Friday, July 9, 2010

RUE, WAS, TAGS, ITALICS -- oh MY!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What a WONDERFUL week we've had, learning all about writing rules... er, sorry, guidelines!

It all started 2 weeks ago when we learned why we have these dang writing rules anyway and dispelled the myths of writing rules.

Then Pepper gave us some great tips about ritin' di'lect in them thar books uh urs. Sherrinda made a public confession of her -ly adverb affair (she's promised to go to counseling and we're all very supportive!) Mary showed us how to show instead of tell. And Casey hopped onto the scene with her head-hopping no-nos.

I thought I'd touch on a few of my favorite leftover rules today. I promise I won't be long-winded (okay, TOO long-winded...)

R.U.E. - No, it does not mean you'll rue the day you break a rule... It stands for Resist the Urge to Explain. R.U.E. at it's basic core, means not to explain something you've already shown or told. It is the ultimate help in "tightening" up your writing.

Example: Doug jerked up his pants to keep from tripping over the bottoms. The old things were way too long on him.

Jerking up his pants shows that they are too long. No reason to then explain it to us.

Dialogue example: "Please don't go, Daddy," Sheena begged.

We'll talk about dialogue tags in a minute, but her words show us she is begging... no need to explain it to us in a tag.

EVIL "WAS" WORD - Go thee immediately and rid thy manuscript of all thy evil was's.

Just kidding:-) Was is a VERY needed word in the English language. I dare say if I ever read a book that had not one "was" in it, it'd be stilted and quite annoying.

Was, however, can become a crutch, and really, becomes a mechanism for telling instead of showing as we learned earlier this week.

It was dark.
She was tired.
He was angry.

Blah, blah, blah. Boring prose.

Potential fixes:

Doug squinted in the darkness. (Combines motion and setting)
Tina yawned. (Simple yet effective. And you'll notice, we showed you instead of told you!)
Doug slammed the glass down on the table. (and if I added, "He was angry" after this ... it'd be a RUE, imagine that!)

DIALOGUE TAGS: We try to rid our dialogue tags of -ly words (she said quietly) by using stronger verbs. However, then we get our hand slapped for using enhanced dialogue tags like she muttered, he laughed, she whispered, she chortled (sorry, love that one!) If we just stick to plain he said/she said for all of our dialogue tags ... it gets very boring.

So what's a writer to do to appease editors/readers?

It's called a dialogue beat.

"Go away," Elsie yelled loudly. (adverb)
"Go away," Elsie screamed. (verb in a dialogue tag)
"Go away, you idiot." Elsie picked up the first thing her hand could find, a spiked heal, and hurled it through the air toward Doug. (beat)

The beat shows that she's mad, adding "you idiot" to the dialogue showed it even further. Even without telling me she yelled, I can hear it. You could also show her body's response to her yelling, her throat hurting, her blood coursing through her veins, etc.


Please remember, as we've noted all this week, rules are made to be broken. You'll need a good Elsie said, she said, Doug said, he said, and the occasional he muttered. Just don't use it when a dialogue tag would do a more effective job.

ITALICS: You know, too many italics can be annoying. We often use them to show internal thoughts. However, when you are writing in deep POV, you don't need them nearly as much. Italics should be used for short, punchy prose for emphasis, and should be used sparingly.

Okay, that was annoying to even me! Usually these are a few words long, maybe a sentence. Rarely are they more than that. Another time we use them is when we slip from 3rd to 1st person. But again, if you are in deep POV, you should need to do this sparingly. (Pet peeve of mine is slipping into 1st person for a sentence without using italics ... maybe it's just me though.)

Key: Italics are annoying. If you use them too much, the reader will get irritated. Irritated readers are never a good thing!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!: I have a Sherrinda-like confession to make. I love a good !!!!. My first MS was FILLED with them. Not just one at the end of a sentence, but a whole bunch of them!!!!! I thought they were fun emphasis, but I found they were annoying signs of lazy writing. Our words should convey excitement and not rely on our punctuation. I've heard a TON of rules on how often an ! should be used, so I won't quote them here. But I would encourage you to go through your manuscript and take out all the ones you think you can. Then go through one more time, and take out another half of those.

And never, ever, ever, please, pretty please, have more than one !!!


Uber wonderful agent Rachelle Gardner tweeted something that I LOVED yesterday.

I'm noticing many new writers vastly overdoing the "vibrant verbs." The verb has to fit the situation. Too much crashing, slamming, etc.

So rules can be overdone too. There are important reasons for each one. But there are exceptions as well. So learn them, practice them, but don't get married to them.

Let's end in song:

Oh, be careful, little writers, when you follow the rules... for the editor up above (and down here) is looking down in love (and with a red pen,) so be careful little writers when you follow the rules!

Any thoughts about the rules above? Any rules we didn't cover that you'd like us to sometime in the future?


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Krista, you touched on some excellent rules! I kept seeing RUE around for awhile before I learned what it was and I find a few of them as I edit. It really is funny that we think we have to explain something that we have already alluded to in action or dialogue.

Anddddd....I LOVE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! TOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

But then, I bet you already knew that. Actually, I don't use them in my stories, but I sure do when I comment or email or tweet. (not when I text, because it is too hard to go to that different screen to get them)

Loved the post!

Krista Phillips said...

Good morning to you, Sherrinda!

Okay, so I didn't use THAT many !!!!!!!!!!!! but I had a few doubles and triples in there at first:-) I go back and read that first draft now and it IS really annoying! HA!

Sidney W. Frost said...

Thanks, Krista. I'm saving this one to use as I edit.

Jill Kemerer said...

I'm so glad we ended in song! Ha! Great round-up of problems in writing.

Casey said...

I LOVED IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! There got that out of my system. :P

I struggle with R.U.E. Oh, company got here, gotta dash, I will be back. ;)

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great wrap-up, Krista! Then again, can this topic ever be totally wrapped? I'm waiting for someone to answer your last question:)

Casey said...

Like I was saying, I often mess up on the resist the urge to explain. It's not that I am afraid that my readers won't always get it, but it just seems to happen. And going back and fixing it later can be a terribly trial. I hope with this second book I didn't over explain too much. Sigh. Great post anyway. I love your humor and straightforwardness. :)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

You know Casey, I have a feeling that whatever our problem areas are will continue to plague us. True, it may not be as bad, but I think we all will continually find problems no matter how many times we edit.