Sunday, March 7, 2010

"Said Bookisms" Don't Do It!

I often read book excerpts on retail e-book sites and make lists of what I'm going to read next. I was doing this again today and I noticed something interesting on many sites. I can't single one site out in particular. They all had books with the same problem, and some of these books have received spectacular reviews.

But I simply cannot understand how a book can receive a great review when it's filled with "said bookisms" from page one. I saw this over and over again, and I had to wonder whether or not these authors just don't know, they don't care, or they think they are being clever by using "said bookisms." Is this the newest wave in literature and art and someone forgot to mention it to me? Or is it just that there are so many people out there writing books, without a clue as to how it's done, that it doesn't matter anymore? The storyline matters, the facts matter, and the editing matters. But there are also clear concise rules about crafting a novel or story that should matter just as much. Authors should know this; book reviewers should know this (and at the very least mention it...even when the author is a great story teller).

For those who don't know, "said bookisms" are a sure sign that a writer has a limited educational background in writing as well as limited experience in reading good books. "Said bookisms" are melodramatic dialogue tags that pull the reader out of the story and break the pace. Instead of keeping it simple and tight, and using "he said" and "she asked" as dialogue tags, they use tags like "he barked," and "she chuckled." This is the sign of a pure amateur, and I only have to glance at the first few pages of a book to know whether or not I'm going to bother reading it. For me, even if the story is great, I won't read it.

I'm seeing this all the time, from authors who are promoting their books on social networks and yahoo groups. There are so many excerpts with "said bookisms" it would be impossible to list them.

I'm not a total prude about this. I think it's okay to use them once in a while, and I even think they serve a purpose in certain situations. However, I'm not talking about once in a while here. I'm talking about authors using these "said bookisms" from page one to the end of the book just for the sake of using them. For a great example that goes into more detail, read below. And I've posted a link to the article below the example.

Yes, I know, lots of best-selling authors use said bookisms, sometimes to excess. That doesn't mean it's all right to use them. That simply means they are so good at telling a story that can get away with it.

And of course, avoid the dialogue tag "he ejaculated." At the very least, don't use that as a dialogue tag during a sex scene – unless you want a laugh.

Put your energy into making sure your characters' words are strong enough, and you won't need to lean on the said bookisms.


jimm said...

I'm a bit confused because I viewed the 'said bookism' as 'show, not tell.'

ryan field said...

If you read the article I linked to you'll see how you can get around that. It talks about actions tags, which are fine to use.

Here's a quote:

"If you decide to use a said bookism for a dialogue tag, make sure it's physically possible. Can somebody really laugh a line of dialogue? Or cry a sentence? Here's an example: "Go away," he laughed. Can he really speak that line while laughing? Maybe – but it might be painful. It is, however, perfectly acceptable to use an action tag instead of a dialogue tag. For example: "Go away." He laughed."

There are many authors who use "said bookisms" on purpose, and they know what they are doing. And they do it well. I'm talking about so many who don't even know they are making the mistake.

Ryan said...

im totally confused but thats why i dont write books just have friends that do!


ryan field said...

jimm said...

Okay, i'm getting a grip on this. The readers aren't stupid, let the dialogue speak for itself, if possible.

It will be interesting to read over some of my blog stories, for comparison. Thanks!

ryan field said...

Jimm...readers pick up on things either consciously or unconsciously, and they know.

But don't worry about blogging unless you're really into having an absolutely perfect blog. Or, you're putting excerpts of your own work on the blog. I personally think blogs should be real and they shouldn't have to follow any rules or regulations. Blogging, at least personal blogging, should be fun and you should do whatever you feel like doing.