17 October 2008

Dialogue post #2

Let’s continue talking about dialogue, shall we?
This time, let’s focus on dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are those little things that we put outside the dialogue to indicate who is speaking. They are things like “he said” and “she asked”.
They, like dialogue itself, are tricky!

I think middle school teachers everywhere have fucked us up.
It seems like every middle school teacher, at some point in time, tells their students that the word “said” is not okay. They tell us to use words like “exclaimed”, “pouted”, “shouted”, “murmured”, “cried”, “ejaculated” and… ugh, let’s just back up, okay?
Let me tell you right now that the word “said” is okay to overuse. I swear to you with every fiber of my being that it’s okay! Your middle school Language Arts teacher was a filthy liar. That poster she put on the wall was wrong. It’s okay. Use “said” to your heart’s content.
Alternative dialogue tags are okay too, but only in moderation. It’s sort of like salt. You put a little in your food and it tastes great, but a lot tastes godawful and shit, shit, I’m so thirsty, my vision’s dimming, oh god, I see a light…
I’m not exaggerating.
Dialogue tags need to be transparent. Actually, all prose needs to be transparent, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Basically, they need to be there, they need to carry out their designated function, but the reader shouldn’t trip over them. The reader should be imagining in their head what’s going on, and not the words that are actually written on the page.
So “said” is okay. It’s also okay to exclude a tag entirely, provided it’s clear who’s talking. Just please don’t give me a million alternative tags.

Conversely, action tags are fucking brilliant! Granted, they can be overused or misused too, but they’re wonderful because they really prevent your scene from turning into just a bunch of talking heads. Insert a description of an action before, after, or in between dialogue. Let me illustrate. Let’s start with this:

”I’m not a hermit,” Tavvy said.

“Sure you are,” Cath said, “This is the first time I’ve gotten you to go out in weeks.”

“I’ve just been busy.”

“Yeah. Busy being a hermit.”

It’s fine, sure, but a little boring. Now let’s try this:

”I’m not a hermit,” Tavvy said, stirring his soup.

“Sure you are,” Cath said, “This is the first time I’ve gotten you to go out in weeks.”

Tavvy looked off to his side. “I’ve just been busy.”

“Yeah,” Cath rolled his eyes, “Busy being a hermit.”

See the difference? Instead of just hearing their voices, we’re imagining the whole character, moving and breathing. But notice that I did leave one “he said” in there, because overuse of action, like I said, can also be bad.

Overuse of anything, really, is bad.
Moderation is the key to writing, guys.

Oh, and things like “he said [insert something here]ly” make me want to kill you all
-ly adverbs are horrible and bad and goddammit, just because “Just-Kidding” Rowling uses them does not make them okay!
But that’s a rant for another day.

15 October 2008

Dialogue post #1

Let’s talk about dialogue!

Dialogue is tricky.

The first thing that you need to understand is that your characters need to talk like actual human beings. Most people—and this is important, so listen—Most people use contractions in their speech. Most people use some sort of slang in their speech. Most people do not sound like robots.
So don’t write something like this:

”There is not a goose in that room that is over there,” she said, “I am serious for sure.”

Here are some ways you can write that line more naturally:

”There isn’t a goose in that room there,” she said, “I’m serious for sure.”

“There’s not a goose in that room,” she said, “I’m sure.”

“There isn’t a goose in that room over there, dammit,” she said, “I’m so serious motherfucker.”

And so on.
Of course it will vary depending on the character, and if you want to emphasize that a person is very awkward or robot-like, removing contractions works. Fawful doesn’t use contractions, for example… but then again, there are a lot of things weird about his dialogue.

Look, the thing here is that you need to listen to yourself talking. Say a line out loud. Sometimes I’ll hear people reading their writing out loud, and where in the text they used a “it is” or “I am”, out loud they say “it’s” or “I’m” because it was too awkward. If they realize this well enough to read it like that, why can’t they just write it like that?

Another tip is to listen to other people talking. It’s so strange, sometimes you can talk to dozens of people every day, people who talk in wildly different ways, but not actually notice how they’re speaking. So concentrate a little more, when you’re with your friends, on what they say to you and how they say it. And, as weird as this sounds, listen to strangers. Eavesdrop. Note their word choice, sentence structure, etc. Listen to people of different occupations, backgrounds. Compare an English professor to a redneck. Compare a college student to a grandma. People talk in lots of different ways, and it helps to understand those different dialects.

