Short Stories

Editing: What to Do with Said? And What about Contradictions?

As you may know, I have been editing my second book, and I have reached to that point it’s time to look at those “minor” things like the writing style. To be honest, I’m more of a storyteller than a linguistic poet, and my weakest point is to get that grammar and writing style up to some standards. It might be because of my dyslexia or just because of who I am. Anyway, that is beside the point. What I have been lately pondering is what to do with the dialogue tag ‘said’? And how about contradictions in narration?

There seem to be those who think you should only use ‘said’ and ‘ask’ and forget the rest. And holy space cows never use adverbs in your dialogue tag. But then there are those who think you should convey the mood and the feeling of using any means necessary even adverbs. But all seem to agree that physical gestures and other motions and emotions are a good way to set the mood as long as they don’t swamp the reader. There are, however, a variety amongst writers how much those are used. Some writers seem to leave out dialogue tags altogether and let the words speak for themselves. Some use excessive prose. Others hover in the middle.

The more I read about dialogue tags, the more confused I get. So, I headed to my bookshelves, and pick up books from major fantasy writers and my other favorite writers to see what they had done with tags. Funnily, I noticed that those who I love use sparingly adverbs and other tags, they write ‘say’ and ‘ask’ or leave it all out like Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Guy Gavriel Kay, and even G.R.R. Martin. Some, like Terry Pratchett, uses adverbs heavy-handedly along with Robert Jordan, whose prose is a bit too rich for my taste. But Tom Holt uses ‘said’ and ‘asked,’ but sometimes using different words to them related to the action or mood like admitted. So, I came to the conclusion that you can choose, but make sure to check out how other writers in your genre use dialogue tags and decide if you want to break the pattern. I think I go with the ‘said and asked’ -line (if I use any) but occasionally using different words to say like: hailed, replied, whispered, stressed, moaned, and so on. And I might use an adverb here and there, but only if it’s necessary. What comes to the action and motion I think it’s a good way to portray the scene as long as it doesn’t make the text too bulky.

How about contradictions? That again comes to taste. What people seem to agree with is that you should use them in dialogue as we seldom pronounce the words fully. If it’s part of a character’s trade, then no need to use contradictions, but then the character comes off pompous, rigid, and know-it-all. Using contradictions in narration seems to divide people. Tolkien didn’t use them, but he wrote high fantasy and was a linguist. As far as I have gathered, contradictions make the text informal, yet, approachable, and more like a friend telling a friend a story. But in academic text contradictions’ informality is seen as bad, making the text weak. Again it’s more about what you want to do with your own writing. Everything goes as long as you do it consistently. (It’s okay to break patterns as long as you do it consciously.) I write from the third person narrative, and I think the informal and personal touch of contradictions works in my story. I dive inside people’s thoughts and moods, and with using contradictions, they come much closer to the reader.

To sum it up, find a style you like, look at those who write in your genre and those whose prose you love, and see if you find a fit from there. But anything goes as long as you keep the reader mind and make your text readable.

Have a nice weekend!



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