Happy Monday, class! Everyone ready for some writing?
First, about those exclamation points. I never intended for you to feel paranoid about using them in your casual writing. The EP police are not coming to kick down your door if you use exclamation points in your message board posts, Facebook updates, IMs, comments on entries, grocery lists, and notes to your spouses. Please, don’t apologize for those! See, I use them, too!
But if your writing is to be read by the general public, judged, evaluated, or published, leave them out (except in dialog, and only if absolutely necessary).
A brief review of the classes to date:
1. WORD CHOICE—it’s vital. Ordinary words stinketh.
2. ADJECTIVES AND ADVERBS—beware. Trim, if possible.
3. VERB TENSE—Stay consistent
4. EXCLAMATION POINTS—avoid ‘em.
5. DIALOG—make it sound natural
Here’s this week’s Quick Take:
Don’t use anxious when you mean eager. They don’t mean quite the same thing. Both words refer to anticipation of a future event, but anxious (like its close relative anxiety) indicates a feeling of worry, fear, unease.
On the other hand, eager implies that one is looking forward to the event with excitement or joy.
I’m eager to go to Disney World.
I’m anxious about riding the Tower of Terror.
Onward, then, to part two of the lesson on dialog.
When you were in junior high or high school and learning to write, did your teacher give you a list of words that can be used instead of “said” when writing dialog? It might have included words like
She gave you that list because she wanted you to use interesting words in your writing…but poor Mrs. Murgatroyd was misguided. The best place to use interesting words isn’t necessarily in your dialog tags. There’s nothing wrong with plain old said; use your interesting words in the actual dialog spoken by your character.
I read once somewhere (sorry, I don’t remember where) that studies have shown that most readers gloss over those fancy said substitutes, anyway. Readers are interested in eavesdropping on a fascinating conversation. So instead of writing…
“I’m not sure about that,” Joe argued.
…show your reader that Joe is feeling argumentative by putting the argument in his words.
“Only a clown would vote against the new widget factory,” said Joe.
[I take a break from my regular lesson to proclaim that I take no position whatsoever on widget factories, and that this sample sentence was meant only for entertainment purposes. No debate on the merits of widget factories will be entered into.]
As with all of my classes, this is NOT an absolute rule. There are times when nothing will do but a whispered, or a replied, or an asked. Or even one of the fancier words on Mrs. Murgatroyd’s list. I just suggest that before you use a substitute for said, you should ask yourself if there’s a way to make the character’s words show what you intend to say, rather than your description of his words. (Remember the writer’s motto: show, don’t tell.)
This goes double for any combination of substitute for said + adverb.
Sometimes I read something like this:
“Don’t wake the baby,” Sally whispered quietly. (Is there any other way to whisper? Don’t use the adverb when it’s implicit in the verb.)
“Look out behind you!” shouted Gloria excitedly. (While excitedly isn’t the only way to shout, it would be better to put the excitement in Gloria’s words, or to show her excitement by her actions or thoughts.)
If you find yourself frequently using this sort of construction, work on tightening up your dialog, and moving the “good stuff” from the dialog tags to the dialog itself or the characters’ actions.
Write 50-100 words (no more than that, please) containing dialog. Keep last week’s lesson in mind, and be sure that your dialog sounds natural for your character. If you use any tags other than said, justify them.
NOTE: You don’t have to use dialog tags at all, but that’s next week’s lesson. Feel free to go beyond the parameters of this lesson, if you’d like.
If you do the homework, please either ask a question or make a comment. And if you don't feel like doing the homework, but want to ask a question or leave a comment that's fine, too. That’s what keeps this class so interesting!