This guy obviously never took a writing class!

In the course of only a few pages in the novel I am currently reading, I found the following “sins” that beginning writers are cautioned to avoid:

“All right,” I said sharply. – Use of adverb!

“Calm down,” he replied. – Use of a word other than “said” to tag dialogue!

“Sidney,” he said furiously. – That adverb business again!

“All right!” he said crisply. – And again!

But I hopped onto the bus, and then behind me the pneumatic door, with its hard rubber edge, swung shut with what I took to be an overly appropriate thump. . . – Telling, not showing!

I said, “I think maybe I’ll just get the bus.” – Tagging dialogue before rather than after!

Making me all the more belligerent. – Telling, not showing!

“You’re not,” he pleaded. – Use of a word other than “said” to tag dialogue!

Which was exactly what she thought about me, after reading my story. – Sentence fragment!

And so on. The pages are full of these kinds of amateur errors.

I’ve read this novel more than a dozen times, and I intend to read it another dozen times. It’s one of the five novels I would take if I were to be stranded on an island. The novel was nominated for the American Book Award, but it didn’t win. The author has been able to console himself with some other accomplishments. His thirty novels have garnered him the National Book Award (several times), the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award (several times), the Pulitzer Prize, and several dozen other awards. Many of his novels have been made into films. He was awarded the National Medal of the Arts by the President of the United States. He is a serious name when the Nobel Prize is discussed.

So how can a guy who writes like this, with countless mistakes like those listed above, win so many awards? Or could it be that those so-called mistakes are not mistakes at all?

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3 Comments on “This guy obviously never took a writing class!”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    Using an adverb to amplify dialogue just adds information, like using an adjective in a description of person or place. It only annoys when it’s done all the time or when it’s patently redundant. When writers only use ‘said’ to tag dialogue, the writing gets monotonous. All tell and no show is certainly tedious but sometimes you want to include a bit of interior monologue. Personally, I’m not keen on tagging dialogue before rather than after, but it’s no big deal. And finally, everybody uses sentence fragments. All the time.

  2. Pete Says:

    Can you imagine how mind-crushingly dull a book would be in which the author rigidly adhered to every one of these rules? (There! I used “crushingly”, which is not only an adverb but might not even be a word at all! So sue me!)

  3. Olivia Says:

    Thanks for this post. At first I was getting annoyed, thinking … who’s the grammar nazi? Then, I realized what you were doing. Silly me! When I realized whom you were writing about, I liked your post even more.

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