13 October 2008

"insert something witty here"

Guys, guys, guys.
I don’t know why you people can’t understand quotation marks.
Look, guys, quotation marks are not a replacement for punctuation. I do not ever want to see dialogue that looks like,

“do you have any idea what you were doing” He said

Furthermore, the normal rules of apostrophe and comma use, as well as capitalization, all still apply. The rules of grammar do not magically all turn off inside of quotation marks.

Punctuation at the end of the quote applies as explained in this post, but in dialogue everything should go inside the quotes anyway. At the end of a sentence that ends with a period and ALSO ends the quote, a comma should be used instead of the period. The subsequent word outside the quote, then, should not be capitalized unless it’s a proper noun.

”I’m gonna go rob that bank! It’ll be great,” she said.

“Well that’s all well and good, but where’s your escape car?” he asked.

“Escape car?” she scratched her head, “What would I need with that?”

You see what I did there? Proper capitalization and punctuation.

Get it right!

10 October 2008


Songfics can go suck it.

No, seriously.

Firstoff, I’m going to point out that on a lot of websites, it’s technically against the rules to post songfics. Fanfiction.net doesn’t allow it, for instance. I mean, yeah, I know some of FFN’s rules are kind of arbitrary. Their rules against script format, for example, are retarded (people posting their RP logs ruined it for all of us, I think). But this one is serious, okay. I keep seeing them get posted and no one bothers to report them, what the fuck.
Do you people really think songfics are that good? Do you? Here’s a bombshell for you: they really aren’t.

Songfics, for the uninitiated, are a fanfic with song lyrics thrown in for whatever reason. Sometimes a character is listening to a song and that song is just SO RELEVANT that the lyrics MUST be transcribed for all of us. Sometimes there’s no music in the scene proper, but the song is SO FITTING that the lyrics must be superimposed on the story. Sometimes the author just wishes he/she were making a music video. Whatever the case, this needs to stop.

Here’s a fact: Every good songfic I’ve ever seen was 100% better if I just took the song lyrics out.
It’s true!
There’s no harm in being inspired by your favorite music! No one will begrudge you for that. But do you really need to include the lyrics? Really?
Here’s a nice, ordered list of reasons why songfics are a bad idea:

- Reading lyrics to a song without the music can be kind of boring.
- A lot of songs actually don’t have very good lyrics and only seem great because the music carries a lot of the weight that the lyrics do not. Presenting only the lyrics can present the song in a bad light and also make you look like a loser for thinking that those lyrics are so amazing.
- You risk alienating readers who might not like that band, haven’t heard of that song, etc.
- You’re breaking the law. Songfics constitute plagiarism. Why do you think FFN forbids the posting of them, hmm??
- Writing a songfic for Linkin Park or Evanescence instantly makes you a tool. (Therefore, my middle school self is a tool. Ahahaha.) I mean, jeez, there are so many out there already, how could anyone think that the world needs more of these?
- You’re being really unoriginal, using someone else’s work to pad your own.
- Switching back and forth between poetry and prose so often can break suspension of disbelief.

So cut it out already.

ALSO!! It makes me so sad when I’m reading a chaptered fic and then there’s that obligatory SONGFIC CHAPTER.
Go die, songfic chapter.
Go die, songfics in general.

08 October 2008

*draws a line in the sand*

Guys seriously.
There is a line.
It exists. It’s right there, look, see it? I put up a sign and everything.
Don’t fucking cross it.

Look, I know, writing is art, and art is about breaking the rules. I live by that knowledge. But that doesn’t mean that those rules aren’t there for a reason!
The fact is that rules exist because, most of the time, when people break them their story comes out sounding like shit. It’s true. Some people know how to break the rules effectively, but this is not a skill everyone has. So here’s the breakdown: when you’re new to writing, FOLLOW THE RULES. Stay within the boundaries. It’s still possible to write a great, amazing story without breaking a single rule of narrative, grammar, what have you. Learn why those rules exist and what effect breaking them might have. Once you’ve honed your craft, then feel free to take a few tentative steps outside the box. Play around a little, ask for feedback, see how things go. Write more, using what you’ve just learned. After you’ve gotten good enough with THAT, then feel free to do whatever.
Please note that it will probably take you years to reach that final level. This is normal. Writing is very much about patience and perseverance, and if you’re just so impatient that you have to go around saying “fuck you” to the rules of the English language RIGHT NOW, then you’re probably not cut out for writing.

