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    Tips & Information For Better Writing

    This post has been revised.

    There is a healthy cross-section of members that feel compelled to express their love for We’re Alive through fan fiction and other zombie oriented short fiction pieces. This is a beautiful thing, and I am thrilled to see so many with the desire to put their fingers to work, bringing the rest of us some wonderfully entertaining stories. Please understand that my purpose with this thread is to help elevate your writing, and not at all meant to disparage, disillusion, or discourage you. Quite the contrary, in fact. I love the written word and encourage everyone to pen at least one story in their lifetime. I was recently asked for help with technical aspects of writing by a board member, and decided that it might be beneficial to throw some of the advice out to everyone. Unsolicited by the masses, and yet...

    Punctuating Dialogue Properly

    “Fuck you, Osiris,” says Creem_Filling.
    “Fuck you, Osiris.” says Creem_Filling.
    Creem_Filling glares at the monitor and says, “Fuck you, Osiris.”

    We use the comma to separate the dialogue from the attribution (tag). The comma is always used to separate dialogue from its attribution. That rule never wavers. It never changes. It is the defining law of dialogue . . .


    Questions? Exclamations?

    ”Are you crazy?” says Yarri.
    ”Are you crazy?” Says Yarri.
    ”Holy shitsnacks!” says 7oddisdead.
    ”Holy shitsnacks!” Says 7oddisdead.

    So what about dialogue without any attribution? Does the comma rule still apply?

    Of course it doesn’t. If you feel there is no need to add any attribution—say a conversation between two people—you can get away with a period.

    Yarri drops into her desk chair, thankful that the day is finally over. 7oddisdead smiles, glad to finally have the company. Yarri shakes the mouse, waking the computer.
    “Check out the link I just sent you,” 7oddisdead says. He does his best to stifle a yawn, mouth stretching in an off-putting way. Yarri clicks open her email, and follows 7oddisdead’s link. It reveals another Osiris thread. She rolls her eyes.
    ”This is going to stretch on for quite a while, isn’t it?” says Yarri.
    “Just give me the Cliffs.”

    There is no need to use much in way of dialogue attribution from that point. We know who is speaking. There are only the two of them in the room. Who else could it be? Do you really need to keep saying, “He said, she said?”

    It is also very important that the punctuation used in your dialogue falls in the appropriate places. The comma that separates your dialogue from its attribution ALWAYS falls within the quotation marks (unless you live in the UK, they have a different set of rules). Periods that end the dialogue also fall within the quotation marks, as do question marks, and exclamation marks.


    The best possible attribution is the attribution that leaves the dialogue to speak for itself. If you need to tell us that Tom grated, Erica said wistfully, John shouted angrily, you haven’t done your job properly.
    Not to be over too critical, but you’re a wordsmith—or at least you’re attempting to be one—so get expressive! Don’t rely on the adverb to tell me how the characters are delivering their dialogue. Build your tension or your regret or anger through the narrative. Write some prose, dammit! Here’s a bare bones example of what I mean:

    It’s four past the hour when Angela pushes through the front door of her suburban rancher. It’s been a long day. Her feet are heavy, and her knees have no desire to bend, forcing her to dig a toe against the back of her seven hundred dollar, Italian leather flats. She sighs when she notices the back of the left shoe is now buckled and warped.
    “Well that’s just . . . ,” she says, her shoulders drop as she resigns herself to the day.
    “That you, woman?” a voice calls from the kitchen.
    She takes a deep breath, steadying her nerves before releasing a sotto, “Yeah, it’s me.”
    Angela had hoped that Dwayne had left for work already, and for a brief moment she considers slipping back into her shoddy Italian flats. The thought of the fresh scuff marks on the back bring a sigh to her lips once more.
    “Dinner’s been sitting on the table for almost an hour!”
    She rolls her eyes, and shuffles down the hall to the kitchen. Dwayne slouches on one of the chairs at the cheap, yellow laminate table that Angela had found at a garage sale last year. It was worn in spots, and one of metal legs was starting to turn a reddish brown. Angela’s certain that it’s table cancer, the thought of which brings a giggle to the back of her throat, but she pushes it down when she sees the look of abject disgust and contempt on Dwayne’s face.
    “Sorry I’m late, I was—”
    “Save it, I don’t give a shit.”

