Posts tagged “reading

“Break the Rules,” she said.

Image by Brent Payne via Creative Commons

Image by Brent Payne via Creative Commons

I was talking to a friend yesterday about the rules of writing. Specifically, the rule regarding dialogue and “s/he said”. Apparently, writers are no longer supposed to use adverbs here, we’re supposed to stick firmly to “s/he said”, perhaps the occasional “asked”. Apparently readers don’t want any clues as to how the speaker is speaking.

This isn’t a rule I’ve made up, it’s one I’ve seen repeated many times. For example:

Points 3 and 4 here: Elmore Leonard’s Rules

Point 4 here: Stephen King’s Rules

Point 1 on this list: Common Writing Mistakes

My friend baulked at this. “That’s ridiculous!” she said. (Do you see what I did there?) Now maybe she and I are freaks, relics of a bygone era when writers wrote descriptively and readers lapped up their prose. When I read I don’t especially want to use my imagination all that much, actually. I want the writer to transport me to another place, I want escapism. I want them to paint a world so vivid I can’t help but go with them. I want to be shown what a character looks like, how they interact with the world around them, and yes, how they speak.

When a protagonist says “I need you”, does she whisper seductively, or scream in panic? “Said” is bland, flat, emotionless. “Said” saps the energy out of dialogue utterly. Dear writers, if you’re anything like me, and I know you are, you’ve imagined that scene so many times and so clearly that it feels like a real memory. You know how she said it, you feel how fast her heart is pounding, whatever the reason, so take me there with you. Let me feel it too.

Apparently readers today just want fast paced, no frills, no imagination. Maybe it’s assumed they want to do all of the imagining for themselves, but then, wouldn’t they all be writers? I write to express my creativity. I read to let go and jump in. But I don’t buy it. I don’t think all readers have such short attention spans that they can’t handle the odd “he snapped”. I think that assuming so is detrimental to readers and writers everywhere. But even if attention span is an issue, surely it’s quicker to show the reader how a person is speaking, rather than leaving them wondering and having to pause for a moment to figure it out for themselves. Readers, what do you think? Think of your favourite book from when you were growing up. I bet it had a few whispers, screams, croaks and so on. Did you mind then? Do you mind now? Do you want your literature to read like someone’s Twitter feed?

I take no pleasure in this, as he is one of my all time favourite authors, but one of those lists I linked to up there was written by the legend, Stephen King. I have in front of me one of his epic tomes, The Stand. In the first few pages people speak “sourly”, “mildly”, and get this “weightily from the depths of his ninth-grade education”. These descriptions show us who these characters are. If they merely “said” what they had to say we would be missing these clues into their personalities and backgrounds.

I think what the experts mean when they say “just use said”, is “don’t overdo it”. Use “said” most of the time and then colour the occasional piece of dialogue with some description to keep the reader with you. They can fill in some of the blanks, but don’t leave them plodding along behind you on a string of “he said”, “she said”s. Take them into the world you’re creating, invite them in with some easy to digest descriptions and clues.

She said.

I love to hear from you, so tell me what you think in the comments below. Do you like some description with your dialogue as a reader? What rules do you follow as a writer and which do you throw out?

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Me, Myself & I: Part 2


It’s week two of the Me, Myself & I series. This week’s questions were set by Sare at Confessions of a Techaholic. Find out more about the linkup over at Suzie Speaks. On with the questions!

1. Why did you start blogging?

Hmm… I have to reach back about ten years to answer that one. I think it was to ease boredom at work! I had a tedious job in insurance (I know!) and blogging gave me an outlet for my creativity and a chance to be me. Because being sat at a desk, doing a soulless job wasn’t me. Once I got the bug, blogging became part of my life forever.

2. What is the best book you’ve ever read?

Just one?! Well for sheer re-readability and how much it moves me every time I read it, I have to say Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling. The first book I ever queued up before midnight on release night to get. The first first edition I ever owned. The first time I didn’t sleep or eat until I’d devoured every word. I must have read it a dozen times by now and it makes me cry every single time. As do the last two books in the series, but I had to pick one!

3. If the next song you heard was the last, what would it be?

Everlong by the Foo Fighters. This song touches something deep in my core every time I hear it. It was released during my most formative years and carries with it potent memories of lost loved ones, dear friends, glorious memories, the first feelings of belonging. All of those memories captured and stored in a beautiful melody and rhythm that makes me soar. If I never heard another song again, I would die filled with love, happiness, sadness and loss all at once; everything human.

4. What is your favourite post that you’ve ever created?

Ooh, good one. Bear in mind I’ve had several blogs over the last decade! I’m going to say my birth story. It still gets viewed today, and is still shared in online birth communities despite being three and a half years old. Its companion posts on my birth contract and rebirthing ceremony are also frequently shared and viewed too, but this one carries most of the emotional weight. It was a joy and a challenge to write and reading it back now still moves me. My birth changed practices at the hospital I ended up at and this story, and my contract, have been used by midwives on training days. I’m honoured to be part of the process of making birth better for other women.

