Dialogue Tags Part 2: 3 Alternative Options

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So last week you read my rant claiming the only dialogue tags you should frequently use is “said” and “asked.”

But that gets repetitive, doesn’t it?

Look, even if you got creative and started using tags like “chirped,” your dialogue might start sounding like a play with all of the he said, she said. Which is great, for a play, but not for a novel, short story, or any sized story in-between.

So I’m giving you a list of ways to eliminate tons of those tags and add variety to your dialogue.

1.) Beats: This is probably the most common way writers vary their dialogue, and there’s a good reason for that. A “beat” is when a description indicates who said what rather than a dialogue tag like “stated.” Some examples are:

• “Please, stay,” Erin touched his hand.
• “What do you mean!” Edward’s face turned red.

Obviously, this gives you countless ways to vary your dialogue’s structure and flow. These two examples are fairly simple, but you could use more complicated beats, or use them to sneak in bits of description. Not only that, but they help you follow the “show not tell” rule. With Erin’s example, I could have used “Erin said softly,” but “Erin touched his hand” not only conveys a more specific type of emotion, but it also shows her emotion rather than telling you how she feels. The same is true with Edward’s example. These are only the biggest two advantages beats have when used correctly.

While beats are a wonderful tool in the writer’s tool box, don’t overuse them. Too many beats can slow dialogue down or get nuanced by characters conveying the same emotion over and over again or repeating actions (I can’t tell you how many I’ve cut characters look up or down in my dialogue. It’s like, their eyes are always moving).

2.) Say My Name: This is a fairly straightforward way of indicating who someone is speaking too. Simply put, the character says another character’s name. In order for this to work, there can’t be many people in the scene or else who is speaking might become unclear. I wouldn’t advise using this one often though, as it often doesn’t sound natural. I mean, when’s the last time you phrased something like this: “I don’t really feel like it, Lizzy.” I’m guessing not often, so don’t use it in your dialogue often either.

3.) Strong Character Voice: This is probably the most difficult one to master. Any writer can edit “said” out and add beats instead if they put in the time. It also only takes a basic understanding of how people talk to use option #2 effectively, but this takes practice. Way #3 is having characters with such strong points of view and voice, that you don’t have to indicate who is speaking because the reader already knows. Not only does this way require strong character development and voice, but it also demands that you can convey those things through dialogue. This requires thoroughly understanding your characters; having characters that vary in speech patterns, vocabulary, and/or experiences; and seeing the world through the character’s lens (not your own) every time you make them speak. It’s difficult and something, I think, every writer works on.

Do you have any other ways to get around using dialogue tags? Have any tips on how to use the ways I listed that I left out? Please sound off below.

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Dialogue Tags Part 1: The “Said” Debate

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Nothing makes me angrier than seeing an infographic full of words someone suggested you should use instead of “said.” Alright, so nothing is a bit strong here, but still. If I’m browsing a Pinterest board and see an infographic like that, I click off. To me, hearing someone say I shouldn’t use “said” when writing dialogue is like a horse training telling me I should walk behind the horse and smack it (albeit, less dangerous). You lose credibility so fast I stop listening. When using dialogue tags, you should use “said” most of the time and I’ll explain why, then list some of the worst (and therefore best) suggestions people honestly thought you should use in place of “said.”

First, I’m going to explain why some dialogue tags make absolutely no sense. Do you ever understand what someone is saying when they are crying or laughing? Have you ever heard your friends growl words? Would you ever describe your two cents in a conversation as “commented” unless it was online? Using some of these dialogue tags are just unnatural. People don’t “howl” or “growl” when they talk, at least not most people. So your characters shouldn’t either.

Now for the scientific argument. Pick up the book closest to you and read any random page with dialogue. Alright, now tell me, how many times did you read “said” or any dialogue tags? You probably have no idea. Actually, you probably didn’t even read the word “said” unless you did a close read. “Said” was most likely on that page, but you didn’t read it. Your brain skipped over “said” and filled it in. Now, if you read the same page and a character “hissed” or “mumbled” instead of “said,” the page reads a lot slower. That’s because it takes longer for your brain to process these words. They make you stop and actually process the word, resulting in clunky reading and dialogue that doesn’t flow if used too often. Using “said” makes dialogue read faster and more naturally. Also for a side note, “asked” is another word the brain more or less skips over when reading. Especially for avid readers.

