Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chit-chat Labels

Here are some snippets of ideas I've pulled together from recent conversa- tions about beats and tags on some of the writing loops I frequent. (Hmmm . . . sounds like I may need a 12-Step program.):

• Give me clean dialogue. I don't need too many pieces of body language to make it more visual.

• PLEASE! Never use animal sounds. These would include, but are not limited to: growled; purred; snarled or chirped.

• English is a complicated language that has borrowed, with considerable trouble, bits and pieces of other languages in an attempt to capture the most vivid word available. Don't limit the writer to "said." PLEASE! Convey an impression, even if it means using an animal sound. (Do you see where this could get confusing?)

• Many tags and beats are simply author intrusion. Don't manipulate your characters. EVERYTHING, outside of the actual words being spoken, should be geared toward the character themselves, not HOW they said what they said. Think expression, stance, movement. (This would include the descriptive term "husked", which I must admit not to having seen recently. I must be reading the right stuff.)

• Sometimes an adverb is preferable to fifteen words to get there. Unless, of course, you're being paid by the word. (Just kidding.)

• The worst of the worst? "No," she denied. And, "Yes," he agreed.

• For the most part, delete those fancy verbs. To name a few, shouted, intoned, chirped (where have I heard that before?), fluted, shrieked, purred, whispered, hissed, oiled, chuckled, screeched, murmured, sneered, bellowed . . . you get the drift. (And don't tell me you haven't used any of them.)

• If you think you're using "said" too often, consider whether or not you have an opportunity to show who the speaker is in a different way. With two people, it's easy. (But I know there've been many occasions when I've had to backtrack with my finger to figure out who said what.)

My personal theory is that it's the new writers, the ones who are still wet behind the ears, who FORCE themselves to never use the word "said." Sometimes, it's the perfect tool. It lets the story slip like silk into whatever is next. Don't neglect the ambiguous quality of the word.

What's harder for me is the concept of making each of your character's speech patterns so unique tags are unnecessary. I see a lot of problems with this one, but can appreciate the characterization component. I think you risk going over the top, but if that's your character? Who am I to say don't do it?

It's all better with friends.

1 comment:

  1. Conflicting advice abounds. And we wade through it and hope to find our voice.