Wednesday, May 11, 2011

That's What She Said

While reading through one of the Facebook groups for writers, The Writer's Dock Party, I saw a post about the use of the word "said". It struck me as something that  I should address here today. Words such as "said" and "asked" are known as dialog attribution. "Said" and "asked" are the most common and (in my humble opinion) the best to use when writing dialog.

Here is a sample from my book RISE OF MAGICK :
“I know that’s where he wants to go but it’s not a good idea, Percy,” Kara said.
Tarver heard a whispered response but couldn’t make out the words. He moved closer.
 “You’re full of it sometimes too, you know,” Kara said.
“It’s the only way to escape them anyway,” Percy said and the glow disappeared before Tarver reached them.
 “Escape who?” Tarver asked.
“The nomads tracking you,” Kara hefted her pack and crossbow across her shoulder and said, "Did you plan on filling me in on that part or just letting them take me down when they caught us?”
“I was hoping we would stay ahead of them. Figured what you didn’t know wouldn’t hurt you.” Tarver paused, “How does Percy know about the nomads?”
“He has his ways. If we are going to travel together, you can’t hide stuff like this.”
Tarver ran a hand through his hair. He looked down the shaft as if searching for an answer or some sort of a response.
Kara continued, “Percy said we have to go Down-Shaft.”“Down shaft?”
“Yeah, that’s the only way we can get away from them if they track you this far,” Kara said, “Besides, this is the way to Sylth’s lair. You can follow me or wait here and see if the nomads can survive the storm.”
“You don’t sound too happy about going down that hole,” Tarver said, “Do you think Sylth will help us?”
“What’s this ‘us’? I agreed to get you there. After that, you’re solo.”
“Sounds good to me. Is Percy joining us or what?”
“That’s up to Percy. And as far as being happy about going Down-Shaft,” Kara said, “That’s where the demons creep around and I don’t like dealing with Sylth. I’ve always avoided it.” 
As you can see, there are no big punches to add feeling to the words spoken. It is "said" , "asked" and "continued". Did you also notice that many of the lines have no dialog attribution at all? I have been accused of leaving it out more often than I should. But I feel we should follow the advice of Misters Strunk and White - Omit needless words. If it is clear who is speaking and if the tone was set in the beginning... Then identifying the speaker is needless.

If you have a WIP or a completed work, go through it and see where you used something other than "said" or "asked". Replace whatever pumped up, over the top word you used (or phrase if you are prone, as I once was, to using adverbial phrases to really give that statement power.) with the word "said". See how it reads. Read it out loud.
Is it clear?
Is the feeling conveyed?
No? Then go back and rewrite the scene so that it is clear. Don't take the shortcut of using "screamed at the top of her lungs" when you should have described the scene well enough for the reader to know she screamed it and how she screamed it.

I promise if you go back and rewrite the scenes and use the common dialog attribution of "said" and "asked", your writing will look more polished and professional. Still don't believe me? Pick up one of your favorite books. Flip through until you come to a nice chunk of dialog.
What dialog attribution is used there? Still not convinced? Grab another one and do the same thing.
Now do you see it? 
Rewrite the scene and have one of your trusted readers read the original and then the polished version. See which one they like better. It will take some getting used to but it is worth it.

Until next time.... WRITE!

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