That line over there is there to help you. See that sign under it? Can you read it out loud for me? Yes, it says “beware the panther”. Stepping beyond that line without knowledge of how to handle that panther will only ensure that you get eaten alive.

06 October 2008


Hey guys let’s talk about keeping your fucking opinionated asses out of your characters’ mouths.

Let me elaborate:

Firstoff, I’m sick of characters listening to Linkin Park and Evanescence in stories. I’m doubly sick of Kuki fucking Sanban listening to them. Look, guys, I know you like those bands, I know sometimes you like a band so much that you just have to project that love onto other characters. But you need to cut it the fuck out, okay?! The fact is that not everyone likes those bands and, if you’re writing fanfiction, even the people who do might not agree that that character would like that band. Overall, you run a very high risk of either angering or alienating your reader which, I shouldn’t have to point out, is bad.
So stop. Usually, if music is to be addressed, it’s better to just speak in broad strokes, saying that a character likes this or that genre, or perhaps you can create some made-up bands for them to like. It is possible to get away with naming actual bands sometimes, but you better have a damn good reason for it.

Second, please keep your fucking politics to your uninformed self. I swear to God, I don’t want to hear Dib ranting about President Bush (the fact that Invader Zim takes place in the future also makes this an anachronism). I agree that if a character exists in the same world we do he might want to make a comment or joke about current politics, whatever, it works. But too often, things just get preachy and then they’ve lost me entirely. This has happened too many times in otherwise good stories. I remember this one fic, oh gods guys this fic was amazing, and it would have been perfect if not for ONE chapter where one of the characters went on this long-ass political rant that was so out of place it hurt. And then they went and did battle with a giant fire-lady and the whole political discussion was quickly forgotten. What the FUCK, guys. Even when I agree with everything they’ve said, I still get this urge to punch the author in the face.

Seriously, every author needs to learn to put their own opinions aside and think about what the character would say, what the character would like, and whether those opinions really even need to be expressed at all.

03 October 2008



Guys… guys.
Stop it with the passive verb phrases SERIOUSLY it’s pissing me off.
Just… just go die, all you passive verb people.

For you people who are fortunate (or ignorant) enough to not know what I’m going on about, let me explain.
A normal verb phrase would be something like “I shot the laser gun”.
A passive verb phrase is more like “The laser gun was shot by me”.

Why—WHY do you people think this is a good way of writing things? Who talks like that, really?!
God! The only reason why anyone writes like this is because they’re trying altogether too hard to sound smarter than they are.

IT’S OKAY, GUYS, we don’t think you’re stupid, you don’t have to impress us!

Besides my angry ranting and on a more practical note, passive verb phrases make everything sound as though they’re being narrated by someone who isn’t quite there. It slows down action and makes the entire piece feel sluggish and… is murky a good word to use here? That’s a word that comes to mind.

So stop it, guys, I’m so serious.

01 October 2008

Controversy post

Today let’s talk about some things that I’ve had arguments about.

First, about quotation marks and punctuation.
In standard American English, the rule is that puncuation marks always go inside of the quotation marks. Always, always.
I went through all of elementary and middle school being told that this is the only way to do things.
Then I learned that in British English, it’s actually okay to put punctuation outside of the quotations in certain situations! But it’s a little more complicated than the aforementioned way.
Here’s the rule: If the punctuation is part of the thing you’re quoting, then put the punctuation inside the quotation marks with the rest of the quote. If there is no punctuation in your quote, then put the punctuation after the closing quote mark.
It requires a little more thinking, but in the end I feel that this is an overall better way to do things. I’ve got no problem with people who prefer the simpler American way of doing this, but I get pretty annoyed when people tell me I’m doing it wrong.
(Incidentally, I had an English teacher tell me that this was too complicated for his class and that I should just do the American way. This, by the way, was a college class. If British children can do it, I think I can handle my punctuation, thank you.)

Second, about lists, commas and the word “and”.
Depending on where you look this up, some sources will tell you that, when listing things, you should put a comma before the “and” on the last list item.
The majority of sources I’ve seen, though, say that you should NOT put a comma before the “and”. So a list should look like “death beams, lightsabers and X-rays”.
After debating this with some people and bringing out some grammar books, I’m pretty certain that the latter is the correct choice, so do it.