Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Elgaisma, Aug 7, 2010.
How important is it to use he said/she said or its equivelent in a back and forth conversation?
It is important to let your reader know who is speaking. You don't want them to get lost in translation.
And if you want to avoid the redundancy of using he said/she said, try these two approaches:
1. Let the reader discriminate between certain characters by giving them different vocabularies. For example, have one speak slag and have the other speak a more refined choice of words.
And 2. Use descriptive tags between strings of dialogue. Describe what your character is doing while he/she is talking. This will enable the reader to escape the whole entrapment of he said/she said; the back and forth ping-pong monotony.
I hope this helps.
Dialogue tagging can be tricky at first. That said, using "said" is always infinitely preferable to using a hokey synonym like "uttered" or "alleged" or, God forbid, "cried." If you use dialect effectively, as Taylee said, and you only have two or three people in each conversation, then tagging won't be an issue. Also, you could try making the characters occasionally address each other by name. That can come in handy when you have a particularly lengthy exchange, so the reader doesn't forget who is who and you don't have to use another dialogue tag.
Yes, exactly. Have your characters address each other. And yes "utter" is definitely a no-no. Also, try to reserve "cry" in the most tragic scenes.
He said and she said are dialogue tags. What you describe here, actions by the speaker mixed in with the dialogue, are called beats.
Both are great ways to indicate who is speaking. Once you have a dialogue established between two people, you can simply alternate speakers with only an occasional reminder of who is speaking.
If you have three or more participants in a conversation, you need to make it clear wo is speaking each time the speaker changes.
Rarely, yoou can even omit tags and beats in a multi-speaker conversation. In some cases, it's not necessary to clearly know who said what, as long as the reader knows someone said it. Other times, it may be clear just who said it because of what is being said. For example, if one person is arguing with two or three other people sided against him; his part of the conversation will be clear by what he says. Or perhaps one person is talking at cross purposed to the rest of the conversation, so everything she says stands out because of how off-topic it is.
In dialogue, you should always start a new paragraph when the speaker changes. Although some writing guides accept mixing dialogue from more than one person in the same paragraph for short speech fragments, it's nearly always unwise.
Thanks all its making a huge difference to my dialogue
Scratch the "infinitely" (that's just hyperbole) and put "nearly" before "always" and this becomes a true statement. There are times when "uttered" or other tags can be used effectively (admittedly, the examples I can think of right now are in the context of comedy or parody). But I think it's silly to tell writers that there are certain words they must never use or certain techniques that are to be avoided at all costs because they are always always always terrible. Often what happens when one says that is that some brilliant writer comes along and uses those words or techniques wonderfully and proves one wrong.
It's fine to advise a novice to just use "said" as a tag because it helps them avoid embarrassing themselves when they're just getting going. But laying down the law to a Shakespeare or a Joyce or a Nabokov is just going to get you laughed at, and - who knows? - there might be someone of that caliber reading this forum. (Probably not, but it's nice to think so ...)
I'm not saying that those words don't have their place. It's just that a novice (who hasn't yet reached the level of Nabokov or Tolstoy or Dostoevsky) shouldn't be trying to break the rules until he's mastered them. I just don't want the original poster to get the wrong idea. It's generally accepted that "said" is better than these other, more flamboyant verbs because it's what people expect. It doesn't get in the way of the dialogue. Most people don't even see "said" when they read fiction, at least not on a conscious level.
And if a character is "uttering" something, he had better be a cow.
Relieved to see this post lol just been agonising over I splutter, 'What?' Its a semi comic scene, and I actually think it works may just leave it lol And I have some hollering which works well
A Shakespeare. a Joyce, or a Nabokov would probably nod gravely and remain silent. They were accomplished writers who knew the importance of teaching fundamentals.
If you are teaching laws of motion to first year physics students, you teach F=ma as if it were an absolute law with no exceptions. You do not get into the adjustments necessary for high velocity or subatomic scale, because those complications will only confuse a student at that level. When they are fully proficient in Newtonian mechanics, they have the sophistication to understand the discrepancies that resulted in the refinemenys of quantum mechanics and general relativity. The brightest of the students may even see some of the discrepancies before they are taught them, but they still will grasp the value of the Newtonian formula for ordinary conditions.
New writers should learn the best prctices of writings as near-absolutes. When they incorporate them automatically in their writing, they will be properly aware when they choose to step outside the guidelines for a particular effect.
The question you should ask yourself when you feel the need to argue against the guidelines is, "Am I doing so because a novice needs to know the rule is 'soft', or am I showing off?"
