Apparently no matter what bug happens to be going around, I’ll get it. Last time it was the stomach bug, and I got that. Then a cold went around, and now I’ve got that. I still feel pretty terrible, but it’s getting better as time goes on. The last few days I’ve literally felt like a zombie. Everything hurt and when I walked around it was more like “trudging”, complete with the occasional grunt and moan. My skin might not have been rotting off the bone, but it sure felt like it.
The worst thing about being sick is that my brain seriously does not work. Most would think “Hey, you’re sick, you have nothing better to do, you can write!”, and I can’t. I try, but nothing comes. I just can’t think well when I feel like that, and the most I can do is force out an article for my job. Even then, that probably looks like crap, but oh well.
So what do I do while I’m sick? I lay on the couch and watch things on TV that I would never watch otherwise. On the worst day, I watched about 3 hours straight of The Next Great Baker and Cake Boss. And I wanted to eat cake all day. I got really sick of loud Italian voices though. It kept me busy though, so I can’t really complain. When it wasn’t on anymore, I didn’t know what to do with myself. Sad, right?
The one creative thing I’ve been doing is some drawing. I’m terrible at it, but I’m on a friend’s art forum and they’re doing this little “Feb-A-Thon” thing where you upload something you’ve drawn everyday. It’s fun, and I decided to play along, even though in comparison to the other artists there my stuff looks like a 3-year-old drew it. It’s better than nothing though, because I need to keep my brain working somehow.
Since I know you’re wondering how badly I draw, here. It’s a character from something I’m working on, so while it’s garbage, at least it helps me visualize and keep writing.
- Who Won ‘Next Great Baker’? (huffingtonpost.com)
If you just sat down to read this and haven’t read part A of this installment yet, please click here. This installment will talk more about how you can use dialogue to augment your writing, while the last part explained how to create strong, believable dialogue.
So how can you use dialogue to your advantage? Dialogue is just dialogue, right? You need it one way or another; it isn’t an extraneous addition. That’s completely true, but that doesn’t mean you’re required to think inside the box. Like anything, dialogue is a tool, and tools are there for you to use in a variety of ways. Before I get into anything fancy, though, I want to bring out one more point that I believe is key to creating quality dialogue.
First off, note that what I’m going to say here isn’t what your writing teacher told you. It isn’t what the “experts” will tell you. In spite of that, I’m right. That sounds more than a little conceited, but I’m deadly serious here, and I’m by far not the only one who holds the same view on this. What am I talking about?
“When writing dialogue attributions, almost always use said.”
It’s likely you’ve heard that before. The argument behind this “staple writing rule” is that said is invisible to the reader, and that using other verbs for dialogue is distracting and useless to your reader. There is merit behind this mindset—I don’t deny that. However, it’s a very robotic way of thinking. How should you look at it? Well that’s up to you, and in the end, your personal writing style is what matters. Let’s dive into this a little deeper.
There are pros and cons behind using only said. I’m not going to draw up a list here, because it’s not that clear-cut. When you use said, it is generally invisible. It’s the simplest attribution there is; it’s telling the reader who just “said” the last chunk of dialogue. There’s nothing wrong with that, however as a writer, you should never overuse a word. It doesn’t matter what that word is—said is subject to that rule just like anything else.
Said is not invisible when you use it too much.
Some might argue against that train of thought, but you can’t argue against what a reader sees when they read your work. I was a reader before I was a writer, and when I read a “well respected” author and saw said used over and over and over… I saw those attributions. It bugged me, and that was back when I was fairly young. It bugs me even more so now. It’s lazy. It’s a cop-out that uses the “expert opinion” as a fallback crutch.
But what if you don’t use said? What if you use screamed, or cried, or whispered? What if you take into account what’s happening in the scene before choosing what attribution to use? There’s nothing exactly wrong with that, however you don’t want to be redundant.
If your story just read … “What’s wrong with you? I know you did it!” Sally accused. … you’ve got a problem.
Why? Because there was no need to tell the reader that Sally was accusing someone of something; she just said “I know you did it!”, so why do you need to state that the dialogue there was an accusation? You don’t, and that’s a prime argument that any writing teacher will give you for the exclusive use of said.
That’s only looking at one side of it, though. It’s perfectly possible to find an attribution in most cases that isn’t redundant, and isn’t spelled s-a-i-d.
If your story just read … “It’s okay, I believe you.” Sally whispered. … do you have a problem?
No, you don’t. If you simply put said in place of whispered there, the true intent of the dialogue wouldn’t have been portrayed. There are a lot of instances where this is true, and sadly that’s something that a lot of teachers completely ignore in their discourse. I argued quite a bit with an instructor of mine about this subject (I can be a bit too difficult for my own good), and after a long discussion, he basically backed down and said that there are many different ways to write.
The fact is, you can indeed distract your reader if you continually force a synonym for said into your dialogue. As with anything, you need a balance. Your writing should flow and incite your reader’s interest, so just the same as using synonyms of said again and again, using said again and again is not going to make your reading flow. Striking that balance between the two can be difficult, but in the end it’s usually pretty apparent what attribution fits each piece of dialogue. If someone asked a question, asked is a perfect attribution. If someone said something in a harsh, quick tone, barked is a workable attribution. If someone just said something… you can still use said. You know your writing better than anyone else, so make a concerted effort to piece your dialogue together correctly.
