Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The most magnificent thing in the world...

... is to get home after what can only be described as a rapidly worsening day and find that you haven't sold your soul to the devil after all (only just lent it out), because there's still your old love looking out for you.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

We all knew this day had to come.

Despite having subscriptions to several magazines (among them ZOOM and other such hobby-related reading) I will always prefer books, which is probably why I have a magazine backlog of about six months.

One of my more questionable subscriptions (probably the first to go if I have to cut back) is Dutch “Schrijven Magazine”. I have to be completely honest and admit I probably only read it because it often makes me laugh in disbelief. Put two writers in a room and wait for them to disagree, mm? The April-May edition has Dutch author RenĂ© Appel commenting on dialogue tags (or identifiers), by means of an example in the form of an extract from a Dutch novel:

“Het woordje ‘zei’ wordt opvallend vaak gebruikt. ... Het is net of de schrijfster in deze functie geen ander woord kent dan ‘zeggen’ en voor de verandering ‘vragen’. ... Een schrijver kan mensen ook iets laten melden, voorstellen, suggereren, veroordelen, reageren ... etc.” (14)

Freely translated:

“The word ‘said’ is used remarkably often. ... It is as if in this instance the author can’t come up with anything besides ‘said’ and the occasional ‘asked’. ... An author can also have people report, propose, suggest, denounce, react... etc.”

But wait a minute. I liked Appel (back when I still read Dutch novels), and I rather admired him, which makes it easier for me to take his word on this, but I also remember a discussion on using identifiers in fiction which came to a different conclusion.

The English equivalent of Dutch ‘zei’ is said. Now some people think said is boring (“Writers are supposed to have vocabulary!”): most people don’t even recognise said when it occurs in dialogue, which is why I say: Use It! Said is like the perfect spy: it doesn’t draw attention to itself. Without going as far as becoming said-bookisms, there are identifiers (which some authors use to make things more exciting) that just get in your way when you’re reading.

What are you talking about?" she hissed.
Try hissing that. (You can’t: no sibilants.) Or laughing it. Seriously.

Famously, in a conversation between Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, Arthur Conan Doyle uses (in his 1887 A Study in Scarlet):

"I would not have missed the investigation for anything. There has been no better case within my recollection. Simple as it was, there were several most instructive points about it."
"Simple!" I ejaculated.
"Well, really, it can hardly be described as otherwise," said Sherlock Holmes, smiling at my surprise.

Yeah. (Agatha Christie is guilty of this as well, so maybe this is a detective fiction thing.) But let’s just say that’s why you want to avoid overly exciting identifiers. Just for fun, let me show you a Tom Swifty:

"Pass me the shellfish," said Tom crabbily.
(Or my personal favourite: "I might as well be dead," Tom croaked.)

This is part of a bigger discussion, of course, the one about showing, not telling. While I’m not a complete proponent of that one (I always defer to Orson Scott Card, who says it’s best only to use it for dramatic sequences), I do have a soft spot for said. I have to agree with Appel that you don’t have to use it as a dialogue tag all the time, as with everything the rule is: if you can leave it out, do.

Just don’t leave said out altogether.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

I've got to admit it's getting better / A little better all the time

I began clinging to planning and schedule earlier this week, which is usually a sign I’m heading for some kind of disaster. Maybe it’s the weather, or maybe it’s taking things easier, but I seem to have avoided disaster and managed to sort things out again. Yesterday was all right, today is better, probably also because it’s quiet. (Though that’s a relative thing, here at the Kralingse Zoom.)

And I’m writing. Good things and bad things but most of all things that are helping me get other things out of my system. Let’s hope that this time I won’t jinx the mood and actually get some work done. April was going to be the month in which I finish another chapter, but that was a decision I made in early March, and March was the month in which Sadly Nothing Got Done.

Reset the goals, let go all the things that don’t matter, and let’s get going.
A redesign of the website might be a nice place to start. (When I need a break from the writing.) Getting out with my camera would be an essential part of that, and the weather might make that a grateful mission.

Despite its peace and quiet, I’m very quickly developing a rather deep and dark hatred of Thursdays though. They’re interminably boring, and I bear boring quite badly.

Probably should have gone to Groningen this weekend after all.