Now, I don't think most of the people who object to presenting guidelines in a simpke form intend to show off, but I don't think most of them consider how confusing a lack of clear direction can be.
It as to be a balancing act, between presenting so many options there is no way for a novice to find a workable approach, and marking such a narrow path that the novice doesn't learn creativity. I believe the urge to experiment is sufficiently strong that the latter danger is practically nonexistent.
I think you are both right, I have gone back over my manuscript and changed things accordingly. I learned a lot reading Islander's work.
However sometimes a descriptive phrase especially in junior fiction works really well. Whilst I am not talking down to anyone the language in the dialogue needs to be understood by a 10 year old. I looked at my first seven chapters, and some he said/she saids have come out. As well as most of the descriptive words. It all sounds and looks better. However in some places holler works well. Spat out works in its context, and the splutter is really important could do with a better word but have yet to find one lol
Experimentation is important if you want to be good at anything. Especially in something like writing because your work has to stand out. Shakespeare, Grassic Gibbon, Burns and Joyce experimented and you see the progression of their work.
Cogito, when I studied physics we did not learn that F=ma was an "absolute law with no exceptions." That's simply a lie; as you pointed out, there are scenarios in which it is simply wrong. Not wrong as in "in the opinion of most educated and well-read people, 'said' is better than 'uttered'", but demonstrably wrong, in that it yields results that do not agree with experiment, that do not agree with nature itself. Absolutely wrong. The analogy of physics and writing doesn't hold.
What I responded to - objected to - in Fedora's post was his insistence that "said" is "always infinitely preferable", meaning that there are no exceptions ever. That, in my view, is a dangerous thing to teach novices - it's simply a lie, and it implies that literature is smaller and less interesting than it actually is.
I agree that, in most cases, "said" is good enough, and novices are likely to go astray if they try to use more colorful tags, but darn it, monks can chant and witches can cackle and high priests can intone and werewolves and Allen Ginsberg can howl. And literature is richer if we let them.
I do remember sitting in a physics class being told to forget anything we had learned at school. I never did physics at school lol skipped straight to degree level, when my brain was functioning turned out to be pretty good. Like my writing I accidently walked into Astronmy and Physics.
If I'd paid attention to the basics I wouldn't now be writing in first person, present tense from the point of view of a teenage boy.
Is it good enough for publication I don't know, but the people that read my work enjoy it, so the experiment has been worth it
only if it's spelled with 'd's, instead of 't's!
"Moooo," the cow uttered.
There! Another common misperception out the window!
Terrible joke, I know. xD
On a serious note, though, Cogito has a good point. You have to set some guidelines for writers who are just starting out. Once they get the hang of it, they can do what they wish. There's no sense teaching a first year science student that the law of conservation of mass is technically incorrect, that it should really be the law of conservation of mass and energy. That sort of understanding can come later. It's not as if you're lying to the student: you're just trying to get his foot in the door, so that when he's ready to take things a step further he already understands some of the logic behind it. Too many gaudy synonyms for "said" will usually detract from a piece of writing more than they can help it.
Having said that I struggled with maths and physics at high school, but managed well at degree level.
If you have a good grasp of reading, writing, arthimetic and algebra you can learn almost anything you choose for yourself.
I was told that too, and thought, "Yes! I've got a headstart!"
LOL that was my reaction, I was the only one that passed the first test. I had no bad habits to unlearn.
I wonder if sticking too rigidly to writing rules actually gives you too many bad habits, and you can't be as flexible as your story needs.
It's easier to form a bad habit than break one.
I think you are right, because of the style of my novel I need to break rules or it will be a disaster. I am writing first person present tense and my character is a seventeen year old boy, from another world lol I find the descriptive words I have used are relevant because you wouldn't say he said/she said to yourself very often, but you would register a holler and how it sounded. You would splutter if the girl you have never slept with asks you to marry her. It resonates better with what is happening in his brain.
But my basic skills need to be reasonable, I think its good I don't have too many habits or it wouldn't be working as well. When I am writing third person I am more traditional in my approach.
Thank you everyone this thread has improved my manuscript no end I was pleased with it now I am delighted
why is "utter" a no no?
It sounds too formal for a short story. The connotation is off; it's a word better suited to a courtroom than to a novel.
oh! I see. thanks. I must say I haven't really used that word much and right now I can't remember where or how I've used it so I guess I've been doing alright unknowingly
while it's a good word to use in narrative, if appropriate to the writer's 'voice' [Not a word was uttered by onlookers, following the boy's astonishing display of poor sportsmanship.], i agree it's not a good choice for a dialog tag...
Separate names with a comma.