Thursday, July 12, 2007

Writing dialogue

Today I was revising for most of the day. It actually went quite well, mainly because I was looking at topics I already know a bit about, namely mental health issues in childhood and old age and also in a dual diagnosis alongside disability.

So why was it that my mind kept straying to the totally unrelated topic of writing dialogue? I think it is because I spend quite a lot of time on various writers websites, where people post their work for criticism. Obviously some of this writing is very good, some less so. One of the things I have noticed recently from the work of others is how hard it is to write good dialogue and how hung up some people seem to get on supposed 'rules'.

Rules such as stick to 'say/said' as your speech tags rather than try to be clever, so as not to distract the reader. Don't use adverbs after your speech tags. Well to my mind there is nothing wrong with these suggestions, but they should not be prescriptive. I have seen passages of dialogue which were little more than short sentences with 'he said/she said' tagged on the end. Sometimes it just seems too choppy and infantile. Surely a little variation in structure and speech tags would be better? As for adverbs, yes in general it is not good to have too many -ly words. But I can't see anything wrong with writing '....he said quietly', for example.

Who has actually made these so-called rules and why do some novice writers feel they have to folllow them to the letter? Is this what agents/publishers are looking for in commercial fiction? I've done two university creative writing courses and the only 'dialogue rules' we were taught were in respect of the layout and punctuation of dialogue. It was recommended that remembering 'show not tell' will help avoidance of adverbs, but at no time was it said you should never ever use one in your writing.

Any writers out there got any views on this?

Three notable things:

1. Getting on well with the revision (as time is running out...)

2. Thinking about going away for a few days next week.

3. The sun has been shining!


Kore said...

Hi Cathy,
Well, only 3 days to go. I really just want it all to be over now. Anxiety is setting in and threatening to make the whole revision experience a waste of time. You sound very calm however! So, best of luck with the question choices and here's to brilliant recall of course material! NB x

Cathy said...

I'm not really calm. But I know my limitations with this course and I just keep saying to myself that it doesn't matter if I pass or fail! Just as well, since I haven't done enough work.

Unknown said...

Interesting. I had no idea there were rules about this kind of stuff!

Cathy said...

Hello Snuffleupagus! Love your name ...and your blog, which I have just visited.

I'm not sure that there really are rules as such in writing, except in presentation, but even those can be broken. I think these so called 'rules' just stem from certain tutors and textbook writers, but are adopted as gospel by some novices rather than being taken as just one piece in a whole jigsaw of advice.

My own mantra is to write as you want, just use these little 'gems' of info as suggestions rather than rules. We all have our own individual style and 'voice'.

Unknown said...

great point.every one have to know about i got a better idea.will follow in my future.thank you all.
Dual Diagnosis
Dual Diagnosis