Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Bit of Rant

I'm gonna rant a bit today. Consider yourself warned.

"What is she 'gonna' rant about?" he wondered to himself.

Don't you hate that "wondered to himself"? Come on! How else do you wonder? Have you ever "wondered to" somebody else? Adding "to himself" just means you threw two unnecessary words on the page.

"Never thought about that," he chuckled.

May I ask how you chuckle words? What happens if your tongue slips while chuckling big words like "contrariwise" or "enunciation" - do you choke?

"I see what you mean," he smiled.

You just did it again! How does one smile words? It must be very hard to get thick words through your thinly-spread lips and closed teeth.

"You are ruining my fun," he said. "....Are you happy now? I used 'said'!"

Actually, no. Without proper context, how am I to know how you said it? That sentence doesn't define itself. Did you growl it? Whine it? State it? I don't know much about you - how do I know how those words came out?

Now, if you had said "Come over here, Amber," and there was nothing in the previous text to indicate that you were upset with me, I could assume you just "said" it. But if you added an exclamation point, you must - again - define if you shouted, screamed, or cried the words. Context is everything.

Dialogue is big, important stuff. Absolutely essential. But so are the words that come after it! Please, please, please, don't give yourself away as an amateur writer by putting the wrong words there. Characters do not:

chuckle words,
smile words,
laugh words,

They can, however:

...and a multitude of other things, along with the ever-important "said."

Of course, our characters do chuckle, smile, and laugh. They just don't speak it. (If you disagree, try it yourself.)

So be sure to separate the two. Put the words; "I think I get this" then a period; "." (NOT a comma!) then "he laughed."


Now you have no excuse if you write something impossible, like, "It's no big deal," he laughed.

But wait a minute! If I write "'It's no big deal,' Harold said," how do I convey that laughing tone of voice that he's using?

Talent, my friends! Talent!

Without those crutches, you'll have to show Harold's emotions with the words he says, not you say. You'll have to convey it with his actions, not your descriptions. Use laughing words, and punctuation that shows how he's catching his breath and doubling over. For that matter, mention that he's doubling over, and his eyes are crinkled up, and his missing teeth are showing. If all else fails, just say "Harold laughed loudly."

There is some gray area, though. For example, two words I'm not sure on are "groaned" and "sighed." Can you groan words? Or sigh them? What do you think?

Oh yeah - there's another thing that bugs me.

"Laughing loudly," is fine.

"Screaming loudly," is not.

How else do you scream?

Whispered quietly?
Flew quickly?

The only time you need modifiers like this is when the context demands it. For example, "laughed joyfully" is usually redundant and unnecessary. However, if up until now the character has been laughing wryly and sarcastically, a bit of explaining is due.

Leave your "ing" and "ed" words alone unless context demands you explain that they aren't laughing joyfully, flying quickly, running quickly, standing erectly, etc.

....And my pizza dough is finished rising, so I must abruptly end my ranting, and bid you farewell.


  1. Good rant, Amber. I have one rant to add. I have an author whose books I love, but she has one annoying quirk. She loves the word "thickly" as in "I can't stand it," he whispered thickly. "he said thickly" "his voice was thick".

    I just feel like saying "ENOUGH! Find a different way to show the emotion!!!!!!!!"

    Ahhh, that feels better.