I’m in a debate with some other writers about the word “said.” On one hand we’re told we need to have a more prolific society and use a variety of words instead of “said” every time. Their argument is that publishers prefer the word said, because the word said eventually becomes invisible. What are your thoughts, as someone who has dabbled on the publishing side of things; do publishers prefer the word said? And of course, what are the thoughts of everyone else on Yeah Write? :)
RE Video-chat: When John Green deals with texting or IM chat, he tends to use a screenplay format. No quotes, block indention, [Name: (Conversation)] for all dialogue, no narration. You could incorporate this. It also depends on the mood of the scene. For emphasizing closeness one could use interior monologue or thoughts to say "their voice was like an arm wrapped around me" or something; conversely, to show distance "Their smile and voice filled the room, but they were thousands of miles away."
He Said, She Said: Dialogue Tags
Well, I’ve only dabbled in the business/consulting side of publishing, not the “I’m an author having my book published” side, so I can’t really speak to what publishers/editors want. But if anyone on here has worked with an editor and the topic of dialogue tags came up, I hope you’ll chime in!
In my personal opinion, I think you should primarily use “said”, and definitely without an adverb (“We all remember that time that ‘Ron ejaculated loudly…’” Livia said, putting her hands over her bowed and shaking head). Overly elaborate dialogue tags can sort of break the “show don’t tell” rule. Some examples of what I mean:
[From Chris Fox]
This is not formal knowledge, but here’s some advice for you about oral historical fiction. There are 2 types of oral history: personal and found.
Now there are two parts to a personal history narrative. The first is the recounting of historical events directly through a narrator. It describes a history as seen directly through the eyes of the person telling the story. This makes it, by nature, biased and forces your narrator to be unreliable. Some of the facts can often be “lost” in the narrator’s memory, or simply not known. To be entirely true, most fiction is technically orally historical. Think of Clockwork Orange or Lolita: both are told by a narrator, and are recounting events that are historical. This should come naturally to a writer. If you go the route of the unreliable 1st person narrator, just remember they are representing a skewed history, and by necessity don’t know all the details.
A further example of personal history can use the third person limited narrator. Usually this is a second-hand narrator, someone who was involved or knowledgeable of the history, but not directly involved in the central plot arc of the story or the events of the protagonists. A great example of this is Rucks, the narrator of the video game Bastion. Although he’s one of the main characters in the story, he tells the story to you - the viewer - as a second hand account. “This happened, that happened, I was there for this, we didn’t know about that until later, we did this then but eventually this happened.” He’s able to play with chronology because this all occurred in the past, and he isn’t directly biased because he wasn’t directly involved in the central action, even though he is often around many of the most critical scenes. But the story is still being told from his personal perspective, with his own ideas of how things went down, even though he’s able to remain fairly unbiased.
Third person omniscient narrator doesn’t work very well for oral history. The narrator is too sweeping in this perspective. Because oral history tends to be so personal, something that is remembered, when you have a floating camera-man in the sky, able to see everything that’s happening, it cheapens the personal depth of the experiences for your characters. Because of this, when writing personal histories, stick to 1st person or 3rd person limited.
Found history is what World War Z used. It assumes a journalistic perspective, interviewing people and discussing various things that have happened in the historical canon of the book. This can work from any narrative POV, but again, works best when using 1st person or 3rd person limited, to again retain depth of personal events.
This type of writing style is the trickier one for the average fiction writer to create. If you want this style, and I think you do, you need to research non-fiction writing styles. It may sound silly, but these are your best sources for writing found oral history. World War Z used a basic journalistic perspective. They were back-and-forth interviews with survivors; the narrator attempted to stay an unbiased third-party, and simply hear the interviewees out.
The best places to look are creative non-fiction books, magazines/newspapers, and memoirs. These are written in very specific ways in order to document historical events while still keeping them fresh and interesting. Creative non-fiction probably comes most natural to fiction writers. All you need to do is find a protagonist’s voice, and express it while detailing the history you wish to have happened. This gives the story a personal feel, while also accounting for history they did not experience personally.
Again, in World War Z, the narrator is legitimized in the introduction, when he tells the reader that the book is HIS work. “The official report was a collection of cold, hard data… But isn’t the human factor what connects us so deeply to our past? Will future generations care as much for chronologies and casualty statistics as they would for personal accounts of individuals no so different from themselves?” This does three things simultaneously: 1) It humanizes the narrator. You know he’s a person with feelings, and his feelings are the reason you’re about to read some personal accounts of other people. Even though we don’t hear much from him throughout the book, we know he cares. 2) It builds historical context. He didn’t originally create this book for the sake of casual reading - it was meant as a report for the UN. There is something bigger than this book or the zombie stories in it, this is expressed by its relevancy outside of the narrator’s life. 3) It legitimizes the story. The intro pushes that this book is IMPORTANT. It’s serving a need in the society - that there is a void the narrator seeks to fill. As a reader, you appreciate the narrator’s difficulty in gathering the “history” in the fiction, and thus give the stories their due and proper. From an author’s perspective, this is a “Are you with me?” call to the reader, who will respond by giving the story their “benefit of the doubt.” Because Brooks opened with this introduction, he was able to legitimize his fiction’s history and his narrator, and ask the reader if they’re willing to believe it. Since we do, we keep reading.
Again, if you read World War Z, and compare it to other creative non-fiction, their structures are almost identical. Each chapter involves a different topic or theme, and discusses relevant history. I don’t read much non-fiction, but if you want a good comparison for study, check out Tea Time with Terrorists by Mark Stephen Meadows. This and WWZ are structured very similarly. Another example of a subjective creative non-fiction is Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, for a 1st person perspective.
If you take a journalistic perspective, like WWZ, remember that it is a rule of journalists to remain as unbiased as possible. Journalists seek objectivity, even in subjective history, within their writing. Don’t let the narrator intrude on the story with personal thoughts - they should let the “truth” of the history speak for itself.
My last advice, no matter which style you choose: FOCUS ON VOICE. As this history is oral, character voice is unfathomably critical. Every single person in your book needs to sound like a real, 3D, emotional human being; every single character needs to sound completely different from everyone else. This means you need to focus deeply on their personalities, and also deeply on the way they speak. Do they have accents? What kind? Make sure they use these accents accurately. Are they formal/informal? What qualities force emotion out of them (maybe they don’t care about their parents, but they’d lose it for their daughter)? A deep analysis is integral for teaching your reader about the history you wish to convey.
This answer in response to this question from earlier today.
The question and all answers are tagged oral history.
Prompt by Chris Fox:
Your character comes to their senses in a busy, downtown night club. Live jazz music fills the room, as well as the loud calls of patrons and sharp clinks of glass.
Why is your character there? What happens next?