26 July 2011

rookie mistakes

Maybe rookie mistakes is too harsh? How about rookie room-for-improvements? :)
Generally, the slush at ElectricSpec is very good. However, we editors can tell when we get a story from someone new to writing. There are a number of common room-for-improvements we see:
  • Possibly the most obvious is using non-said or non-asked dialogue tags. Don't ask me why only "said" and "asked" are allowed in dialogue tags, but that's the way it is. (If anyone knows, please share.)
  • Another common issue is all telling and no showing. I know like a hundred years ago this was the fashion, but when was the last time you read something published that did this? Telling is summarizing a story and we still do this in our everyday lives. But the current fashion in fiction is to write immediate, have the reader experience the story as it happens (a bit weird when you consider the another current fashion is past tense.)
  • Finally, a common room-for-improvement we see is nothing happens, usually because the protagonist doesn't act. As an editor, this one is particularly disappointing. You get all excited about the big idea or the world-building and the problem set-up and then ...nothing. Often this is linked to a mild or missing conflict: who or what is stopping the protagonist? Generally speaking in stories we publish the protagonist has to do something to try to solve the problem. The protagonist doesn't have to succeed, but they have to try.

So, double-check your stories. You don't have any of these issues, do you?


Grey Freeman said...

I'd say that you only use 'said' and 'asked' because they don't get in the way of the story.

If you have to use another word like 'accused' or 'shouted' then that means you aren't confident that the reader is going to understand what's going on. How the dialogue is said should be clear from what they are saying and the context they're saying it in.

I only use dialogue tags other than 'said' if I'm certain the reader won't understand, like if the shouting is unexpected for example. Even then, I try to avoid it. I even try to avoid 'said' and 'asked' when I can, Elmore Leonard style.

lesleylsmith said...

Thanks for the info, Grey. I agree, too, that avoiding even said and asked is ideal. :)

ssas said...

Non-said dialogue tags equal telling.