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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Don't Be Afraid to Just Say It

Working through the word frequency counts on "Seer, Tyro, Fiend" some more. Yesterday, I started on the word "had" and went from 616 occurrences to 300. Today, I hit on one of my bug-a-boo words: "that". I tend to overuse it, especially when I fear a more complex sentence could be misunderstood. On careful rereading, I usually find the word isn't needed. What really takes the count lower, though, is removing it from dialog. Yes, people use "that" a fair amount, but here too I noticed that (oops! See how it crept in?) I noticed my characters doing the same thing, i.e., constructing sentences the way I do. Now we get into the realm of natural conversation, a topic all of its own.

When I got bored hunting for instances of "that" to change, I took a relative break by going to the end of the frequency list, where the counts are down to two. Tricky thing here is how far apart those occurrences are. Not all of them can be removed or changed, but it's worth it to check.

Per the title of this post, one of the words I take a look at is "said." Not a thing wrong with it, really, but the key is moderation. I'm talking about "tags" for dialog here. A few things to consider:

  1. If you can replace the tag (Bill said) with a bit of action that creates an image, so much the better. Example: Bill dropped his knife and fork noisily. "I don't want to listen to your lies."
  2. Don't suffer from Thesaurus-itis either. Too many crafty words substituted for "said" draws too much attention. It pulls the reader out of the story with either amusement or annoyance at the obvious avoidance of a simpler word. 
  3. Watch out on going with "said" too many times too close together. "I didn't go to the movies," Bill said. "I thought you did," June said. "I already saw the one playing," Bill said. Sort of like the rhythm of  a train on the tracks after a bit.
  4. Keep in mind, sometimes a tag isn't needed at all. If you just have two characters talking, the reader is savvy enough to realize the lines of dialog alternate between them. Throw in some action (#1) now and again as a reference point if the conversation goes on for a while, or just an occasional tag.
  5. And when people in your book "say" things, remember that editors laugh at you when you have characters do the impossible. She giggled. He snorted. I defy anyone to giggle a response or to snort it. However, either of those two might be considered as replacements for a tag. She giggled. "I figured you would say yes."
On my frequency count list, the word "said" was used 242 times, with the smallest separation being three words. I will look at it, but I won't obsess about it.

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