Sunday, May 27, 2012

I Say/Exclaim/Pronounce!

"Let's talk about dialogue tags," he said.

"Let's talk about dialogue tags," he instructed.

Which sounds better? (Hint: it's the first one.)

I had a conversation with someone about dialogue tags recently. He favored tags like "asked," "exclaimed," and the like; I said that "said" was almost always the right choice. Look at these and see which one makes more sense and reads better:

"What do you think about dialogue tags?" he said.

"What do you think about dialogue tags?" he asked.

I think the first one sounds better and eliminates redundancy. Readers will know that the person asked something because there's a question mark at the end of the sentence. The writer doesn't need to reinforce that idea. The same is true for exclamation marks. "I love dialogue tags!" he exclaimed. That's just as redundant.

A few months ago, I downloaded a mystery/thriller for my Kindle and had to stop reading less than a quarter of the way in. Among the novel's distracting faults was that people hardly ever said anything. They "asked," "interjected," "opined," "interrrupted," etc. Sprinkling in a different dialogue tag is understandable. Using them all the time is terrible.

The worst dialogue tag in history, however, was one even the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle used often. In Conan Doyle's more innocent times, writers could get away with it. The tag was "ejaculated," used as a synonym for "exclaimed." Dialogue between Watson and Holmes would go something like . . .

"Extraordinary!" I ejaculated.
"Elementary," said he.

I dare say that, in our less innocent age, the use of "ejaculated" as a dialogue tag certainly makes the scenes read differently. Of course, if Watson had to indulge Holmes his surliness and cocaine use, perhaps Holmes had to deal with Watson's peccadilloes as well.

"Happy writing," I said.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Celebration Day

My sister graduated from Dickinson over the weekend. Even though I'm pretty sure she doesn't read my little writing blog, let me say that I'm very proud of her. She graduated summa cum laude and got accepted into Phi Beta Kappa. On June 4, she starts a real job that pays a real wage. She has her life a lot more together than I did at her age.

Because I'm a wirter, the pomp and circumstance of graduation made me ponder some things. How would yuor favorite protagonists or characters (villains included) describe the ceremony? What would differ in their accounts? What details would one harp on while the other overlooked entirely? Would one snore thru the speeches while another sat in rapt attention? Which character would point out the perks of being in a college town during a warm weekend in May?

It's easy for us to go to something like a graduation and describe it to others after the fact. We're doing that thru our own filters. An interesting writing exercise is to take an event and describe it as one of your characters would. I have one protagonist who would no doubt focus on the plethora of pretty girls in short summer dresses. Another would think the whole thing a dog and pony show meant more for the school to pat itself on the back than for the graduates. Each of them would notice a lot (the second character would notice more) but report on different things in scenes written from their viewpoints.

What significant events (let's stick to positive ones) have taken place in your life recently? I'm sure you described them to your family and friends. Now go back and figure out how your favorite character would describe that same scene. The results might surprise you, but regardless, doing it is good practice for writing in that character's voice.

Congratulations and love to my sister, and happy writing.