So, what if you’re sick of said? Then tune in next week to get a list of other ways to indicate who said what other than dialogue tags.

Alright, as promised, here are 25 of the most bizarre suggestions people have honestly suggested you use instead of “said.”

Think, “You did what?” my mother [fill in word here] before reading every word for some interesting sentences.

Amplified
Barked
Blathered
Bleated
Breathed
Bubbled
Burped
Chirped
Clucked
Demurred
Ejaculated
Elucidated
Enunciated
Exploded
Extemporized
Foreshadowed
Gawked
Gurgled
Importuned
Interjected
Resounded
Rumbled
Shot
Trumpeted
Yakked

What do you think? Did I miss any great dialogue tags? What’s the most awkward dialogue tag you’ve ever read?

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Fantasy Music: Gary Stadler

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Have you ever typed, “what music fairies would play” in YouTube in order to find music for your story, or just for casual listening? Well, search no longer. I found your guy: Gary Stadler.

His Last.fm page lists his genres as “New Age,” “Ambient,” “Piano,” and “Neo-Classical.” So much of that music is too focused on helping people relax and sounding more “ambient” than “music.” But Stadler’s music tells a story. It sounds like a long, slow, beautiful ache. Like living in a moment you know you’ll cherish forever and knowing it’s about to end. It’s a faraway look and a soft smile, it’ a warm feeling deep inside you, or one that pulls at you and you’re not even sure why.

If you’ve read my other posts, you know I’m not prone to poetic writing, but Stadler’s music makes writing that way easy.

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So, if you’re looking for a bittersweet, melodramatic, romantic, nostalgic sound that let’s you envision a forest with trees lightly dusted with snow that sparkles under the moonlight, or two lovers who haven’t seen each other in years and know those years will probably keep them apart, then Gary Stadler is for you. On a less dramatic note, he’s also for you if you’re scene/story involves a faerie/elven woods a garden or anything like that, his music might just be for you as well.

While not exactly the most well known musician, his music isn’t too difficult to find as much of it is uploaded to YouTube and Spotify. You can also find it on Amazon.com or other larger music providers. And, occasionally, the kind of stores that sell knock-off Lord of the Rings weapons and incense (basically, the best kind of store).

Here’s a list of his album titles currently available.

Fairy of the Woods
Fairy Lullabies
Deep Within a Faerie Forest
Fairy Heart Magic
Fairy Night Songs
Reflections of the Faerie

I suggest checking them all out, though my personal favorite (from the ones I own), is Fairy of the Woods.

Which one do you like the best? Do you know any similar artists? Any fantasy music you want me to check out?

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Female Characters in Fantasy?

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There’s a debate going on about including more female and non-white characters in fantasy stories. I don’t feel qualified to discuss the non-white character debate yet as I am a.) white and b.) haven’t read the discussions about that as thoroughly as I feel I should in order to discuss it, but I do feel comfortable talking about female characters in fantasy.

Here’s a brief summary. One side says females represent 50% of the human race and stories should reflect that. The other side states that women had limited roles during the time periods most fantasy stories draw from and forcing too many females feels like “shoehorning” them in and ruining a story for the sake of political correctness. The counter to this is that these fantasy worlds are not (usually) direct mirrors of reality and if a country based off 1400s France (or whatever) can have dragons and magic, why can’t it have females in roles they might not have had? Another argument states females had more roles than most fantasy stories today suggest. I haven’t done the historical research for this, but my next point makes the truthfulness of this idea null and void.

To me, it’s a bit sad that people can suspend disbelief about characters portal jumping and talking dragons then can’t do the same about women playing non-traditional roles (i.e. not girlfriend, mother, sister, magical goddess, prostitute , etc . . .) in a story. If there’s magical trees that grow fruit that heals, there can be multiple female soldiers. One is considerably more unrealistic than the other, especially considering there are real female soldiers/store owners/etc . . .

Another issue brought up is that fantasy is mostly read/written by males, so of course most of the characters are male. Most people believe it’s easier to associated with characters more like you, so males more easily identify with male characters. Even better is females can and will read books with male leads and written with males in mind more than males will read books with female leads and written with females in mind, so it’s just safer to fill a book with mostly males as it will appeal to a wider audience in theory.

