Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Things were done by us differently then," she said trendily...and other ancient horrors.

I've read a couple of books recently that were written about 15-20 years ago and I'm cracking up over the difference in writing style as compared to today.

First of all, the books use a plethora of passive voice. These days it is DRILLED into us to never, ever use it (although I happen to believe there is a time and place for passive. Every now and then, that is). Some writers all but have nightmares over passive voice, and look upon the use of "was" as a publishing death sentence. Attack of the killer WAS! Yes, dear authors, run screaming!

Another is the use of -ly adverbs. These were not just accepted, they seem to have been encouraged. I doubt there has been a single sentence without them in the book I'm reading now. I don't think -ly adverbs are the horror most people make them out to be UNLESS they are over-used. Kinda like, one spider skittering across the floor is not a big deal. Spiders serve their purpose in this world, but it would be a different story if spiders were teeming through the house.

Well, actually, I suppose the kind of spider makes a difference, too. A "slowly" or "unsteadily" here and there is like finding a common house spider in the corner of the back porch. But, as in the book I've been reading, if you find "feelingly" or--and I'm not kidding here--"wonderingly" it's a bit like coming face to face with a tarantula perched on your cereal bowl.

The third and final difference I want to point out is the dialogue tag. Today, editors tell writers to use as few as possible (essentially enough to keep the speakers straight), and to never use a tag that restates the tone of the dialogue itself. If what the character says doesn't convey his anger, writing "he shouted angrily" is not going to grab the reader either. In other words, make the dialogue punch and stick to "he said" or "she asked" as tags.

From the last book I read--or, tried to read--I couldn't make it all the way through--I compiled a list of dialogue tags that ALL appeared within a two-page span:

said, adding her approval (the dialogue showed that. duh)
whined (again!)
said firmly
whispered under her breath angrily
pleaded softly
countered, with a pointed look
shot back defiantly
whispered angrily (was this one over her breath?)

If an entire book had this list of tags in it these days, the author would be duly reprimanded. This many is JUST TWO PAGES would be grounds to have the author drawn and quartered.

(Come on, I wouldn't actually post a picture of that! Even if it is Halloween!)

So, I'm wondering what the writing trends will be twenty years from now. Will we use dialogue tags at all? Will trends reverse, and writing become more fluid and verbose? Will I be teaching writers to do all the things I was told not to do?

Eep, nearly forgot this! I was digging through my notebook of short story ideas and came across a page of limericks I wrote (must have been trying to dredge up some creativity). It's sort of on the subject of writing least as applies to fantasy. And for some reason I don't see this as one that will ever go away:

When first inspired, the number's three,
but soon discovered more will be.
Five, seven, or nine
is what you will find
in fant'sy writer's trilogy.


Anonymous said...

HI, Kat. It's working. I can leave messages now. :-) Happy Halloween. Love the creep pictures you posted!

KM Wilsher said...

Great post! I have heard of the ly and was syndrome. Of course, a couple of years ago I read my first ever peice to a crit group I go. They said, "De was" it :)

20 years from now manuscripts will look like movie scripts :)!

Great limerick!

Shawna K. Williams said...

First of all, you crack me up. Love the spiders! Well, the pictures of them anyway. The real thing, not so much. But...I do have a hard time squishing a wolf spider because I know they eat all of the other little buggars. However, if a wolf spider has been too well-fed and is therefore too large, I figure it's lived a good life and now it's time to go.

Alright, somewhere in this comment I had a point to make. I think it was that I agree with you.