Friday, March 23, 2012

"Friday Feedback again?" and how to kill good dialogue with an overwrought tag.

"How is it already Friday again?"

I'm not ready for Friday Feedback again. But, alas, here I am!

You're welcome. Or something like that.

Yesterday, I was in a local school, Port Jefferson High School -- first with the 9th graders who had just finished their unit on Of Mice and Men, and then with the Literary Club, a small but awesome group of kids and their awesome teacher, Carla.

Among the things we talked about were some of the basic rules of writing. You know, show vs. tell, and how to use (or not use) dialogue tags.

To prove my point, I brought along one of my favorite tools, a snippet of Elmore Leonard's 10 Rules of Writing. See, there it is at #3.

You'd be surprised at how much time and energy new writers expend trying to figure out how to creatively say "said." You've seen it:

"I really love you," John whimpered. "I need you. You know that," he urged.
"I know, but I can never reciprocate," Myra choked out, through her tears.
John shook her. "You must! You must leave him and love me!" he barked, emphatically.

Yeah, I named her Myra, and overexaggerated things. What's your point? ;)

Anyway, what you quickly see is the endless effort in creative dialogue tagging actually has the opposite effect as intended: it pops your mind out of the action (as you try to figure out how the heck the character sounded as they whimpered or choked or barked, emphatically, no less).

The truth is, except for VERY judicially, you are only ever supposed to use say or said as a tag. And, except when really (essentially) needed for clarity or emphasis, let your action show HOW the words are said.

So, bored with my own excerpts (come on, my writerly friends, come be a guest on Friday Feedback -- hey, I think I do have a guest author NEXT Friday!) I decided to see if I could find a particular excerpt from one of my WIP's (Works In Progress for those not in-the-know) to illustrate Elmore's 3rd rule.

For those brave enough to play along this week, feel free to post a dialogue excerpt -- and let us know if, based on today's post, you went back to edit! -- or whatever type of excerpt you want. In case you don't know them, once again, here are the rules:
If you do, you know the rules:

• Does the piece "hook" you enough to make you want to keep reading. If yes, why? If no, why not?

• What doesn’t work for you (if something doesn't) and why?

• What does work for you, and why?

• If you want the same feedback, post 3 -5 paragraphs in the comments and I (and maybe some of my writer or reader friends) will chime in.

If you want more rules than that, read HERE.

Happy Friday, all.

Excerpt from Frankie Sky:

Later that night in bed, I ask her, “So, why did you do it, Zette?”

“Do what?”

“Kill Roger.”

She laughs. “I didn’t kill him, Beans, he died. Didn’t you see it? He keeled right on over and died. His heart gave out. All that crappy food. I can’t help it if he died.” I give her a look. “He should have eaten better.” She cracks a smile again, even though she’s trying to keep a straight face.

            “What? It’s been like seven years. I got bored of him. He was a very boring man.”

“You did?” I know she’s mostly joking, but the information worries me. I’d never thought of Lisette as the type to get bored of someone. “I mean, you made him. If he was boring you, couldn’t you just have fixed him? Or divorced him. Couldn’t you have gotten divorced instead?”

“Divorces aren’t very Catholic, Beans.”

“And killing him is?”

She bursts out laughing, and I’m feeling like I’m going to cry. But she sits up, reaches over and grabs a brush from her night table, and pulls me up and over, so that I’m sitting between her legs. She always does this when I get agitated, starts to brush my hair. Lisette says she loves to brush my hair because it's straight like silk, instead of wavy and crazy, like hers. But her hair is gorgeous, and mine is brown and boring; her hair is full of body, like the models’ hair in fashion magazines.

The brush is precious to her because it’s a part of an abalone shell set her grandmother gave her for her birthday. An antique, that comes with a mirror and comb. It’s beautiful and special like Lisette. I always love when Lisette brushes my hair, because it makes me feel like she loves me without words. In the weeks after Simon died, she brushed it all the time. It was one of the things that saved me.

“I told you Beans,” she says, as she strokes, “I didn’t kill him, he died.”

“Well, what if you get bored with me?” Tears well in corner of my eyes, making me glad my back is to her.

“Don’t be silly. I never would.”

“But what if you do? What if you have a real boyfriend, or a real husband, and they’re more important to you? Or what if you find a new friend? A better friend. A friend who doesn’t have so many problems, like I do?”

“You don’t have problems, Beans.” I twist and look at her and she rolls her eyes, and turns me back around. She starts brushing again. “You don’t. I mean, your brother died, so of course that’s hard for you. But you’re fine. Besides, your hair is pretty and fun to comb, so how could I ever get bored with you?” She taps me on the shoulder with the brush, then hands it to me. “Here, now you do mine.”

We switch positions. “Well, promise me you won’t,” I say.

“I won’t. I promise. Plus, we have our hearts, remember?”

I grasp the half heart locket that rests beneath my nightgown. “Yes, I remember,” I say.

- gae


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