not to use things like snarled too often as that is a personal pet peeve that I've seen some authors over use. In my opinion, use said as sparingly as you would any other speech related word.

Another tip from the list that stood out to me was one author stating that they actively avoided similes and metaphors. I have to admit that I sometimes feel that I'm forcing some of those into my writing (and then promptly cut them after) but other times they fit nicely to set a scene. I didn't think they were that evil, but I guess it's another case of making up your own rules.

Something I've had to stop myself doing recently is starting with the weather. I have some opening paragraphs that I feel have their mood and atmosphere defined by the weather, and they'll probably stay, but it's too easy to do and a habit I need to stop!

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Mesg #91345 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Weird Jim     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Aug-13-12 10:52 AM
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In response to Reply # 16

>Something I've had to stop myself doing
>recently is starting with the weather. I
>have some opening paragraphs that I feel
>have their mood and atmosphere defined by
>the weather, and they'll probably stay,
>but it's too easy to do and a habit I need
>to stop!

I think perhaps these rules should be looked upon as guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. With your weather, does it come as an author directly addressing the reader, or does it involve a character and an effect on that character's behviour? Is the character perhaps battling a snowstorm that will cause exhasution and problems in fighting the monster that's hiding in the rear of the sheltering cave. In other words, is it part of the story?

Perhaps, as the author, you need to know the weather just to get a feel of how your character feels. It can always be deleted in revision.




Weird Jim

"Good reading is the only test of good writing"
Robertson Davies. A voice from the attic 1960

  

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Mesg #91347 "RE: Ten fun writing fiction rules"
Author Laevus     Click to send email to this author Click to send private message to this author Click to view this author's profile Click to add this author to your buddy list
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Date Mon Aug-13-12 12:20 PM
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In response to Reply # 17

The first story I used it on was to set the scene. I described the weather, the scenery and then got to the character as he entered the scene. It felt right at the time, but the weather had nothing to with the story.

The second time was the weather reflecting the main character's mood as he was introduced and setting the atmosphere for his unhappy state. It doesn't affect his character and has nothing to do with the story, but it just feels right to start with blustery winds, muted sun and erratic rainfall marking someone who has just lost a loved one that is feeling similar dark madness inside.

The third and fourth times I did it felt like a habit as I couldn't think of any other way to begin the story, and that's when I realised I need to be careful not to overuse it as an intro. I've started several other paragraphs and stories recently without it, but I do really like using the weather to set a scene and give a feeling for the tone and mood that is happening/going to happen there.

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