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Using "said" in MG

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...the author could write, "You're making me mad - I did clean my room!"
which, sadly, creates an instance of a tell-don't-show, called in the screenwriting craft "on-the-nose" i.e. subtext-free dialogue, which is what every good writer supposedly strives to avoid.

The trick is to convey growing anger without resorting to overused visual cliches: narrowing of eyes, gritting of teeth, general agitation, or flushing of the face, which latter risks spoiling the read of dark-complected readers who till that point might have formed a different conception of the character.

This is an opportunity to economically reveal or reinforce character & relationship by tag verb alone: growled, muttered, sneered, shouted, blurted, grated, whispered. Again, sometimes said just won't do, especially for the MG demo.

Even italicizing the did can convey the speaker's feeling put-upon, perhaps after having been called a liar on one or more occasions.
#31 - January 24, 2019, 02:08 PM
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Fascinating conversation. My take (which awes no one) is that everything you write should be for a story/character reason. And "I wanted some variety from using 'said'" is not a story reason. So I'll use a different tag line verb or tag with narrative action or even drop in the rare adverb if I have a strong reason for it. I won't use an adverb to do a strong verb's work, but I'll use an adverb when it's exactly the right word to do what I need for the sake of the moment/character/story. Now, I will also seek opportunities for beauty in the language, but only when it works with the demands of character and story. And, of course, I'll fail a lot. The ideal and the application are never equally easy.

Also, I do try to avoid having my characters announce their emotional states unless that person in that moment would definitely say those words. In fact, I might create a character who announces his emotional state constantly as if the world needs to be always aware of his feelings, but I won't do it simply to avoid finding a better way to clue the reader in.  We have a nice big basket full of ways to clue the reader in on a character's emotional state: language choices and pacing within the dialogue spoken, narrative action reflecting the emotion, tag verb variants, adverbs, punctuation, observation by other characters. Some of those are less attention getting than others but all have potential as long as you use them carefully.

Finally, I truly think that being hamstrung by a fear of adverbs or odd tag verbs or much of anything else can be deadly. Fear of messing up as you're writing can create stilted language really quickly.  Don't be afraid of the language, but once you have the story written, hold up every choice to the light of character/story. And read stuff aloud as much as you possibly can.  Look for spots where repetition or stating the obvious or klunky writing pulls the reader out of the story. I once read a book aloud to a small group of children. The author apparently had a horror of the word "said" so not one single character ever "said" anything. They exclaimed and expounded and shouted and explained and countered and demanded. It quickly became comical as it was read aloud. And the kids started to giggle at the speech tags. Don't let the tags become the story. Don't let any structure, word choice, sentence length -- anything -- become a distraction.
#32 - January 25, 2019, 05:08 AM

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I love what Jan just "said."  :love5 Sums this up nicely.
#33 - January 25, 2019, 08:32 AM
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I have no phobia of non-said tag verbs, and certainly no objection to the judicious use of adverbs. Adverbs make excellent placeholders when working with early drafts. During subsequent polish, they can easily be identified (with editing add-ons) then cut, rewritten, or replaced with smoother phrasing. Likewise dialogue tags: many prove unnecessary, and can be quickly located then modified or removed.

But when so-and-so Famous Author calls adverbs "mortal sins" or "dandelions", rules e.g. "an adverb must never modify 'said'" are graven in stone, and no few bloggers, agents, and editors endlessly assert that "professionals" use exclusively said and asked, they fail to understand how doing do only worsens the climate of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) in which emerging writers already labor.

I'll just add that even editing tools ominously remind users that (quoting verbatim from the ProWritingAid Word add-on mouseover):

Editors prefer minimal use of all dialogue tags (except for 'said').
#34 - January 25, 2019, 09:28 AM
« Last Edit: January 25, 2019, 04:16 PM by A. S. Templeton »
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There are no rules---only guidelines. Ignore them for story reasons. (I think this is a summary of what Jan so eloquently said and it will be added to my list of writing mantras.)
#35 - January 25, 2019, 09:53 PM
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Dear A.S.,

I did oversimplify my example - but the MG story is meant for a kid age 10-14...

If the writer is too subtle or indirect or if the vocab seems difficult, then the kid is going to leave the book on the shelf.

I've seen it happen on YouTube, where the reader of one NYT Best-Seller said (in her YT video) that she would skip the (very long) forward (something I've been warned NOT to write, especially a 4-page forward), because she wanted to get into the main character's life - she did skip over the forward, and several other sections...

I believe it requires a Mister Roger's (or Mrs. Doubtfire's) way of thinking - what made his show successful was his simple way of conveying a message. Make it too abstract, then a child will walk away from it - MG books are meant for the average child or early teen, not a gifted child who's already reading YA material...

Just my opinion, but after all I was a Child-Life volunteer for several enjoyable years and came to know that children like to enjoy what they read - but they also want it to be something that will not make them feel like there will be a test afterwards...

#36 - January 26, 2019, 07:28 AM
« Last Edit: January 28, 2019, 08:51 AM by Frank Oliver »

I agree that prologues can be problematic, tediously overlong or not. I tend to skip over them. Prologues would make a fine separate topic.

But bringing it full circle, J.K.'s gleeful use of adverbs (nearly 1.3% of prose!) and unflinching 25% non-said tag verbs certainly did not ruin the read for a zillion MG (and older) readers, which suggests that Dem Rulez need not apply. As to how many editors insist that writers strictly follow same, who can say? I tend to look at the Bottom ¬£ine  and let the market speak.
#37 - January 26, 2019, 11:29 AM
« Last Edit: January 26, 2019, 01:52 PM by A. S. Templeton »
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Back when brontosauruses didn't exist (i.e. after they found out the first one was actually three dinosaurs, and before they gave a new dinosaur the old name because it wasn't being used anymore) I asked a children's publication why they still used 'brontosaur' in their stories.

They said, "Because everyone has heard it before, and it's an easy word to recognize. When people think long-necked dinosaur that's the word they think of."

I said, "But your non-fiction is wrong then."

I guess it's right now, so what was my problem, right? And what does this have to do with "said"?

Stories are important to kids, and they can thoroughly enjoy a poorly written story (I know, because I written a few). But those stories aren't just for the kids. They're for a wider market, and that market places certain (sometimes inconsistent) demands on the writing.

Like the brontosaurus, there are a number of things that probably shouldn't have been in J.K.'s books, and probably wouldn't if she rewrote them now. It's may be why she was rejected as many times as she was, and why it wasn't a full agent who 'discovered' her.

I know of one publisher that generally follows the 'don't worry about wrong tags and over using adverbs', and I can't stand their books. I find other publishers staid because their structure seems too formal -- you can also see the writer avoiding an adverb.

But do I think any market is missing out because of an under or overuse of said? No.

In my mind tags are just to identify the speaker. And with such a limited function I want them over with as soon as possible. 'Said' is a nice short word.
#38 - January 26, 2019, 12:28 PM


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