Replacements for look: I’m not referring to the context ‘he looked at the barn,’ I’m referring to the phrase ‘he gave her a flat look.’ Any replacement for that come to mind? I feel like a use it a lot. Stare is an obvious one, but in most contexts that doesn’t work.
Switch to active verbs: “he stared” “he glared” “he squinted” etc. Or for reactions in a conversation, switch to an emotional beat: “He wasn’t going to dignify that one with a reply.” “He continued with his weaving as if he hadn’t heard her.”
If I’m writing badly (pretty common), my drafts will have all kinds of horribly non-specific smiles, nods, raising of eyebrows, eyerolls, etc. I try to root them out mercilessly and substitute something more meaningful to the reader.
Thoughts on ‘said’ replacements: In a lot of books I’ve been reading recently, the authors have replaced said with so many different words that I start to get irritated. It is especially annoying when they replace nearly every said with something like ‘offered’ or ‘asserted’ or ‘replied’ or ‘noted’ or ‘commented.’ I personally try to do this rarely, and I never used any of the words listed above. I used things such as ‘growled’ ‘roared’ or ‘hissed,’ but seeing that ‘said’ is usually invisible to the reader, I prefer that in most cases. What are y’all’s thoughts?
Big fan of plain old said, or nothing at all if not needed. Sparing use of alternatives when truly called for.
Facial Features: To what extent to y’all usually describe facial features? Any tips for doing so?
I only describe what is going to be crucial to the story, or if a feature helps us get a better picture of the character’s deeper personality or state in life, or if the POV MC’s perception helps us understand the story. If it doesn’t matter what someone looks like, I leave it to the reader’s imagination.
Sometimes I’ll do a facial feature for a minor character as an alternative to a name, and that becomes the POV MC’s nickname for the character. I will occasionally describe facial expressions as part of the action/reaction of the story.
Honestly I’m just not a great face person.
Parents: When having a character refer to their parent in introspection, do you use ‘his father’ or the father’s actually name? I tend to use both.
I use whatever the POV character would use, or else whatever would be culturally-appropriate to the context. Ie if in that culture first names are normal usage, then I the 3rd person narrator would use a first name; if Grandpa Lastname is the cultural normal, I’ll use that. I’ll use contrasting naming customs to highlight cultural differences within the story world, and also use what that culture considers rude/disrespectful/belittling/envioous/etc. as a way to emphasis the POV character’s mood. I’ll show different POV’s by how characters refer to the same person.
Terms like father, mother, grandmother, aunt, uncle, etc. within the story exposition are mostly-transparent to the reader, though. So: “John’s father reached up and grabbed at the thatch of the roof.” But, entering more tightly into character POV, “John worried his papa was going to pull the whole hut down on them.”
She said vs said she:
She said. I keep the narrator’s voice as transparent as possible in that regard. I’d consider using it within a quoted text or monologue if I wanted to pick up a certain flavor to a character’s poem or speech or letter or what have you. I can think up other exceptions — but it would only be for carefully-chosen special effects, not all the time.
Chapter Names: Are these a thing of the past? I personally don’t use them, but I was just curious.
I’ve used them in at least one manuscript? But often not.
Inches, feet, meters, etc.. in medieval fiction: Do y’all use these terms in fantasy or use the more medieval sounding ‘pace’ or ‘span?’
No metric in pre-metric/non-modern settings. Will use inches/feet as a general concept if it is invisible to the reader (or: historically accurate), but try to favor comparisons that give a little more texture or feeling, or which place characters in relationship to each other. Ie is MC tall compared to others of his nationality? Compared to others from the neighboring country? He might be tall for his origin but short here, etc. I’m good with sprinkling in other historic (or world-specific invented) measurements less familiar to the reader for a little bit of cultural texture, but not so much that it gets clunky and tiresome.
Voice Description: I have a habit of describing voice a lot (telling, I know), but just saying ‘said’ instead of ‘he said in a rough voice’ doesn’t carry the intended purpose. Thoughts?
I’ll describe voice if it helps with visualization of the character or else understanding the emotional tone of the scenario. Usually, though, I skip it in favor of other kinds of action or description. I do lean heavily on voice descriptions if the POV character is visually impaired, but the description will often be more emotional than physical, ie: “Not on your life,” Mark said in in the voice he used when he was half-exasperated and half amused — which meant she stood a decent chance of persuading him? Worth a shot, anyhow.
Direct (italicized with I’s and me’s) vs indirect thought: I was recently watching a lecture by an incredibly famous author, and he says that he likes to use direct/italicized thought that used I’s and me’s to not only make sure the reader is grounded in the introspection, but also to add flavor. I tend to not use it, but now I’m uncertain.
Almost never. Very, very occasionally. Usually I just put the POV’s characters thoughts right into the narration, even in third person. I write very tight POV, only one character’s POV per scene (and most of my writing is single POV through the whole story) and with the narrator’s voice identical to the POV character’s internal voice, so it’s very clear that we are seeing the world through that character’s perspective.
If I were using third-person omniscient and moving through different character’s POV’s within a scene, or if the narrator’s voice were noticeably distinct from the POV character’s voice, then I’d maybe consider doing the italics thing?
Great questions. Pleasure to be here!
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