Dialogue is a favourite aspect of writing for me, because I get to play with my characters to find out what form of speech pattern suit their persona. The purpose of dialogue is used for several reasons, some being to introduce a character or characters; advance the story and make the characters believable. Dialogue, further, creates mood, reveal motives and lightens exposition. I actually interview my characters. It’s a powerful way that serves to reveal qualities that I probably would not think about while creating their profile.
Dialogue tags on the other hand could be problematic and ruin the flow of interchange if it is over-used, or over-the-top, and this is referred to as bookisms. Here’s an article that illustrates the dangers of the over-use of bookisms.
Bookisms, or said-bookisms, are commonly defined as overly elaborate dialogue tags used in prose. While the occasional use of a logical bookism is acceptable, filling a book with bookisms can distract a reader and ultimately turn them away from the rest of the work.
In general, authors are encouraged to keep their dialogue tags simple. “Said” works the best as it simply fades into the background for the reader, and while “asked” is implied with the use of a question mark, it still works. Even tags like “whispered” or “muttered” may be used sparingly without throwing the reader off. In reality, however, it’s difficult to actually “hiss” a phrase, especially if it’s lacking sibilance (“Hide” she hissed.), or growl a line (“Get out of my garden,” the old man growled.). If you’re questioning whether or not a certain tag works in dialogue, try it yourself. Can you actually laugh at the same time you say, “Of course you will!” or gargle while saying, “Help, I’m drowning!”?
A good rule of thumb while writing dialogue is to stick with simplicity. You don’t want your reader pausing and wondering how a person grimaces a greeting or worries a question. But there is always an exception to the rule.
In 1910, the very first Tom Swift book hit the market to wide acclaim. Featuring a young teenage inventor, the Tom Swift series is credited as the idea source for many modern inventions, including the mobile home, the “photo telephone,” and the Taser, which was actually named for Tom Swift by its inventor (Tom A. Swift’s Electric Rifle). But it wasn’t just this young inventor’s creations that grabbed the attention of readers; it was also the authors’ unique use of bookisms:
“This game is foul,” Tom groused.
“I teach at a university,” Tom professed.
“Superglue!” Tom rejoined.
This unique use of dialogue tags as a form of pun quickly caught on in the literary world and became appropriately known as “Tom Swifties.” And Tom swiftly leads us to this week’s exercise:
Exercise: I could write a bookism
While bookisms may be something to avoid in general writing, no one can blame you for enjoying a good pun or two. Try your hand at writing a few “Tom Swifties” such as the ones shown above to get your creative juices pumping. “You could even write four or five!” the writer enumerated.
Posted by Kristin, content media coordinator with CreateSpace.
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© 2012 Cherry-Ann Carew
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Cherry-Ann Carew, aka The Power Writing Coach, Editor, Best-selling author and Founder of Writetastic Solutions is passionate about helping aspiring fiction and non-fiction writers bring out their creative expression to write their books. Learn how her coaching and editing services can help you at www.writetasticsolutions.com.