Monday, March 14, 2011

In which I clean things (sort of)

I've got a post planned on journeys later this week based on some revelations brought about in my critique group meeting last night, but today I've got a question for all my blogging buddies. I've been doing some "it's almost spring" cleaning and have accumulated an impressive stack of paper critiques from various stages of chapters on my current WIP. I'm torn on what to do with these critiques - do I keep them as reference points or mementos, or do I recycle them like a good little non-pack rat?

What do you do with your hard copies of critiques after you've addressed them?

Also, I squeed (sounds a lot grosser than it did in my head but I'm leaving it) when I saw this and this. Suffice it so say these were both on my list of bloggy accomplishments and I feel big and important now. Thanks, ladies :). (Yes, I'm a huge dork).

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

In defense of dialog tags

I'm going to throw a couple of caveats out there before I even get into my discussion/diatribe (yes, it's THAT incendiary):

1) I am not an editor
2) I am not an agent
3) Despite two years slogging through the slush pile at a local independent publisher, I am not a publishing professional
4) I am a great lover of the word

Okies, now that we've gotten those out of the way I can begin. I read a lot of advice on writing - blogs, articles, blog links to articles, article links to blogs, sometimes words printed on paper (I'm surprised they still exist), etc. I know all about show don't tell, adverb abuse, dialog tags, how to choose a tense, passive voice, and the sneaky over adjectivization. I have, at one point or another, flagrantly broken all of those rules and been reprimanded in one way or another by critique partners. I've done my time, learned my lessons, and moved on to what I hope is a cleaner, leaner, meaner way of writing (this present post aside). But there's a thought niggling at the back of my mind that I'd like to give voice to today, gentle readers, and I hope you'll hear me out in the spirit of a love of the word.

I. Like. Dialog tags. THERE. I said it. It's out there, or at least it will be when I hit Publish Post. I like the diversity of descriptions and the adverbs and the accompanying actions on dialog. I know the rule - only ever use he said she said they said we said I said and never never NEVER say how they said it - but I don't like it. Because as a lover of the word, I enjoy a good adverb here and there. I enjoy knowing if a character whispered or shouted or grunted their lines.

Yes, I know the reason for the rule. There was widespread abuse among the greener of us, and every single line of dialog was weighted down with adverbs galore and a bizarre mesh of descriptive verbs ("Festivus is totally the best holiday," he proselytized.). I know it was a push toward cleaner writing that didn't fog up the window with unnecessary words and instead polished the glass to a high shine so the reader could look through the words without looking at them. It's about the actual dialog, not the description of how it's being said. I get it. Really.

But I've had it drilled into my head from so many places and people that my fingers tremble every time they they reach for the l and y keys. I gnaw my lip whenever I decide to let a character growl something instead of just saying it. And the truth is, I do it because I'm used to seeing it in other writing. I'm used to a more flowery approach to prose that may or may not come from years of reading romance novels. My fear is that this incessant push toward abolishing adverbs from published works will mean I'll never get to read about someone saying something quietly or politely. Like all things, I believe there's a time and a place for such descriptions.

So every once in a while, I let my characters say something glibly, or shoot back a witty remark. But only every once in a while. I promise.

What about you? How do you feel about excess description in dialog tags? Are you an abuser or a law upholder when it comes to dialog tags?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tell me where I am

Pretty sure I've written about this before, but I kind of hate writing scenery. I can either see the location in my head and don't want to waste time thinking up how to describe it, or I don't care about the location because it doesn't impact the scene at hand (especially in dialogue-heavy scenes). So I can't say I was surprised when a big part of the feedback I received in my class last semester was that people didn't know what time period they were in (it's a period piece) or what places looked like. They wanted more grounding in the scene. At the time I wanted to throw up at the thought of taking time away from the plot to describe things, but my professor gave me what has come to be an invaluable piece of advice:

Diagram the scene.

As in, draw it out. Where are the chairs, what does the carpet look like, how many levels does the house/building/spaceship have, what kind of doors are there, does it have a kitchen, are there windows, etc. Don't just think about it, draw it out. This might seem like overkill for some stories, but it was essential for mine, and a handy tip for anyone telling a story that exists in a physical location (yeah, I'm talking to you).

In diagramming you'll find yourself asking questions you never thought of before - now that I know where everything lives, what about decorations? Colors? Does it make sense to put a chair right in the middle of this room? Is the bed too large for the room? Could the character really open the window from there? It's also a lot easier to describe a room when you're looking at a physical picture of it, not just trying to hold images in your head. You'll have a blueprint that you can hold yourself accountable for in all the scenes in your book, and you won't have to bother trying to remember where you put that pesky bookshelf.

You don't need to diagram all the locations, just the most essential ones. Think about it like an episode of Saved By The Bell - how many places do they really go? There's the school hallway lined with lockers, usually a classroom or two that look mysterious alike, and The Max. If you've watched the show, you can clearly see these locations in your mind when thinking of pivotal scenes of the show. You want your readers to have the same instant recall about your own scenes. If you don't ground your readers in the scene they'll feel lost about where they are and what they're watching.

Have you ever diagrammed a location in your story before? Did it help?