Let’s have a small exercise. In school, how many books did you read about a main male character? How many books did you read written by women? How many books did you read that even attempted to express a women’s point of view? I’m guessing the only large number is the first one. I don’t think men are incapable of reading books with female leads or many female characters. I think that from a young age we’re taught that men shouldn’t get into anything remotely feminine. But discussing that issue is far beyond the scope of this post and the fantasy genre as a whole.

One other issue, the one I understand the most, is fear. Authors are afraid to write female characters. They’re afraid if she’s too feminine, she’s weak (I personally hate this idea, but that’s a whole other article). Or if she’s too masculine, she’s not feminine enough and the author is saying the only way for a woman to be “strong” is if she acts like a male. They’re afraid to make her captured too many times, afraid to let her mess up, afraid she’ll end up playing into traditional roles and she’ll get torn apart by fans. I understand this fear, especially considering the current discussion on females in the media.

The easiest way to get over this is to have more than one female character. Then, the female character isn’t representing the entire gender. Having one female is like having one non-white person. The writers/writer ends up so worried about keeping them “awesome” and not falling into any traps, they end up boring, perfect characters. Meanwhile, the group of white guys get to be nuanced, quirky, faulted, and all-around more interesting. Why? Because the author doesn’t feel like he’s representing the whole race/gender with one character because there are many of them. For every white male that falls into one or two stereotypes, there are others who do not. The author’s view on non-white and female characters doesn’t hinge on one portrayal, so their portrays get more varied.

I’m not expecting everyone to be George R. R. Martin (say what you will about him, but he has a WIDE range of female characters with incredibly different personalities and perspectives). Fantasy stories don’t all need female leads, but what I’m asking for is that the world feels like women populate it for reasons other than making more people and getting stuck in perilous situations. Two excellent examples are Patrick Rothfuss’ The Kingkiller Chronicles and Robin Hobb’s the Assassin’s Trilogy. Both of these stories have (incredibly compelling) male leads. But guess what? The money lender Kvothe makes deals with, a character that is usually male, isn’t male. She’s a female, as are a few of Kvothe’s friends at the university, some of the musicians he talks too, the slightly odd girl that lives in the University’s tunnels, and others. Sure, these girls sometimes need rescuing. Sometimes they’re the ones rescuing. Some of them act traditionally feminine. Others less so. All of them are far more interesting than the token female characters in other fantasy books. In Hobb’s series, the sword fighting instructor – female. Is she a major character, no. But she doesn’t have to be. And she’s only one female character in a series that includes a plethora of interesting female characters.

I guess what I’m asking for, what I think might solve this issue in fantasy, isn’t a whole new set of leather-clad warrior women or even more “girly” heroines that save the day using more traditionally feminine means (not that I’d protest either of those), but more women in more roles. Does the bartender the main character stops at always have to be a guy? No. And changing something as simple as the name of the bartender the main character speaks too once from a male to a female name isn’t going to ruin the integrity of a story for the sake of political correctness, nor should she be any scarier to write than the male character they stop by and talk too once. Also, if you make her butch, then the incredibly feminine love interest the male main character has will come under less fire because she’s not saying this is the only way females can be, it’s just one way. Then the female characters in the series act, you know, as varied as male characters get to.

What is your take on this issue? Is it an issue? Sound off below.

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Too Many Story Ideas? 5 Ways to Solve It

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Writer’s Block is famous (or infamous). Everyone has heard of it and it’s probably the most common problem that plagues writers (other than simply not having the drive/concentration to finish a story).

But what about the other issue? What about people with too many ideas?

That’s my problem and it’s always been my problem. Sure, sometimes I stare at the cursor blinking on my screen with no idea what to write next, but it doesn’t usually last long—I just power through it or take a break.

Right now, I have 7 story ideas at various stages in development.

Ugh.

I’m not complaining, at least not really. I prefer having too many ideas to writer’s block so I can write something at least, but the story I’m writing is coming to a close and I have NO idea which of the other ideas I should start next.

I’m sure I’m not the only one with this problem.

However, I do have some ways to help pick one idea over others.

1. The Most Interesting One Right Now: Hopefully, all your ideas are interesting. But is there one sparking your interest? Can you picture yourself writing it without daydreaming about another idea? Those are some questions I ask myself when trying to decide what to go with next. There’s nothing more painful than finishing up a story when you have a bright, shiny new idea you’d like to start instead. So picking the bright, shiny idea from the beginning might help.

