- in Uncategorized by Tara Maya
Three Ways To Do Dialogue Attributes Wrong
One of the first novels I wrote, when I was, ye gods, twelve or thirteen, I don’t remember (or I have thankfully blanked the memory from my brain) was Star Trek fanfic.
On the first draft, the dialogue looked something like this:
“Maybe the attacker was a Klingon,” said Kirk.
“That is not logical, Captain,” said Spock.
“But he looked like a Klingon,” said Kirk.
“But then he turned into a furry white snow monster,” said Spock.
“That’s what puzzles me,” said Kirk.
And so on.
Well, neophyte though I was, even I could tell that was terrible dialogue. (And it tended to go on for three pages). But why, WHY did it suck rocks? That’s what I needed to pin down. Probably because so much was wrong, I settled on the most obvious (to me) problem, the boring repetition of “said.”
So I re-wrote:
“Maybe the attacker was a Klingon,” said Kirk suspiciously.
“That is not logical, Captain,” said Spock calmly.
“But he looked like a Klingon,” said Kirk insistently.
“But then he turned into a furry white snow monster,” said Spock
“That’s what puzzles me,” said Kirk dubiously.
Again, this was plainly awful.
Probably I read in some How To Write Novels That Don’t Bite book I read that verbs are more powerful than adverbs.
“Maybe the attacker was a Klingon,” Kirk suggested.
“That is not logical, Captain,” Spock objected.
“But he looked like a Klingon,” Kirk insisted.
“But then he turned into a furry white snow monster,” Spock pointed out.
“That’s what puzzles me,” admitted Kirk.
And so on for three more pages.
What’s the right answer? There is no singular answer, no exclusively perfect way to write the scene, except to mix it up, let it flow, don’t overdo any single convention, and read and try every writing “rule” there is until
you know the reason for the rule and know exactly how to stand it on its head.
At different points in my writing career I needed
different advice. The editors who say things like, “Don’t overuse
adverbs,” “Don’t use ‘said’ all the time,” AND “Don’t be afraid to
use ‘said’ most of the time,” are
addressing writers such as my thirteen year old self, who made all of these mistakes.
Oh, believe me, once I discovered dialog beats, I became a dialog beat fiend. All dialog beats and nothing else would grow tiresome after a while too. It’s the mix of things that lets a novel flow. It’s a question of balance. And, past a certain level of proficiency, of personal taste.
I read a “How To Make A Bajillion and Win a Pulitzer” from an author who had, to my knowledge, done neither himself. He took a book which had won a century of acclaim, The Great Gatsby, and then edited the first chapter to point out how much better it would have been if every single adverb had been deleted. His argument went like this, ”There’s no need to say, ‘She leaned forward eagerly,’ the fact that she leans forward shows she’s eager. The sentence should read, ‘She leans forward.'”
Uh huh. Whatever. I read the scene both ways, and I came to the conclusion that Scott Fitzgerald was a better author than this self-appointed editor.
My favorite example of an author deliberately flouting this “rule” is a sentence by Lois McMaster Bujold, in which she uses the tag line, ”Miles shouted mildly.”
Obviously, such a sentence can only be used once, which is how often she uses it.