Friday, February 15, 2013

The Problem with Pontification

Being a writer is a curse, I tell you.

Half the published books I read, I can't completely enjoy BECAUSE I ANALYZE THEM.

You see, we writers have little rules-of-thumb and tips-for-cleaner-writing floating around in our heads at all times. Which is usually great, because they help us become better writers (in theory). The problem is, they nag even when we're reading. Which is annoying. They make us want to take perfectly good published books and go at them with our red pens flourished.

For instance, I've been reading a book that is filled with creative tags.

I'm sure the writer thought she was very clever using lots and lots of big words to describe how her characters were saying certain things. Words like "pontificated" and "enthused" were thrown around freely, as if they could improve the dialog.

But all they made me want to do was throw the book across the room. 

They distracted me. I realized after I finished a page that I had no idea what the characters had been talking about, because I'd been too busy counting the author's creative alternatives to "said."

Please put me out of my misery!

If you've ever received a critique from me and you are a creative-tag-user, you probably listened to my spiel about simple tags (only "said" and "cried" allowed, and maybe "shouted"). My argument always is, if your dialog is strong, you don't need fancy tags.

I know some people choose to take my advice and some don't. Which is totally fine. It's one of those rules we throw around in the writing community, but outside the writing community? Let's face it, normal readers probably DON'T CARE.

But "pontificate?"

Please don't use "pontificate." For the love of all things tidy, if your character is pontificating, please show us they're pontificating instead of telling us the sentence they just said is a pontification. This is all I ask!

*weeps hysterically*

How about you? Do you use creative tags? Do you have other writing rules ping-ponging in your head that make you a fault-finding reader?
Photo credit: Andalusia from 


  1. And here I thought you were going to talk about the Pope ... clearly, I need to read my dictionary a bit more :)

    In terms of writing style, one of the most annoying books I've read was the "Da Vinci Code" the short chapters drove me mad, half a page or so, and that was it, next chapter. Aaargh. I need a little bit more depth.

    My current writing dilemma is to find my written voice in my native language ... I written in English so long, I've lost the touch in Swedish. Sigh.

  2. I though it was about the Popo too!!!!
    Even though I'm not a writer, I find the same annoyance in some books, and totally agree that if the dialogue is strong enough, we won't need to be told any more. In fact, it's insulting as a reader to be told how to interpret a piece of text.

  3. Ditto on the pope thing. Maybe cause he's just been in the news this last week.

    I catch the dialogue tag thing too. Pontificated is pretty bad.

    Another thing I notice with dialogue tags is when said is used too often. For some reason it seems to happen more in present tense stories, or maybe the 'says' just sticks out more than 'said' to me.

    But when I see too many says/said on one page, it bugs me. It's like, do something else, an action maybe so we don't have two says in a row.

  4. My greatest goal as a writer is to turn my book into the wardrobe in the Narnia books. I want readers to climb inside the story.

    In order to do that I have to disappear and let the characters live.

    No pontificating allowed.
    ~ Wendy

  5. I know what you mean...sometimes I do wish I could turn off that part of my brain and just plain old enjoy books again!
    When I was a teenager, I really enjoyed the novels of Lloyd C. Douglas, but my best friend (who generally shared my literary tastes) couldn't stomach them for one reason...all the characters kept "drawling" things instead of just "saying" things! Once I noticed it, it did get pretty darn annoying...I think I could allow a drawl or two, but ten in one book was way too much.

  6. I like simple tags tied with an action or mannerism. Your first statement made me say, that's me!
    "Half the published books I read, I can't completely enjoy BECAUSE I ANALYZE THEM."

    I wonder if we'll ever stop that?

  7. That's really a good point. Most of my tags are said, shouted, or interrupted...but nothing fancy. :)

  8. I do this ALL THE TIME. And it drives me crazy. I don't NEED to analyze everything I read, but I can't help it. It's good when I can learn things from it, but sometimes I just want to enjoy a story and my analytical brain won't let me.

    I'm so glad to know I'm not alone. :)

  9. I just can't stand all! They make me want to exclaim...loudly!

  10. I now use "said" almost all of the time, and when I don't, it's something odd like "he emitted." When appropriate, of course.

    Best yet is to use nothing, and let the characters in dialog be clear.

  11. I know a book I'm reading is written really well when I only have an edit or two (usually very minor like deleting a 'that') per page. That inner editor of mine NEVER turns off.

    So if I'm making too many 'edits' then the book just doesn't get finished. There are plenty out there I can at least mostly enjoy :)

  12. I'm cracking up at all the Pope comments.

    You know, I don't even use the words "said" and "asked" as much as i used to. I use them, but I mostly try to use action tags to let the reader know who's talking. I read somewhere that by making sure your characters are doing something else while conversing, you're putting the reader much more directly inside the scene.

    Have no idea if it has worked. :) But it's a habit I got into.

    Pontification... Ha!

  13. I've mostly read older books my whole life, so I'm used to reading and writing tags other than "said," "asked," and "yelled." I think a lot of people nowadays have forgotten the purpose they can serve, so long as they're not overused. Things like adverbs and exclamation points aren't awful devices either, so long as you're using them when they add something to the writing and not just to show off, or because you think you have to use them.

  14. I confess, I sometimes might use a creative tag or two, but they usually get edited out (usually with action). That said, I TOTALLY want to use pontificate now. Just you wait. I'm going to find a way. ;)

    That said, I do have trouble enjoying books as easily as I used to. Stupid inner editor. :)

  15. I used to toss around creative tags like rice at a wedding when I first started writing, but I was broke of that habit pretty quickly! :)

  16. I feel like I need to apologize for recommending that book to you o_O