He Said/She Sighed – Part 1 (HT: @ginad129)

A great article here from Catherine Austen, which could be ‘here are some rules about writing rules’:

Big picture rules are good, like: A book should spend more words on important scenes and fewer words on unimportant scenes. That rule is hard to argue with.

Rules I roll my eyes at are nitpicky particulars like: Use “said” as your only verb in dialogue. That is a stupid rule. Or, rather, it is stupid to think of that as a rule.

Catherine gives a good analysis of why there are apparent ‘rules’ like ‘just use  s‘ as a dialogue tag’. Like all ‘rules’, you can break them once you understand their purpose. This article is about the why:

You can have people spew their words, spit their words, growl them, bark them, bray them if you like. None of it is grammatically incorrect. Just as you can have your character drag her heart to the door, once she gets there she can sigh hello if you want her to. Readers love a good metaphor; why bar them from dialogue? The question is not whether it’s correct usage. (It is.) The question is whether it works. If it enhances the scene and makes it clearer, more vivid, more real and alive, then it’s good usage. If it obscures the action and slows the understanding and annoys the reader, it’s bad usage.

There’s a lot more in there, with this great little smackdown:

Note to nitpickers: The hiss of speech doesn’t have to be on sibilants. Humans do not hiss. The meaning of “hiss” in dialogue is not “sssss. If someone is hissing “ssstay away sssilly” you’d better spell it out because no reader is going to assume the speaker is actually hissing the sibilants – unless you’ve already said they’re insane and one of their symptoms is hissing like a snake. Hissing in dialogue means to speak in quiet anger. Like the hiss of a snake or a cat, it is a small noise with a big angry warning attached to it. It is a perfectly good word for a whisper-shout. So please don’t show off your ignorance by calling out an author for saying a character hissed, “Pick that up” to her unruly child in church. You might not like the usage, but it is not bad grammar.

It’s only part 1. Read it and bookmark it so if I forget to link you to part 2 then you won’t miss out: http://catherineausten.wordpress.com/2014/06/20/he-saidshe-sighed-part-one/

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