Friday, July 01, 1994

Dialogue tags

The phrase 'he said, she said' at the end of dialogue is called
a tag. There are two types of tags: action and acoustic. An action
tag denotes the event of a lead-in to dialogue. An acoustic tag is
used to denote the tone implied or expressed in dialogue.

"Don't let me fall!" she pleaded. <-- acoustic tag

Josh tore the blanket away from the wall. "Leave me alone!"
The clause immediately before or after dialogue is an
action tag.

There are a whole set of rules for punctuation and usage of
tags in dialogue. I would suggest that you obtain a copy of those
rules from one of many books on creative writing and study them.

I, personally, vary the choice of tag usage to reflect the
moderate change in tone in dialogue. Use of acoustic tag phrases
such as; she pleaded, he bellowed, and other adjectives to describe
the expressed tone of dialogue can vary. Attenuation is a noun to
understand when using acoustic tags because as with electronic
waves, signals in speech can be tuned to produce a harmonic
vibration. Used in moderation, acoustic tags can help the reader
understand the shifts in tone.

Action tags are similar to acoustic tags and implicate the character's
'before' or 'after' actions predicated by the dialogue. Don't forget
to use a tag when there is an obvious shift in sentence/paragraph
construction. A lead-in paragraph will require a tag to differeniate
between what has happened and what will happen.

Timmy showed everyone how smart he was by solving the problem
without using his toes. His parent's were pleased with his progress.
"I count ten, also."
Who is the person speaking? The lead-in paragraph was from the
point of view of Timmy. Yet, the dialogue immediately afterward wasn't
Timmy speaking so an acoustic tag would be necessary to show who spoke.

Now, if the next paragraph was dialogue and it was Timmy speaking
then a tag is needed to differeniate between the two people speaking
in the scene.

The acoustic tag is usually necessary to inform the reader as to
who is talking immediately after narrative or compostion. After that,
the acoustic tag can be lifted once the character's have been identified.
This changes if there is a shift in the sequence of dialogue. Should
narrative interrupt dialogue and the same person starts talking again,
then an acoustic tag is necessary.

Disclaimer: I don't pretend to know all the rules of fiction, so please
don't bother critiquing my suggestions. :O

J.L. Campbell -- I'm not the one they're talking about, so why do I
feel guilty?

Monday, June 20, 1994

Am I a character or what?

Deborah wrote:
>I'm writing a fictional piece based on real life occurrences (not,
>admittedly, the most original idea) and the main character is pretty
>much me.

I must ask, why?? Is it important to the story that you portray
yourself as a character?? What is the importance of the 'you' character
in the story? Are you a minor or major character? Are you sure it is
even necessary to define yourself as a character, but rather think of
the character as someone like yourself.

>I'm trying hard to give her as much depth and three dimensionality as
>the other characters in the novel, but I'm so heavily identified with
>her that I'm having a hard time seeing her objectively.

What is the story telling you about this character? Fiction allows
us to 'make believe' and express ourselves in ways we would not normally
do. A character who is like yourself has to express themselves in a voice
independent of the narrator or author. A point of view of this character
may be indulgence in sexuality or heroism. Yet, if you as an individual
have limited exposure to a wide variety of emotions and experiences then
your 'self' character may seem diminished somewhat. On the other hand,
it may only seem that you can't put yourself in the place of a fictional
character and limited yourself unnecessarily.

A trick that may help is called inflection. Try and imagine the
character as someone else with the same persona as you. This trick or
technique is similar to 'getting into character' but allows you to be
someone you're not. By acting as though the character is really just
someone else, you can add qualities that are inherent to you exclusively.

>Overall, I think she works as a character in that she seems
>believable, has some flaws and seems pretty balanced. One
>person, though has suggested that she seems *too* sympathetic
>a character.

Sympathetic characters are best left to the reader's imagination
and lightly covered by prose. A character whose sympathies we share are
notable, and yet too much sympathy can lead to empathy toward the
person you are writing through.

A woman of the 90's should be well defined by social stigma's and
characterized so that she is believable. Do not stereotype women
because that can also appear as too demeaning.

>Can a character be too sympathetic? How can I get more distance from
>her? Suggestions appreciated.

Read the first two parts and take an aspirin. Then examine the
purpose for this individual and start from there. Finish with a good
sense of her purpose to the over all story.

J.L. Campbell -- Oh look, it's a girl!

Originally posted Jun 20 1994, 11:24 pm

Saturday, June 11, 1994

Suspense in writing

Suspense is often an elusive passage to writing a complete scene
in a story. Continuity, the element of suspense that is overlooked in
writing can be difficult to grasp. At best, suspense is a continuous
series of choppy attempts to scare or keep the reader guessing.

Yet, writing a suspenseful story can be easily accomplished if at
each scene the writer remembers to begin slowly and build the suspense
into a climax that builds onto the next scene. The introductory line
in a scene is the first element and each subsequent paragraph builds
upon the next until the scene is completed.

