Wick Communications

He said, she said

In Writing techniques on January 21, 2011 at 11:09 am

I took a rare weekday off yesterday and, as I’m wont to do, I spent a good portion of it in a bookstore. My favorites are used bookstores because I’m more apt to leave with something that surprises even me if it doesn’t cost $28.50.

Anyway, yesterday’s find (for which I paid $1.50) was a slim 2002 book of collected essays from “the dean of Western writers,” Wallace Stegner. Stegner won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972 for Angle of Repose and taught creative writing at Harvard and Stanford before his death nearly 20 years ago. His students included Sandra Day O’Connor, Ken Kesey and Larry McMurtry, and they all did pretty well for themselves.

Anyway, in one of the essays, titled “A Note on Technique,” Stegner lists seven rules of thumb for writers. And one of them struck a chord because I said nearly the same thing to one of our writers last week. It has to do with quotes:

Nothing is to be gained, except a breaking of the dramatic illusion, by attempts to find substitutes for the word “said” in dialogue tags. Said is a colorless word that disappears; elegant variations show up…

OK, actually I wasn’t nearly as well-spoken when I told a fellow Wick writer that I thought “said” was almost always better than “exclaim,” “explained,” “extolled” and whatever other exacting examples of substitutes an author can come up with. I understand the compulsion. We try not to be repetitive when we write. I’m not above coming up with other words for the association I’m writing about or the team that is playing the game. But I think there is something different about what Stegner calls dialogue tags. You want them to disappear. Let the person you are quoting do the talking. You don’t want to “show up” in your writing.

I’ll add Stegner’s book to our “books” section of the Kicker. Please let me know your favorite books on writing and we’ll add them as well.

Clay

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