How can we break this all up though? Well, we of course do not need a “he said/she said” after every spoken phrase. In a two-way conversation, it’s often clear who is saying what after you’ve established who is speaking in turn. This might seem like a very basic principle, but it’s a key component of writing dialogue that is enjoyable to read. Make sure you don’t confuse your reader, though.
What I want to talk about more deeply here is something called a beat. Beats are very simple, but at the same time, when you utilize them correctly, the effect is drastic. Let me illustrate.
“What am I supposed to do?” Tom asked.
“Well I don’t know,” Mary replied. “Have you tried talking to her?”
“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”
“That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”
There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, pick up a book off the best seller rack and you’ll likely read a passage of dialogue that is structured just like this. That’s just lovely, but it’s boring. It’s weak. It’s lazy! How can we use beats to make it better?
“What am I supposed to say?” Tom asked.
“Well I don’t know,” Mary shot him a knowing look. “Have you tried talking to her?”
“Absolutely not! She doesn’t even know I exist, Mary.”
She laughed and slugged him in the shoulder. “That’s the problem, silly. It’s up to you to change that!”
See how that works? There’s only one attribution in that exchange. A beat is extremely simple, but it goes a very long way towards livening up your dialogue. The first example was boring, simple, and told you very little about either character. Even though this is an extremely short example of dialogue, in the example above you can at least immediately see Mary’s personality a little. There’s more life in your dialogue when you use beats.
In technical terms, a beat is a sentence of a character’s action, before, after, or in the middle of a line of dialogue that shifts the reader’s focus to that character. It eliminates the need for an attribution, and it gives us a much better image of the scene.
The key is to use balance. Don’t become a mindless drone of the “expert’s” creed. Pull from each practice, mix it up, and make your writing flow. That means you shouldn’t be afraid to use said, synonyms of said, or beats. One thing I will suggest is that you make pretty heavy use of beats. Don’t be stingy with them. It’s much cleaner to the eye to read actions than it is to constantly wade through he saids and she saids, including any synonyms thereof. It might take a little bit more effort, but you should never sacrifice quality for ease of writing. That’s another thing I’ve heard from teachers. “Just use said. It’s invisible to the reader, and it’s easier on you.” Easier on you? I think the silliness behind that idea speaks for itself.
We’ve finally come to the end of this installment of Breathe Life Into Your Writing! I hope you were able to get a good idea of how you personally can create strong, well written dialogue. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
There will be more to come soon, but in the meantime, be sure to read up on the other parts you might have missed!
Today I thought I’d talk about a cool little forum with a laid back attitude: A Fever Dream.
The place is brand new—as in, it just started up this week, but there are already over 60 members. It’s close-knit and active, and whether you’re a comic artist, classical artist, or a writer, everyone is cool and constructive. Basically, if you’re looking for fair critique and honest opinion, you’ll probably get it here, and fast. Just be sure to spread the love.
In addition to feedback, you’ll find helpful resources, previews into the current projects of talented artists, and all sorts of contests. Currently there’s a “Draw Everyday” thing going on come February, a writing contest using prompts that’s going on right now, as well as an open call for a forum banner/header. All in all, the forum has a focus on creativity and fun. You’re not going to find that same easygoing, pleasant attitude on other large sites.
That’s about it—hope to see you there!
About a decade ago, when I was but a wee little boy, my mom and I found this cool new site for artists called deviantART, or devART for short. One could create a profile, upload their artwork, and browse and comment on other artists’ pieces. A very cool little online fellowship of like-minded artists, photographers, and anyone else with a mind towards all things artsy and fartsy.
I was little—I drew a picture of a Lego Bionicle, a monster, I painted a tree, etc. I also took lots of pictures back then; some of them were even pretty darn good. Since I was 10 or 11 during this time, I got a pretty good amount of attention. I mean, a decently talented little squirt is so much more exciting than a decently talented adult. Eventually I got tired of the site and moved on. I can’t remember why, but that’s the story as best as I can recall.
Yesterday I read a tip that there’s a pretty good writer base over there nowadays. Ever come across those little scrolling blocks of text while you searched for something on devART? I did too, and I realized they were stories, but I never really thought much about it. After reading about the site again, though, and how many writers made their home there these days, I decided to check it out.
The site hasn’t changed much in over 10 years. No, besides the subscription system that costs real dollars and grants you some cool little privileges and features, devART operates the same as it always has. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since it was a very user friendly place to begin with. It’s clean, effective, and a fun site to loiter about, wasting hours of your life on.
Like I was saying, there’s loads of writing on the site these days. There are also a number of “groups” on the site focusing on writing, so be sure to check those out to publicize your stuff. There are a slew of different sites to upload your writing online, but probably nothing near as popular as devART. The only issue is that most people on devART are browsing for images, not stories. I can’t tell you whether it’s a great place for writers or not yet, but there are a few perks that I can point out right away.
The site is by all intents and purposes a social media applet. You’ve got watchers, comments, favorites, friend lists, and whatever else I forgot to mention. Play your cards right, make some contacts, and you’ll drum up a nice following and some helpful feedback on your work. If you don’t do that, the feedback you do receive will probably be pretty shallow. It’s common to hop over to someone’s latest image, say “This is awesome!” and have them offer a similar comment on something of yours out of courtesy. There’s an unspoken etiquette as there is with many sites like this. Observe and learn these unwritten rules if you want to fit in and get comments.
That’s all I’ve got for now. Anyone else experienced when it comes to writing on devART? Leave your knowledge in the comment box below, and be sure to check out my devART profile at the link below! I’m a newbie on the site again, and I need contacts too!