The forgotten elegance of forward dialogue tags

Looking up articles on dialogue tags (the “x said” and attached actions following a piece of dialogue) I have noticed two things. First, most focus on the relatively unimportant issue of he said/she said, and whether to use synomyms or not. The second is that very few even mention that tags can be used before the dialogue, and pretty much nobody mentions how the placement affects the meaning and effect of the sentence. In fact, as far as I know, I may be the only one who has noticed that (probably not, of course.)

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Expert use of -ing participles

I didn’t want to write this post because I feared the wrong conclusions or lessons could be drawn from it. It is a bit like writing a piece about how the common understanding of drugs and addictions is wrong or exagerated, how most people can take large amounts of drugs without becoming addicted, that the withdrawal effects of some drugs (like heroin) are actually pretty mild, that the “addiction” that people suffer is notlike a demon that takes posession of you, and so on. It’s all technically true, sure, but, you know, some people may get the wrong idea.

To fill new readers in, the point of this post (and the previous one it alludes to) are the participial phrases used in writing, usually with verbal forms ending in -ing although occasionally -ed too (i.e. present and past participles, respectively) which have spread like a linguistic plague of locust across the literary landscape (or the drug abuse in the previous analogy.) In that post, I said:

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How fiction starts: an analysis of 1200+ sff books

When I make my writing analysis posts, I usually pick random sentences but beginnings may be an even better choice. They are probably the most edited, if not overthought, parts of a book, and it’s also where writers show off their skill or (if they fail at it) their weaknesses. And if you want to see how writing changes through time, the first sentence may actually be all you need to read. And for those who have huge submission piles to plow through, the first two sentences is all you need to read for the first culling.

If you have followed me for some time, you already know my dislike of contemporary writing fads and techniques and my belief that you can see its decline in quality just in the formal aspect of writing. Strange syntax, (too) deep POVs, -ing participles galore, unnecessary descriptions, showing where telling would be perfectly fine and, finally, no personal style and no distinctive narrator—just piles and piles of descriptions, one after the other, like a transcription of a video recording. And, sure, it’s fine and all to talk about these things in the abstract and using a few examples from time to time, but it’s better to have some solid evidence to back you up. So here it is.

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Door stoppers, or how you can probably cut off half of any sff novel.

Despite this blog’s interest in fantasy, there’s actually a lot of “beginners” books in this genre that I never read when I was a kid. The kind you either read young or you never will because as an adult they seem… kinda bad. I ignored almost all the D&D novels aside from a few Drizzt books, and I never touched a single Dragonlance book (more than a hundred already written as of today.) That changed yesterday when, in a whim, I began reading the first Dragonlance book. And, well… it was somewhat better than I had expected. Better than a lot of the stuff being written today, anyway.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) A Witch’s Guide to Escape: A Practical Compendium of Portal Fantasies

Of the six short story nominees, three have a witch as the main protagonist (or two, depending on how you define “main”) who is also pretty woke. Outside of these Hugo finalists, I don’t think I have read a story with a witch protagonist in years.

Another trend I have noticed these last years is what I call trivial or mundane fantasy. These are stories with characters that have reality-altering powers yet they don’t use them for anything moderately interesting or to help other people (or themselves) even when that’s the point of the story. In fact, most of these characters are surprisingly powerless and victimized through the entire story. Why? Well, there are many reason, but here are a few: these are fantasy stories only superficially, the fantastic elements being clearly tacked on; related to that, they are not proper stories either but allegories, where powers and fantastic elements stand for something else; and, finally, the ideological consensus of these stories demands victimized characters and it naturally frowns on superpowered characters or even assertive ones—hence why many of these stories are such downers and need a quota of woke characters/moments so they don’t feel absolutely nihilistic. You obviously can’t have an oppressed, let’s say, witch, which is a stand-in for women, if she can blow somebody’s head off with a word.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) The Tale of the Three Beautiful Raptor Sisters, and the Prince Who Was Made of Meat

What’s with these long titles that tell most of the story, sometimes even the ending? I know it’s hard to come up with titles, but seriously, it’s as if I renamed Star Wars to “The Fantastical Adventures of the Moisture Farmer who Discovers Space Magic and Blows up the Death Star.”

Anyway, this short story, TTTBRSATPWWMOM from now on, by Brooke Bolander appeared in issue 26 of Uncanny, which was entirely dedicated to dinosaur stories. It’s a fantasy comedy piece and it has to be read and understood as such; I wouldn’t recommend reading it with a serious mindset.

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Reading the Hugos (2019) STET

STET, by Sarah Gailey, is a short story finalist that plays with the layout and formatting possibilities of a website to explain a story through footnotes and comments. It’s basically a very short (a single paragraph) text written in standard, soulless academese but the text is expanded thanks to a copious amount of footnotes which, at the same time, have comments, back and forth, between the original writer and the editor of the piece. In fact, the title of the short story, STET, is the annotation written by writers or proofreaders when commenting alterations made by an editor, and it means “let it stand” (in other words, ignore that comment/I don’t agree with your correction.) It’s through these notes that the real story unfolds and you get a good glimpse of what is going on behind the apparently emotionless text.

As I said, the text itself is quite short, and I’m going to post it here (and there’s a reason I don’t want to link to it right now):

Section 5.4 — Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty

While Sheenan’s Theory of Autonomous Conscience was readily adopted by both scholars and engineers in the early days of Artificial Intelligence programming in passenger and commercial vehicles, contemporary analysis reinterprets Sheenan’s perspective to reveal a nuanced understanding of sentience and consciousness. Meanwhile, Foote’s On Machinist Identity Policy Ethics produces an analysis of data pertaining to autonomous vehicular manslaughter and AI assessments of the value of various life forms based on programmer input only in the tertiary. Per Foote’s assessment of over eighteen years of collected data, autonomous vehicle identity analyses are based primarily on a collected cultural understanding of identity and secondarily on information gathered from scientific database, to which the AI form unforeseeable connections during the training process. For the full table of Foote’s data, see Appendix D.

Now that you have read it, you can jump straight to the first note and read them from there, navigating using the ↩ symbols. Don’t scroll up; only down. I’ve never cared about spoilers in these posts I make about the Hugos, but this time I will wait for you to read the story first; it’s not too long and I believe it’s worth it.

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