Writers such as Stephen King are masters at building suspense in
a story. The book _The Shining_ is an example of building suspense so
the reader is terrified to read further, but finds that they must know
what happens next. The formula to writing suspense is to begin with an
incomplete description of what is wrong (i.e. the problem) and increase
the problematic scenario until the situation is reversed and now the
protagonist is confronted with a limited number of choices.

In _The Shining_, King built the suspense into a crescendo of
fear and suspicion between the husband and wife. The climax was an
accumulation of all the suspense in which King brought the protagonist
into a situation where she had to make a choice. Each scene began
with an incomplete and somewhat vague problem (i.e. the death of the
previous caretaker) and how it affected the characters attitudes
(note: attitudes are very, very important in suspense) as each scene

The structure King took with _The Shining_ is indicative of how
to write a completed work of suspense. A chapter in King's book reads
like a textbook on writing suspense. Study the techniques he used in
most of his manuscripts and a pattern will slowly develop. Other
writer's have also mastered the art of suspense using various other
techniques, such as; Clive Barker, Thomas Harris, etc. Some may
believe King and the others are Horror genre writers, but don't
forget that the essence of Horror is suspense.

Please scare me, but slowly is the adage to remember.

J.L. Campbell -- The bottom of the well is the top of the earth.

Originally posted Jun 11 1994, 7:01 am

Tuesday, May 31, 1994

Look and See

If there were two words that I try to avoid, they would be look and
see. Whenever I write a scene that involves the physical senses, I try
to remember to exclude indirect references to physical characteristics.
The physical characteristic of the senses such as look, see, touch, feel,
etc. are better described by direct reference to the event itself.

In a scene where observation and clarity are important, I like to
go to the source for a description.

--------- Example -------------------------------------


Dennis looked away from the fire so he wouldn't have to see
what had happened to his friend.


The fire engulfed Brian as though he were an ant on a stick. He
reached out for help, but Dennis turned his back to him and the flames
scorched his throat as he screamed one last time.

------ End ---------------------------------------------

I don't know about the rest of you, but since I started examining
how I put decription into action, my writing has improved. I find that
using sentences that are more complex helps also, but there is never a
substitute for using the active voice. The passive voice 'can be' slow
and cumbersome to the reader and only adds length to your work, not quality.

Yet, I continue to read works where the whole story is written in a passive
voice and occasionally an active sentence is thrown in as bait.

Look and see adjectives are passive as are could and would, yet
they are used so much in modern writing that most readers come to expect
to prod through a story. IMHO- Active description is an art as much as
a gift and increases the value of a story.

J.L. Campbell -- It is my favorite thing to do. Huh?

Tuesday, April 19, 1994


I enjoy the use of diction as a technique to show the reader more of
my characters than they might normally expect from just the scene or from
the dialogue alone. Diction is important because it lets the reader in
on the story if it is done correctly.

There are several techniques for using diction correctly. Remember,
diction is a description of the character through tone, voice, and mostly
the style of writing in prose. A story about poor white children raised
in an orphanage should have the characters speak in dialogue consistent
with their setting:

"Tommy, do you think they'll let us keep the toys?" Billy said.

"Ah, forget about them. We'll never get to keep them. Besides,
who wants stupid toys anyway, I want to get out of here!"

Tommy picked up the torn blanket and threw it across the mattress.
He wanted his mom and dad to come and get him. They promised him
when he was little that they would always be there, but they lied and
he would never believe adults again. His little brother was the only
one who he could trust and not even he could know why Tommy didn't
want to keep the toys. Tommy did though, he wouldn't keep anything
that adults gave him because he knew they could take the toys away
whenever they wanted and he didn't want to lose anything ever again.

The blanket covered most of the old mattress, but it couldn't hide
all the stains where his tears had soaked through. He didn't want Billy
to ever see him cry, so he would bury his head in the mattress and wait
until Billy was asleep.

----------------- End of example --------------------------

The characters in this example are two children between the ages
of seven and eleven. The tone, use of adjectives, dialogue, etc. sets
them apart from children in other settings or situations. Should they
have been middle class kids in an affluent neighborhood, I might have
chosen a different style of writing to describe a similar situation.
As it was, the description given was written in a style not nearly as
elevated. The two kids in the example wouldn't probably speak with
two-dollar words or sound like they graduated from college already
either. Their means of communication would 'fit' their environment
and social-economic status.

Diction is what I consider the line between realism and forced
writing. I can't tell you how many times stories of mine had to be
re-written to take into consideration diction, but I continue to learn
and practice by observing behavior and putting that knowledge into
my work.

-------- Here is an example of elevated diction ----------

The majestic hue of colors spewed forth from the orb and enlightened
the whimsy of his paternal twin. Neither, not Thomas nor William could
fulfill their desire to encapsulate and escape the confines from which
they found themselves.

------- Translation ---> can anyone tell me what I tried to say?

Good luck,

J.L. Campbell

Originally posted Apr 19 1994, 7:38 am