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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Syntaxentuate the Positive!
[Previous entry: "Davy Jones Collapses Under a Load of Pipe!"] [Next entry: "A Reason Never to Attempt Dignity"]

12/27/2006: Syntaxentuate the Positive!

Ever get into a sentence and then realize that you've gone down a road that makes it grammatically ungettable... out.. of? This happens all the time when we're talking. Sometimes we start over, but sometimes we do what I did there, and just keep going. It happens when we're writing too, but then the tendency is to go back and adjust the sentence structure to avoid the problem.

When you're writing dialogue, it's almost always better to do what you'd do when speaking, not what you'd normally do when writing. If I get in a grammatical tangle, I usually leave it there. Recently I wrote a line -- an urgent, frantic line, that started: "He's pissed now, and if we do the wrong thing he's gonna get even...". I didn't even consider "more pissed." The only way to end that line was "pisseder". And I resisted the temptation to have another character comment on it. It's an urgent moment; people would let it go. I really like how it turned out -- it ups the funny quotient and the urgency quotient at the same time.

Writing dialogue should feel a bit like taking dictation from the same part of your brain that comes up with what you actually say all day long. If it gets tangled up, let it. If it hesitates, put in an "um". If it stumbles to a halt and trails off, well that's what ....s are for. You can massage it all later, take out all the stuff that makes normal speech so totally unlistenable... to. But the work of making dialogue sound natural gets easier if you let it come out of your brain that way.

Lunch: bagel and cream cheese with a black cherry soda at Factor's deli. I wanted a baked apple, but they didn't have any today.


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UC Berkeley
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