2. Consider Scale: Some of the ideas I have are single novels about one or two main characters. Others are multi-book series that take place in a multi-series universe where tons of characters and countries are up to their own schemes. Obviously, option 1 requires less pre-work (in theory) and less to keep track of. So, what are your up for? To me, this is a bit like picking the difficulty on a video game you love (Fire Emblem, always) or choosing a book to read. Sometimes, you say “bring it” and pick hard (if you’ve played Fire Emblem, you know just how insane some Hard modes are) or read War and Peace, other times, you just want to have fun and go with “easy” and read something by light like a Harry Dresden novel. Both are enjoyable and worthwhile depending on your mood.

3. What Stage? Another thing to consider is how far along the stories are. Some of my stories have their worlds built, timelines organized (mostly), and characters fleshed-out. For others, I could summarize everything I know about them in less than 100 words. Ask yourself? Do I want to jump into writing right away and pick something already thought out? Or do I want to start from scratch and build something up? I’ve done both, and they’ve both worked out.

4. How About Not Writing? Okay, so this idea isn’t going to be popular. If you really can’t pick one and need more time to sit on it (committing to a novel is a big deal after all), then consider blowing off the dust on an old, already written novel and editing or proofreading. If you’ve edited one a few times, why not focus on writing query letters or researching traditional publishing verses self-publishing? Why not research the big-time editors in your genre? There’s a lot more to writing than the actual act of writing, plotting, world building, and character creation. Researching the business side of it or getting rid of pesky typos and awkward sentences might not be a fun, but if you’re serious about writing as profession, then you can’t ignore those steps (Plus, it will motivate you to just pick one so you can go back to the fun stuff!).

5. Think About the Market: I’d use this one as a last resort, and it only applies to people who want to get published. Keeping tabs on the market is always a good thing, but don’t let it rule your writing life. The reason something is on “trend” right now is because someone wrote a great story that no one else did and created that trend. Anyways, there is some wisdom in considering what is selling and what isn’t and what point you’re at in your career. Selling a single novel with spin-off or sequel potential is a lot more likely than selling your ten book series that spans three generations. If it really comes down to it, pick the idea you think is the easiest to sell for you at your point in your career and whatever the market is doing.

So, what do you think of these ideas? Are there any other ways you use to pick one idea over the other? Please tell me below, I could use your help!

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On Writing: Authenticity & Voice

Hello everyone! I’m doing my second “On Writing” post where I post a quote on reading/writing and discuss how the quote can make you (and me!) a better writer.

Today’s quote is from the reclusive genius, J. D. Salinger. Say what you will about The Catcher in the Rye, I like it. And this quote perfectly summarizes why.

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When I finished it, I did feel like I could just call up the author (though, knowing Salinger’s reputation, he would’ve freaked out, understandably). I liked it because the main character, Holden Caulfield, while a tad over emotional, felt real. Salinger has a STRONG voice which made it seem authentic. I think it’s one of the reasons his writing career was so successful. This quote puts “voice” and “authenticity” on an understandable level. Instead of saying, “have a strong voice and be authentic,” say, “write like a real person, like someone your reader wants to call up on the phone.”

What do you think of this quote? Are there other quotes that get this point across?

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Top 5 Ways People Differentiate Fantasy and Science Fiction

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This is about to get confusing. There’s a HUGE difference between science fiction and fantasy. But I don’t know what it is. And neither does anyone else.

Well, that’s not totally true. I have a personal idea of what’s “science-fiction” and what’s “fantasy,” and so do most people. I’m going to cover some of the more popular ways sci-fi and fantasy are divided.

And just so you know, this posts is all Fullmetal Alchemist’s fault. See, I used to have a solid idea which was which until this show/manga came around.

1. The Layman’s Way: This is the traditional idea of science-fiction and fantasy. If there’s a dragon, it’s fantasy. If there’s a space ship, it’s science fiction. These people think Dragonriders of Pern is fantasy and Star Wars is science fiction. These people use traditional tropes to “feel” which story is which. I used to be in this camp, until I came across stories that I couldn’t “feel” into one genre or the other like Fullmetal Alchemist. However, for those who like this way, you can classify something that doesn’t  feel one way or another, “science-fantasy.”

