May 10, 2013

He said, she said

One of the "rules" of writing I learned in my critique group from my days of living in Florida (besides the one that goes, "There are no rules"), is not to get caught writing.

I was reading a book late last year, and while I found the storyline entertaining, something about the book irked me for a reason I couldn't identify, and I ended up closing the file and opening another book  I opened the file again a few days ago, read a few pages, and this time the problem came to me right away.

No one in the novel says anything.

Yes, there is dialogue, but the writer has made a concentrated effort to avoid using the word, "said." The characters drawl, stammer, murmur, greet, guffaw, assert, mumble, mutter, prompt, and decline, among other things.  They also make a lot of actions before or after speaking that make dialog tags unnecessary: swallow, laugh, grin, and chuckle (they do a lot of this, so much that an "ly" word usually accompanies it for variety), grimace, wink, shake their heads, snort, smirk, gasp, nod, scowl, and stare.  But they hardly ever just say anything.

This author got caught writing, i.e., taking special pains to avoid the word, "said," and it's driving me nuts!  I've only seen two other authors who do this.  Call me obsessive-compulsive, but once I realize this, I start making special note of the creative ways they tried not to use this word rather than paying attention to what's going on...and I put the book away.

Guess I'd better find something else to read.

Don't get caught writing.

What will make you not enjoy a book to the point where you close it forever?


Deatri said...

I'm the opposite. I don't like speaker tags. Most of the time you can skip them all together.

With said. It can be used or not. But I don't want to see it used over and over and over just as I don't want to see any other speaker tag used over and over. Mix them up.

Now what does annoy me is using pronouns for the start of almost every sentence.

Melissa Blue said...

Here's the problem I've faced when getting critiques, betas or edits (or giving them): everyone follows the rules. Or parrots them back because it's what they learned is "good" writing. We are not reading the book as readers. We're reading them with our author/professional hat on. Not the same experience at all. You pick up on things or question them when most folks will accept it as is.

Readers are smart. Most don't need to be hit in the head with a two-by-four to get your point across.

But, what makes me run, not walk away from a book? A prologue. lol Most I see are there because the author doesn't trust the reader to
get something about the book or character. And at that point I feel like there will be a lot of redundant points made. Unfortunately, I'm right 99 percent of the time. That small 1 percent, those authors gain a fan for life.

bettye griffin said...

Deatri, I agree that a nice mix works best. Repeated use of "said" is just as bad as obvious efforts to avoid it! Pronouns don't bother me, but I hate when I see a bunch of sentences that begin with "ly" words ("Merrily we roll along, etc.)

You're so right, Mel! I read as a writer, and it does make a Big Difference. Regarding prologues, I've been hearing people say more and more often that they don't like them. I was going to use a prologue in my upcoming women's fiction, Secrets & Sins, but now I think I'll just make it Chapter One.

Thanks for commenting, ladies!