Wednesday, December 17, 2003

"Good morning," he exclaimed perceptively.

I'm not really awake yet, but I'll post a couple of things from this morning's in-box...

Dude you are one of USA Today's 100 People of 2003!

Oh. Blink blink. Yes, I am. Good lord. Brings a whole new meaning to the phrase "when I'm 64."

Hi Neil! Like so many others, I'm an aspiring author who wants to ask your advice on some detail of the craft. This particular questionable detail is about adverbs and dialogue.

Various 'guides to good writing' have told me to avoid adverbs, calling them 'weak' and so forth. And especially to try and avoid the egregious Tom Swifties. And I've also been told not to fear using a simple "said" rather than resorting to more obscure terms like "implied", "gasped", "insinuated", and the all-time winner(?), "ejaculated". But I find that this combination of suggestions either leads to a long string of boring dialogue where the most exciting thing I can think to do is move the words "(s)he said" from the beginning to the middle to the end of the sentence, or alternately to me doing what I've been told not to in order to make things more lively (the more frequent outcome).

I plan to pay attention to this sort of thing in the next few stories and books I read, but the fact that I've never really noticed how good authors handle it leads me to believe it must be one of those subtle tricks that one only spots when it fails. So I was wondering if you had any words of advice as to how one can convey nuances of emotion or intonation in dialogue without either resorting to excessive adverbs or those alternatives to "said". (If you don't, I think I'll just go on using adverbs. They're in the language for a reason, after all.)



"Said's" are invisible. They vanish onto the page. The eye barely sees them -- they become one with the inverted commas that indicate that something is being said. They're the arrows on the speech balloons that show you who's saying what. Lots of authors, when they start out, remember from school that you shouldn't repeat words too much, and are careful to replace each "said" with "growled" "uttered" "yelped' "hissed" "exclaimed" "asseverated" "muttered" "affirmed" and so on, and cannot work out why people dismiss the writing as amateurish. Use them, but use them sparingly. It's like salt in a dish. Too much and it's all you taste.

I don't think there's anything wrong with adverbs (he asseverated, gnomishly) but I do tend to do a final read-through of anything I've written, deciding whether each adverb lives or dies, based really on whether it adds anything. If it's implicit in what I've already said in the book I chuck it out, bravely .

Can you tell people that the film Sex, Lies and Superheroes is screening in Boston on Saturday Dec 20th? Details at


Mr. Gaiman,

The walls in my humble grad-student apartment are depressingly bare (no wolves or anything), and I was thinking that it would be super neat if I could find some original artwork to put up by Dave McKean. Unfortunately, I couldn't find anyplace that sold his art, or even posters of covers or other media he did (I'd love to have a big poster of the Neverwhere logo like the one on the DVD set). There are a few prints on Ebay, but ebay can get get out of hand sometimes (and I am only humble grad student). I feel a little odd asking you where to find stuff to buy from someone else, but I don't really know where else to look.

So glad to hear you're writing a new novel. My mother is a middle school librarian (who happened to see you speak at the Atlanta ALA conference, incidentally), and while she enjoyed Coraline, she's been dying for another tome that she can just fall into (as have I).

Please don't ever stop writing,


Well, if you start at DreamHaven's site they have some posters -- the signed Mr Punch Print, for a start, along with the 2004 Sandman Calendar (which is about 50% Dave McKean [later edit -- no it isn't. It's mostly Amano. I was thinking of a different calendar]), -- and then go from there to the Allen Spiegel Fine Arts website -- which is astonishingly gorgeous, and see what Allen has. He's Dave's art agent, and Kent Williams's and Jon J. Muth's and Greg Spalenka's, and lots of other amazing artists'. If you go to you'll find lots of amazing, long-forgotten stuff-you-can-buy: a 1996 Dave McKean Anthropomorphik Calendar for example should provide lots of images to put on your wall. And if 1996 ever comes round again, you could use it as a calendar.

Neil, I am a Brazilian reader that as many in the world, I admire your work. I read many declarations your on as it searched inspiration to write histories of Sandman and other works. It would like to know, as you it had the inspiration to create this sensible side of Sandman, therefore when reading histories I perceive the intensity of emotions and personality of the personage. I am writing on a personage, nothing professional, of course, but all time that I try to improve my personage, seem that I am not being original, my personage finishes seeming some existing other already, this discourages me.
This never happened with you? If already it happened, as you dealt with this sensation? I know that I have an terrible English and a writer to read a thus written message, must very be bad. Forgive me, but I don�t have easiness, as you can perceive, with the English language. Some people had been born to write and to speak in English,
others as I, unhappyly, not. I am thankful for having read my message and if to answer, I will be immensely been thankful. Kisses, Neil.

I suspect you're using a translation program, which creates a wonderfully heightened sort of English. So I think I know what you're asking, but I'm not sure. If you're worried about not being original, then I wouldn't worry too much about that. Whatever you're writing is the first time you've written it, and you're bringing yourself to it. Even if other people have been there before, they weren't you. Make it new, and tell it as best you can.

And now I'm going to make a cup of tea and start work...