Back to English now, and creative writing! My class for the rest of the semester is going to be focused on short story writing, which is…tough. I really struggle with writing stories, which seems to put me in a very small minority of the class. I’m much more comfortable with poetry, possibly because I was a very angsty teenager. Short stories are not their medium of choice, and I have piles of notebooks with terrible poetry rotting on my shelves.
So obviously, because I’m terrible at short stories, I decided to go with the genre of magical realism and a plot that would be more at home in a novel. I really don’t make things easy for myself. I’ve nearly 2,000 words of it knocked out already, but the jury’s out on how many of them will get to stay!
We were looking at dialogue in class yesterday, and the effect qualifiers can have on pacing. Also, a little bit on how they’re often unnecessary: your reader should be able to know who’s talking and what tone their voice is by your writing, without you having to insert “he exclaimed boldly” after every line of speech.
While it’s not a particular strong point of mine, here are some tips I’ve picked up as a reader, an editor, and as a potential writer:
- Your teacher lied: ‘said’ is your friend. Complicated dialogue tags draw your reader out of the story.
- Don’t use adjectives to describe speech, unless absolutely necessary.
- Don’t eye-write your characters’ dialogue. It can get extremely irritating, and unless you’re making a specific point about a particular character (for instance, no one can understand them), it’s easy to come across as prejudiced (so all the poor characters have accents, but the posh ones speak ‘normally’?)
- Don’t write out every single word a character says–you don’t need to transcribe the ‘hello, how are you?’ part of a conversation for the reader.
- Break up long periods of dialogue with qualifiers and short descriptive passages. Your reader will get lost in page after page of ‘__’ / ‘__’.
In fairness, a lot of this boils down to “Don’t be J.K. Rowling or James Joyce” and look how they turned out. Happy writing!