Tag Archives: Adjective

Stop “Saying” Things — Rule #14 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #14

14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).

I’m going to partly agree here.  If you need to point out who said something, say:

“Mom went to the market,” Paul said

Now, to be clear… don’t spruce it up by saying “said hastily”, or “said sorrowfully” – That is what he is talking about with adverbs.  Use just plain old said and let the action around the word do the description for you.  Never add an “ly” word, and never say “he groaned” or “he snickered.” Use plain old said.

Now let’s talk about the “invisible word” thing. Said IS invisible, but only to an extent.  A recent editor I had challenged me to get rid of 90% of the word “said” in my manuscript. I exchanged it for actions instead of dialog tags.

Paul leaned over the counter. “Mom went to the market.”

See, there is no confusion as to who is speaking, and I got a little action in to.  The scene flows better.  I couldn’t believe the difference in my manuscript.

I just took a gander at my finished manuscript for “Fire in the Woods” and in 253 pages I only used the word “said” 133 times.  I scanned the first 32 pages, and most of those “saids” are in dialog or internal thought.

“You were supposed to stay home.”

“You said to stay home last night. I went out this morning.”

In those 32 pages, I had only used “said” as a dialog tag three times. (Yes, I am quite proud of that.)

If you are in the middle of a conversation, and you end every few sentences with “he said” or “she said” that little word is not going to be invisible anymore. It will drive your reader nuts.

I think I’ve suggested this exercise before, but I’ll do it again.  Challenge yourself.  Try to remove every “said” as a dialog tag.  You will need to leave a few, but if you can get rid of every occurrence possible and change it up with actions, your manuscript will be ten times stronger.

swish swivel squiggle

Click here to tweet: Stop “saying” things. Rule #14 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever from @jennifermeaton  http://wp.me/p1HIMV-1Fk

_JenniFer____EatoN

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Rule #6 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #6

6: Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

Ha! This made me think of the Total Transformation program.  I like the “no speeches at all” rule better, but there are times when one of our characters tends to get chatty, right?

Always always always break up a long amount of dialog with action, setting, or emotion.  Think of it.  If you are listening to someone for a long time, you shift your weight, right?  The speaker paces the floor, uses hand gestures.  The curtains blow around a window. Tons of things are happening all around your speaker.

Don’t count on your reader to make these things up themselves.  Show them. It will make your scene more real, and you won’t lose your reader and have them miss something important.

Oh, and while you’re at it… try to curb that speech down a little.  Less is more, I always say!

Try it!  Can you feel how much cleaner your speech reads just by adding a little action?

JenniFer_EatonF

Rule #5 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #5

5: Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

I think this is pretty much self-explanatory.  I know I have done this, but usually to create a mood, and definitely in moderation.

For instance, a character in a deep, dark dungeon.  Miles took a slow, calculated step.  Yes, in each case you could delete one, but there is a mood set with the use of two, right.  BE CAREFUL THOUGH.  Use this extremely sparingly.  (Ha!  That’s two “ly” words in a row)

Take a look through your manuscript.  Where have you used double adjectives and had it work well?  Where did you smack yourself upside the head and delete one (or more) adjectives?

JenniFer_EatonF

Rule #4 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #4

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

Ha!  Since I posed it last week, let me do a little cut and paste for you.

3: Use strong nouns in preference to adjectives. I won’t say avoid adjectives, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adjectives as an excuse for failing to find the correct noun.

swish swivel squiggle 2

Hmmm.  No adjectives?  As in NONE?  I’m not sure I agree with this, although I have caught myself using TOO MANY from time to time.  I mean, you need to describe stuff, right?

Strong nouns?  I think maybe he should have re-thought that.  I can understand not saying: “The angry dog barked”

What should be said is “The dog lowered his head, baring teeth.  His bark echoed through the room”

The second angry dog is much more menacing, and I didn’t use any adjectives.  I think he may just be talking about the whole show verses tell issue, because you’re gonna have to describe a few things sooner or later, right?

Open discussion time!  What have you found with your writing and adjectives?  What do you think Allen Gutrie’s point is? Where do you think adjectives are necessary?

JenniFer_EatonF

Rule #3 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

Writing_A_Great_Novel

I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #3

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

This one is a bit easier to swallow.  Everyone knows about adverbs, right?  But using them is sometimes a hard habit to break.  If you find your work laden with adverbs, here is my suggestion:

1.      Make a copy of your work and save the original “just in case”

2.      Go through a chapter and delete all the adverbs.  Resist the desire to look at the sentence at this point.  Just delete.  Using the search feature and looking for “ly” will help with this. Look for “very” while you are at it, and just delete.

3.      Done?  Good! Now go back and read your chapter.  Most likely, if you’ve written a strong scene, you will not even notice they are gone.

Here’s a one sentance example from “Optimal Red”:

His heart beat rapidly in his chest as the doors opened.

His heart pulsed as the doors opened.

Go ahead!  Give it a try?  How did it go?  Were you able to strengthen your manuscript just by deleting?  Did you need to add a little more emphasis to replace the missing word?  Where did you decide to leave an adverb for flavor?

JenniFer_EatonF