5. What is the one book, album and luxury item you would have if you were stranded on a desert island?

I think I would want to take something funny to read, or something massive to keep me going. Lord of the Rings, perhaps. Nothing like the daddy of all epic fantasy.

Album? Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by The Beatles. I had to think about this a lot and hopped around a few before settling here. I used to spend hours and hours watching Yellow Submarine as a kid. I had it on video recorded off the tv and would watch it, rewind and watch it again, and again, and again. The songs are closely connected to my childhood and I could listen to them on repeat forever. It also happens to be a musical masterpiece, voted the number 1 album of all time by Rolling Stone.

As for the luxury item, I’d have to say a working fridge! I wanted to say chocolate, but then thought “it would melt in the heat!” So a fridge it is, to keep my coconut milk cool. Of course, I’m assuming that I have something to play the album on!

So that’s all for now. Tune in next Sunday for more.

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One Lovely Blog

I am really grateful to have been nominated to participate in One Lovely Blog by the ever-insightful Willow at


The rules are as follows. Link back to the blog of the person who nominated you, share 7 facts about yourself, and nominate up to 15 blogs that you particularly like, or fewer if you can’t think of 15. If I’ve nominated your blog, please don’t feel obliged to take part if you don’t want to, but if you do, thank you!

Okay, so 7 fun facts about me so that my readers can get to know me a little better.

1. I spend time contemplating how I would survive the zombie apocalypse. Yep, I’m one of those nerds. I have my secure location picked out, should my home fall. It’s a nearby store with no windows, a single set of automatic doors out front and an outdoor area surrounded by a very high fence. Provided it doesn’t get damaged during the looting phase, it will make a great base for quite a few people, we could even grow food in the outdoor space. I have a bat’leth to use as a weapon, it has sharp points for piercing zombie skulls and blades for decapitation. It’s the perfect weapon 😉 I just need a stockpile of tinned goods and I’m ready.

Hulk2. I used to love rollercoasters and thrill rides, but no longer enjoy the more extreme ones that much. I don’t know if it’s old age (ha!) or becoming a mother, but the fear overwhelms the thrill for me these days. I still enjoy rollercoasters that I know and love, like Nemesis at Alton Towers, but am reluctant to try newer, more intense ones. I sat out The Hulk at Universal Islands of Adventure two years ago and watching it, frankly, made me feel ill.

3. I’m an introverted Highly Sensitive Person. This makes it difficult for me to make friends and get close to people. It also means I have quite a volatile temper at times, when I react strongly to things that upset me. I’ve learned how to protect and nurture myself over the years and do try hard to step away from situations that are causing me stress, so I have a lengthy “blocked” list on Facebook 😉

4. Due to number 3 above, I am also a terrible salesperson! So perhaps entering the world of self-publishing was not the most obvious choice. I can natter on social media, but am terrible at approaching strangers to pitch my work, so this route actually made more sense than trying to sell myself to an agent or publisher. Before becoming a mother and then a writer, I had a string of awful jobs in service and sales. It took me a while, including several months as a charity fundraiser, to accept that it really wasn’t my “thing”. Never again!

5. I’m a passionate advocate of rights in childbirth. After a traumatic first birth, during which I was bullied and my consent violated, I became a campaigner for better maternity services. It was a heck of a journey, I learned a lot about different aspects of birth and found myself volunteering on a helpdesk and facilitating support groups. I still keep a finger in that world, but my focus has shifted onto my own career after a healing second birth.

6. I pick up song lyrics ridiculously easily! I generally only need to hear a song a few times to have most of the lyrics memorised and once they’re in there I tend to remember them indefinitely. So far. Except under stress. Don’t put me on the spot and ask me to sing for other people, not on my own. I love being in a choir, but solo singing gives me terrible stage fright.

big read7. This is a terrible admission for a writer, but I’m not actually a big reader! I did used to be, when I was a child and teenager I would devour books constantly and had a large library of beloved books. But I have so little free time now, with two small, home educated kids and a series of books to write, that I tend to choose to zone out in front of the TV during my downtime, rather than tax my brain with a book. But if I get into a book I will grab every instant to read until I finish. I recently read the Hunger Games trilogy (I know, late to the party, see above!) back to back in just over a week, which is fast for me. Next is the rather ambitious project of completing the BBC Big Read 100 most popular books list. I’ve only read about 20 of the titles on the list at some point in my life, so it’s a big project!

So that’s it for me. Now I am supposed to nominate some fellow bloggers…..

Kristen Lamb at We Are Not Alone: I always read Kristen’s blogs with interest and am a fan of her book, Rise of the Machines – Human Authors in a Digital World. 

Sarah Watkins at And Then I Read a Book: Sarah’s reviews are always thoughtful and insightful.

Marcey Kennedy, writer and editor whose writing tips I always eagerly lap up!

Sarah at Pyjama School: lovely home education blog, packed with ideas and inspiration.