Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Slightly Modified Advice

I was thinking about what I said the other day--the reading plays part. It's a good idea and as a dialogue-sharpener it can't be beat. There are almost no wasted words in good plays/screenplays. And, like poems, they need to be read out loud to get the full effect. Maybe what I'm thinking about really only turns up in mediocre work: The little tag lines under a character's name that suggest line-readings to an actor.

BETH (passionately)
REX (indifferently)

That sort of thing. There was a joke at the studio where I worked--Riley Rueful. It came from a hint-line that read (wryly rueful) but for some reason it cracked everybody up and we turned it into a character we'd trot out when somebody was about to write something embarrassing. Probably, we were just tired. The point is this--if you see tag lines, don't pay any attention to them and don't use them in your prose.

For one thing, they're often adverbs, the world's laziest of all the parts of speech. Remember Tom Swifties?

"What happened to the lights?" asked Tom darkly.

I can think of a useful way to use them in first drafts, though: They remind you of some of the emotion behind the passage you're writing, and adverbs can be like little glow-in-the-dark highlights, places to go back to and work harder on.


  1. I attempt to remove as many if not all adverbs from my writing. I often find there is often a better verb hiding beneath the bad one or that it is not needed for the emotion is clear in the dialogue or through action-just like a play. I also think snappy sitcoms are good for dialogue study.

  2. There is nothing that will kill excessive adverb use like reading the Harry Potter books. I love these books with all my heart, but Dame Rowling abuses adverbs awesomely. And with every one, you look at the dialogue before, and you say, "But, Dame Rowling, I know Hermione said this [-fully] because I can TELL by the dialogue!"

    Then again, she has a castle.

  3. I would settle for Townhouse Adverb. Or Adverb Split-level with three bedrooms and a fireplace.

  4. Boy, I soooo agree with Anne about the Potter books. I just read all seven aloud to my seven year old. By the end of the second book, I edited them out. We didn't need them and it made the book more enjoyable. I wondered if there was a difference between English editors and American editors. One of those 'across the pond' divides, like re instead of er. Speaking of which, why don't English people spell Harry Potter, Harry Pottre? I thought we had dibs on all er's