Finishing a good book recently, I was left in a quandary how to review it.
The storyline was interesting with a convincing plot and some good characters. There was a nice balance between action, dialogue and narration.
So what was wrong with it?
There weren’t even a lot of spelling errors, although combined with misplaced words, they just hit double figures.
But, one of my usual gripes, punctuation, really really needed an overhaul. We had apostrophes inserted for plurals, eg CFC’s, PhD’s, and various others. Hyphens – were used instead of en – or em — dashes. When using an em dash (or even an incorrect hyphen) for interrupting speech eg ‘I’m going to—’ there was a space left before the em dash. There shouldn’t be spaces around em dashes. And there was confusion about using commas, full points and capital letters in dialogue.
Dialogue was one of the major problem areas. While the dialogue itself was realistic enough, the author fell back on two classic no-nos. One was to avoid using the word said, and secondly, when the author did use said they invariably modified it with an adverb. Too many adverbs detract from the dialogue and weaken it. If you need to convey additional sense of atmosphere it’s better to introduce some action to show what’s happening, rather than say he said sullenly or she said gaily.
Here is a list of some, not all, of the adverbs used:
- loudly, airily, blankly, evenly, firmly, gloomily, slowly, drily, briskly, coldly, quickly, bluntly, hurriedly, affably, slyly, earnestly, nervously, casually, feebly, effusively
And, here is another list of, again some not all, the words used instead of said:
- shouted, added, screamed, stated, answered, moaned, boomed, smiled, gabbled, remarked, mumbled, chuckled, continued, called, snarled, laughed, commented, squeaked, coughed
Please note, my favourite pet hate ‘chuckled‘ is in there.
One style guide for fiction writers picks out chuckled, (quite right too IMO) along with grimaced and smiled, as classic words to avoid using with dialogue. Apart from anything else, it is physically impossible to chuckle, grimace or smile speech. The style guide was somewhat ruder than me, because it described the use of such words as amateur and their work as ‘hack fiction’. I’d add chortled to the list as well.
In one chapter, we had two police officers barking at a suspect. Instead of concentrating on the dialogue I got carried away with a vision of two GSDs in uniform interrogating the said suspect. That’s what happens when you use silly words instead of said. It distracts the reader.
While ‘said’ is the classic word for dialogue in journalism, ‘there’s nowt wrong wi’ said’ as a senior reporter once said to me when I was still a mere trainee, it is currently the word of choice in fiction too.
The reasons are pretty much like the adverbs, the use of other words for variety weaken and distract from the dialogue eg my mental image of two dog police officers barking at the suspect. In combination, throughout the book, the cumulative effect of contrived words creates an artificial and negative effect.
A final point on dialogue is exclamation points. Keep them to a minimum. Overuse devalues them, and unless they are actually relevant, eg, Help! Watch out! they again serve to weaken the actual words. If you need to use them for emphasis try changing your words. Maybe they aren’t strong enough.
And another two of my favourites, repetition and inconsistencies.
Some examples from this book were, two characters murmured (instead of said) within a couple of paragraphs of each other, ‘a few minutes later’ was repeated within a few paragraphs, ‘to his right’ repeated in consecutive pars, and over a longer timescale, a repeated invitation to a party, and repeated information that batteries should be taken out of mobiles so the ‘phones can’t be traced. The reader isn’t stupid. We don’t need to be told twice.
On inconsistencies: There was a wonderful paragraph where a woman was reading a magazine and in the same par she folded up the newspaper. Amazing. Just amazing.
More importantly however, as the story built up to the climax, the day of the planned attack fluctuated between Saturday and Sunday morning. It wasn’t even a confusion about Saturday night and early Sunday morning. It was Sunday at one point, then switched to Saturday, and then back to Sunday.
My dilemma here was that I enjoyed the plot, the pace, the characters and the style. It was a real shame that the accumulation of small errors and amateur use of dialogue tags let the book down. On top of that, I was reviewing it for another site, that is even pickier than me. Yes, there are people out there more picky than roughseas. So it had to be a three star review, much as I would have liked to have given it four stars. It’s probably one of the few books that I have read, littered with errors, where I have been sorry I couldn’t grade it higher.
Meanwhile, a few weeks back the cooker hob stopped working. Not a huge problem as we were off to Spain the next day.
On return I fished out the pathetic owner information booklet. Manual would be a misnomer. A fuse we thought? Oh no. No reference to what to do when hob gives up. The only info was how to change the light bulb in the oven. We’ve never got round to doing that since it went years ago.
I resorted to the Internet. In fact I spent half a day reading up on electric jobs and potential sources of the no power problem. It *could* be a problem with the wiring. It *could* be something else.
Should we call the retailer? Or should we buy a tat two ring burner for £70? I decided to use the oven. After all, when I had a Rayburn, I used the oven for pretty much everything. Much to Partner’s surprise, I produced perfect oven-cooked rice and pasta. He usually cooks both as he considers his skills are vastly superior to mine. So far, so good although we may yet buy a two ring burner from Spain (cheaper and good quality) if the inspiration for oven ready meals fails.
Almost forgot The Ankle. In my enthusiasm to move faster and try to walk properly, I stumbled and twisted my knee five weeks or so ago. Back to hopping and sofa-bound. I’d just got used to putting more weight on my ankle and now I couldn’t put it through my knee.
So we were late in getting back to Spain. I found a load of sad looking lettuces and a rather dry garden. The weather had been hot, hot, hot. In fact it still was pretty warm for late October.
We took down the boatshed though as the changing weather meant the veg weren’t getting enough light, the sun is no longer scorching, and the wonderful rain finally made an appearance. In fact we drove up in the rain, and our neighbours accused us of bringing it with us.
The cockerel enjoyed some of the lettuces, the basil had gone basilistic (must buy pine nuts and make pesto), and some, although not all of the infamous peas had germinated. In fact some had started producing tiny pods. One pea per pod per plant doesn’t sound promising though … On the upside, the artichoke that died off after The Ankle seemed to have revived itself and looks rather imposing and statuesque.