Wednesday, November 09, 2005

"I defy your writing logic!" she screamed angrily.

I've been keeping up on my reading in The Canadian Writer's Handbook, and, like a disturbing amount of other writing-advice books I have read, it strongly discourages the use of speech tags ("screamed, barked, explained") and adverbs in writing.

Adverbs and speech-tags are integral to my writing. When I first read that speech tags shouldn't be overused, I just ignored it as one particular author's opinion. When I started reading about it over and over, I got a little worried. I've made it a point in my writing never to say "he said, she said" unless I am at a complete loss for words. You see, what many adults writers may forget, or be unaware of, is that in creative-writing classes in elementary school, my teachers always encouraged me to use something other than "said" to follow dialogue. Looking back, this may have just been a tool to get me to teach myself vocabulary, but it's remained ingrained in the way I write.

Well, the writing guides say that using speech tags can be a kind of a crutch. The tone, sound, and volume of the dialogue should, they say, come through in the dialogue, and not just in the tag that comes after it. So, the implication is that using speech tags too much is just a way to make up for bad dialogue. I don't know if this applies to fantasy writers, because I've read many fantasy writers who use speech tags, and many who do not, as well.
And as for adverbs - the guides advise that if I'm using too many adverbs, I should be making the verbs stronger, instead. So, instead of "she ran quickly", I should write "she sprinted".
I don't want to change my style. I'm very possessive of it, and it's the way the words naturally come out on the paper. On the other hand, if I want to be a professional author, I shouldn't encourage bad writing habits, and if I practice writing while keeping speech tags and adverbs to a minimum, it may eventually become my natural style.

So I'm going to give it a shot. I will still use speech tags, but I think the whole point isn't to not use them, but just not to overuse them. When I'm using only speech tags, maybe that's a bad thing. Sometimes I can read speech tags smoothly, and sometimes I can't, but truthfully, I never even have the problem when reading texts without speech tags. So, if I want to make a certain point, or emphasis a certain bit of dialogue, I see no problem with using speech tags. With adverbs, well...writing fantasy requires a great deal more visual description than other genres in general, but I'll see what I can do to keep my writing from becoming too florid.
At least it'll help with my too-long word counts.


  1. Anonymous1:43 PM

    Hi, I'm a lurker on the fantasy workshop, and I saw the link to your blog, so I came over here. I hope you don't mind.

    So about said...

    Well, the only real rule in writing is "does it work?", of course. However, the *guidelines* I've heard from editors and writers say that you should use avoid overusing said-bookisms. Said-bookisms are verbs used in dialog tags that aren't the verbs "said" or "asked" -- verbs like exclaimed, retorted, queried, inquired, observed, etc. At times, they are definitely the right choice, but when you overuse them, they start to call too much attention to themselves, and away from the dialog. Taken to extreme, they make the writing sound forced, and that's not a good thing.

    The same holds true for adverbs. Sure, you can and should use adverbs when necessary, but quite often, they aren't as necessary as new writers sometimes believe. Go for the stronger verb, and you end up with tighter, stronger writing.

    Best of luck with your writing.

  2. Thanks for the advice, anonymous!
    I intend to use speech tags mainly for emphasis purposes.
    I also read an author complaining about people using speech-tags that didn't make sense, like "laughed, barked, breathed" - you can't talk while doing those things! Lol