    Reputation points to anyone who can pick out the errors in the previous passage, but the point of it is to show that as useful as attribution is, it isn’t always necessary to get the point across. You know that Dwayne’s words are lined with bitterness and anger, just as you know that Angela isn’t in the mood for a fight. She’s likely counting the seconds before she can shut her eyes and let the day be over, if she was angry it seems more likely she would have started losing her cool when she ruined those expensive shoes of hers.

    Of course, there is a time and a place for the adverb, I’m just a firm believer that if you’re going to fancy yourself a writer, you should develop the ability to convey emotion without relying on –ly or –ed to do it for you. You may think that he/she says/said is boring, but the truth is that veering too much from the simple attribution draws the attention of the read to the attribution itself, thus rendering all the hard work you put into that beautiful speech . . . moot. Think of ‘said’ or ‘says’ as being an invisible word, because for the most part it is. Keep your tags simple, and hone your descriptive skills as they pertain to the narrative.

    A quick note about capitalization and dialogue.

    Dialogue attribution is only capitalized when a proper name leads it off, otherwise, it always begins with lowercase.

    “Well . . . shit the bed,” Yarri says.
    “Well . . . shit the bed,” Says Yarri.
    ”Well . . . shit the bed,” says Yarri

    Dialogue itself is always capitalized. If it falls between a set of quotation marks, you capitalize the first word. There is an exception to this rule: if the attribution/action is breaking a complete sentence.

    “This,” he says, eyes untrusting slits, “is what I mean when I say ‘I’m better off on my own’ .”

    You can use this to place emphasis on a particular word, or phrase within the dialogue for a dramatic effect. In this case it is being used in place of italics. The example above is, exceedingly complex. The following, even more so . . . :

    “I don’t want to catch you out there again! Do you,”—John slams a fist against the table, rattling the glasses and flatware—“fucking understand the words that are coming out of my mouth, boy?”

    Here there is an employment of a favourite form of punctuation of mine . . . the em dash. While it is not very common, and sometimes tedious, it can be used to give a character the ability to punctuate her words just as we might in real life conversations with our friends, significant others, or children. It provides a break within the dialogue to allow for an action, generally an emotive action. A heated argument between father and son? Maybe quarrelling lovers or just two old friends having it out over a case of beer. There’s a time and a place for it, and if you find that time—or place—by all means . . . .

    There’s a lot more to dialogue than punctuation, just as there is a lot more to writing than simply putting words on paper. Writing good dialogue—hell, even passable dialogue—can take a long time, and generally a great deal of practice. Writing is a skill, and make no mistake, it takes time, practice, and above all, patience to become better than passable.
    It is important for you to know the basics of language. If you cannot construct a basic sentence, you have no business trying. The rules are there for everyone to learn. Please, take the time to learn them.

    Books That Should Be On Your Shelf Already


    The Elements of Style by Strunk & White
    The Blue Book of Grammar & Punctuation by Jane Strauss

    It wouldn’t hurt to keep a copy of:

    Grammatically Correct: An Essential Guide to Spelling, Style, Usage, Grammar, and Punctuation by Anne Stilman

    On The Craft

    The only books you need on the craft itself are your favourite authors. The best way to learn how to write is to read; read a lot. Sure, there a hundreds of ‘How To’ tomes on the shelves of every big box bookstore dealing with the creative side of the craft, but let’s be honest, if you don’t have the creative flair, buying a book isn’t going to solve your problem. The best way to improve your skill is to work at it every chance you get. If you’re serious about it, you’re going to find the time to practice your prose, and to thoughtfully dissect your dialogue.
    That said, if you absolutely MUST have a book on your shelf that deals with the craft from a creative standpoint, the only book I would recommend to you is:

    On Writing by Stephen King

    Style Guides

    Do not confuse style guides with grammar guides. They are different creatures and are specific to region and subject (political, medical, scientific, journalism, etc). Some popular style guides:

    The Canadian Style
    The Chicago Manual of Style
    Modern Language Style

    And the list goes on, but don't leave it up to me . . . .

    Any questions?

    Last edited by Osiris; Jan 9th, 2013 at 09:15 PM. Reason: Because . . . fuck


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