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Delete bookisms in your story’s dialogue

Ever notice Bookends-1745887_1920when reading a story that sometimes an odd word appears when “said” would do? For example, “Well, I’ve never!” she blustered.

If so, you’ve just come across a bookism. A term coined by science fiction writer James Patrick Kelly, a bookism is a long word that means “said.”

Usually writers use a bookism to convey information that is not directly stated in dialogue or description. For example, in “That could be the case,” he admitted, the fill-in for “said” – admitted – is intended to connote that the speaker acknowledges that there’s some truth to a position or explanation that apparently the previous speaker gave.

Rather than tell readers how they should interpret a certain statement, writers almost are always better off to infer it. That may mean rewriting the dialogue or description.

In many cases, the writer already has inferred it. For example, in the previous paragraph’s bookism, the speaker’s statement implies that he acknowledges there’s some truth to a position or explanation with which he disagrees. There’s no need to emphasize it.

Another reason not to use bookisms is that really poor ones sometimes can result in an unintentional Tom Swifty, such as “It’s a unit of electric current,” Tom amplified.

Don’t worry about overusing “said,” a common reason authors like to use bookisms. “Said” is a nearly invisible word for most readers. In addition, during long exchanges of dialogue between two characters, attribution usually isn’t needed for every line they speak, so many potential uses of “said” are deleted.

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First time here, so I don't know your site protocols.

I agree that bookisms can be annoying or redundant or can even defeat the expository role they are often designed to fulfill. A writer need not avoid them completely, just use them with great economy.

I'm a poet currently working on two novels, and I'd like to share a stylistic transfer with you and get your opinion. In writing poetry, of course, LESS IS MORE, and a good poet has faith in the power of image, metaphor, and format to do their job and meld to SHOW NOT TELL. We do not expect those two principles to be followed all that closely in fiction. I find, however, that I WANT to follow them quite closely, but this practice usually means MORE WORDS, which is annoying.

Some examples; Rather than write ,"she sneezed violently', I want to write "when she sneezed her eyes squeezed shut and her head shot forward". Rather than write, "He could feel murdereous violence in the room" I want to write "All the men in the room wore dark suits bulging on one side of the chest. Heads constantly swivelled as slitted eyes assessed the newcomers" You see what I'm getting at? Seems to me if I'm going to continue with this style in fiction, I must exercise more economy. The determination to SHOW could result in undue reader attention to secondary descriptive moments, hence miring down plot development etc.

Any thoughts out there?.

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