A small number of valiant Scribblers are attempting Camp NaNoWriMo this month and I’m here to spur them on! In my own, roundabout way.
I have read a lot of lists recently. There’s an article where authors were asked for their personal do’s and don’ts and I sat here and read a lot of them shaking my head and tutting and rolling my eyes at these so-called rules all the different authors have. I’ve come to a conclusion as a result: aside from shoring up my opinion that a) lists are great things and b) that everyone makes their own for a reason, I have a new found conviction that no one can tell you how to be a writer. No one.
This “rule” stuck out to me particularly:
3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.
Now, I see this around a lot and to a certain extent I agree that often ‘s/he said’ is much more direct and less attention grabbing than anything else, allowing the dialogue itself room to breathe, but I really, honestly, do not subscribe to the idea that you can never use another word to describe the way that someone is talking. Dialogue cannot carry itself all the time. So much communication is down to body language and expression in the voice or face and so ‘s/he said’ doesn’t always translate the way I want it to. To me a peppering of descriptors around dialogue is essential. I want to know when someone’s voice turns to a whisper, that one word slid in to replace a boring old ‘said’ can tell me so much more about the mood of a scene, it can offer so much more than simply getting out of the way of the dialogue as quickly as possible. I want to know about the emotional or physical well-being of a character, because the words they might be using could be the most innocuous things ever, it could be a simple ‘Okay’ or ‘Fine, thanks,’ and to have someone whisper that instead of simply say it can add something great to a scene, a little bit of flavour that I find extremely necessary. I want to feel the scene as much as read it, I want it right there at the ends of my nerves, not just in my head.
By contrast Margaret Atwood’s tips are, naturally, fantastic, so go read those, quick quick!
There are, however, ten tips that I do follow religiously. Well, not religiously, and there are actually more than ten in total but these ten in particular are the ones I have pinned to the wall above my writing desk so that when I’m gazing listlessly about in the middle of a paragraph that I’m not sure how to end I have something thought-provoking and inspiring (to me) to look at.
1. Write the sentence, not just the story.
More than many tips this one has stuck with me. Whenever I’m writing I try very hard to think about the sentence I’m constructing, I like to keep in my mind the rhythm of a paragraph or a spurt of dialogue; each sentence is a story in itself really, each sentence should have purpose otherwise it is simply dead weight and useless to the narrative, to me and to the characters. Every sentence must describe something, someone or somewhere, give reason or rhyme. I am ny no means saying I always succeed, in fact I know for certain there is a lot of dead weight in my novel that I’m going to have to cut and it is going to sting to do it, but there it is. I chose this after all, as Margaret Atwood points out brilliantly, so I ought not to whine. Of course I’m not going to list all ten of these tips, instead here’s a handy link to one of my favourite lists of tips: 10 Writing Tips That Can Help Anyone.
So there you go. It’s the 16th of June, just over halfway through the first Camp NaNoWriMo of 2012, good luck to those brave souls amongst us who are tackling the mighty goal of fifty thousand words, I hope this posts and my obsession with lists big and small has been a nice little break for your brain if not particularly helpful or inspiring. Now hop to it, and know that I believe in you!