2.The Level of Explanation Way: These people classify something as “fantasy” if the magic/technology isn’t explained. Someone waves their hand or pushes a button and presto! force-field, it’s fantasy. It doesn’t matter if the person making the force-field is a star-ship captain (a-la Captain Kirk) or a wizard (a-la Gandalf). It’s fantasy if it’s not explained because the lack of scientific explanation makes it fantastical. If the magic system is explained, like Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn, then it’s science fiction, even if the explanation doesn’t work in real-life (though, some may require more realistic explanations behind the science/magic). This way of defining things gets a little hazy when trying to define softer magic systems, those that fall in-between Lord of the Rings and Mistborn, like Sword of Truth. There’s an explanation, magic is divided into catagories and passages about prophecy that made me cross-eyed. BUT, how the magic works isn’t explained. So it’s half-way. It’s not totally fantastical because there’s some explanation, but it’s not exactly scientific, more like labels than explanations.

3. Past and Future Way: Fantasy looks towards the past and science fiction looks towards the future. Seems simple enough. I used to use this way to define the two in combination with way #1. But, things get a bit confusing again. When exactly is the “past” cut-off line. Fullmetal Alchemist has cars, tanks, and guns, but magic instead of any technology-based powers (except automail). Is a car too far into the future for fantasy? But there’s no TVs, cell-phones, or other modern appliances let alone technical advancements, so it’s not science fiction either. Yet again, “science-fantasy” works.

4. The Legend of Korra is an Anime Way: Alright. I’ll be up-front. I don’t subscribe to this way of thinking AT ALL. I’ll explain it, explain why I don’t like it, and then explain why I am falling into some of the same traps.

So, this way gets its name from people who insist the Avatar universe is an anime. By definition in the West, anime is animation created in Japan for a Japanese audience. And while the Avatar universe has some Asian animators, it’s created for an American audience. Some people want to label the Avatar shows anime to justify why they like it. How do I know this? Because I’m the person I’m about to describe. They dislike most American animation that’s either low-brow humor or for children only. They’re irritated they can’t simply label the animation they like as “anime.” And they try to get around their by labeling whatever they like as “anime.” Yes, I’m guilty of this. But no, the Avatar shows aren’t anime.

Anyways, how does this way of labeling things work? These people define science-fiction as stories where the status-quo changes and fantasy as stories where people fight to maintain the status quo. Combine this with the (legitimate) criticisms that fantasy is white-washed and male dominated, and you have some unfortunate implications. Basically, this way of labeling the genres sweeps everyone who writes and enjoys fantasy into one category, the same kind of people who, at worst, argue about reverse sexism and racism and, at best, are stuck living in the past with no desire to look forward.

I’ve read the articles that defend this idea. To me, it sounds like the same arguments that try to discredit the fantasy genre I’ve heard 100s of times. Personally, I think this is a way literature snobs can read a fantasy book and like it without having to acknowledge a fantasy novel as a legitimate contribution to literature (as it’s widely-known that, while not “respected” per-say, science-fiction has more “literary merit” than fantasy in the general public’s opinion).

It seems like people say that fantasy book credited with exploring interesting ideas (like Sanderson’s Stormlight Archives) is “science-fiction” and fluff fantasy (like Terry Brook’s Shannara) remains fantasy because its “worthless” and “lives in the past.” Even worse, it’s a way for people to get rid of the fluff in science fiction, like Star Wars, and dump it into fantasy. They’re like the anime fans that say Avatar is an anime because they want to put everything they like under one label and refuse to like something in a category they usually ignore or dislike.

Of course, I might not be any better than them. I like fantasy more than science fiction.  So, is my negative reaction to this justified, or am I just irritated that, if people label stories that move the status quo forward, then I can’t say I like “fantasy” any more, but I’d have to say “science fiction and fantasy.”

5. The “Where Does It Come From?” Way: This is the way I define science fiction and fantasy. If the power comes from technology, it’s science fiction. If the power comes from a person, it’s fantasy. Power coming from a person or object makes a story “fantastical,” while power coming from technology makes the story “science-y.” If a story has both, like Star Wars, I look at the surroundings use ways #1 and #3. Something like Fullmetal Alchemist is a fantasy as the powers come from a person, with a few science fiction elements (like automail). I like this way because, no matter what, I can label something as fantasy or science fiction. Oh wait . . . Scrapped Princess (explaining how it doesn’t fit nicely into either category spoils quite a bit of the story). I guess there’s still a time and place for “science-fantasy.”

What do you think? How do you define them? Or don’t you care? Sound off below.

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