Do You Have Any Creative Writing Advice?

I was asked for some of my own writing advice, but I don’t know that I really have anything concrete. I don’t like posts that tell you things like “never end your sentences with a preposition” or “don’t edit while you’re writing” or “only use dialogue tags ‘said’ and ‘replied'” all of which are ridiculous to me. Everything has a time and place, but I don’t want to be one of those annoying “follow your heart” people. So, I’m going to try.

* Certain narration styles drive me crazy.

1) The omniscient narrator. The omniscient narrator makes me feel like I have ADD. Well, I do, but it makes me cognizant of it. I find the thing most difficult about an omniscient narrator is that it’s difficult for me, as a reader, to find a focus. This narrator frequently jumps back and forth between the personal thoughts of one person to another, and it’s difficult to separate the overwhelming knowledge and what each character knows and sees.

2) First person present. I understand imminence, wanting to move the story quicker, but… it bothers me. I feel like if you’re a person telling a story, obviously, you’re telling it at a later date and past narration would be more correct. It’s just a pet peeve. The Hunger Games novels were particularly challenging to get through due to my thoughts on this.

* Do the Work

So, I lied to you. This is one of the rules. It’s not really a writing rule, but a preparation rule. Do the work. Know your characters inside and out. You have to be able to put yourself into their shoes and see things not only from their perspective, but how each character views your other characters. Know your villain. Know your world and its rules. It’s easiest to answer the big six: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How? There shouldn’t be a question that you can’t answer. And “just because” doesn’t count as an answer.

* Dialogue tags

Occasionally, I like the peruse some of the writing blogs on WordPress, and I’ve noticed something interesting. Whenever anyone is giving advice on how to write dialogue, I see this bit of advice: only use the dialogue tags, “said” and “asked”, and use “replied” sparingly. In the years that I’ve been taking writing courses, this piece of advice has never come up (at least not while I was paying attention). In fact, it always seemed to me like the exact opposite was required. So, I had to wonder, were these people on crack?

As I’ve begun to dig a little further, asking both writers and readers, the logic of this advice began to come out. A reader told me that if the novel was full of other dialogue tags, it tended to sound amateur. A writer described a class where the teacher berated him for sounding like a fourth grader, who just discovered dialogue tags.

So, my problem with it is this. “Said” and “asked” convey virtually nothing. From a communication standpoint, it’s a nightmare. I’ve brought up communication before when I discussed author intent. When encoding a message, only ten percent of that communication is verbal. Everything else is nonverbal. How many times has someone told you, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it”? That means, when writing, ninety percent of the message isn’t being received and must be replaced. Use of other dialogue tags such as “muttered”, “groaned”, “whispered”, and “whined” are more efficient than a long description.

Also, dialogue tags have other uses other than indicating who is speaking. Sometimes they provide a longer more literal pause affecting flow and pacing. It provides negative space in dialogue. Any artist knows that the negative space is just as important as positive space. I do agree that having a dialogue tag for every piece of speech is ludicrous, but if there is a change or greater purpose for it being there, I say knock yourself out.

* A Little Bit of Poetry Can Go a Long Way

Be creative in your descriptions. I’m not talking a constant “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day” or giant extended metaphors, but saying that someone waddles away like a penguin dancing on hot coals can offer a strong mental image for that extra punch. Why a penguin would be dancing on hot coals? I don’t know, but it’s the best I can do off the top of my head.

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2 thoughts on “Do You Have Any Creative Writing Advice?

  1. I love dialogue tags and find it very hard to follow dialogue without them. I get lost easy and have to re-read passages a dozen times asking myself, “Okay, now who is saying what again??” It gets really annoying.

    Creating characters and building worlds, “doing the work,” as you so rightly put it is such fun! I don’t know why anyone would skip those parts.

    • I was just dumbfounded when I saw how common it was to tell people not to use dialogue tags. I just kept thinking that it couldn’t be real; it’s not real advice that people are giving. I understand not wanting to break out your thesaurus for different ways to say “said”, but sheesh. If I have to read “said” five times on a page, it’s going to start getting annoying.

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