The Dit School of Fiction
by Ellis Parker Butler
Since the English critics seem agreed that no worthy American novels are being written and the American critics seem agreed that no worthy English novels are being written, I have decided to delay no longer, but to inaugurate the new era for both nations immediately, and make possible the general use of my invention, the "dit" school of fiction.
For the benefit of those to whom my name may not be familiar (although I rightly doubt that there be any such), I will say that I am the man who, some ten years ago, invented the Scenic Novel. In the Scenic Novel there was to be nothing but scenery and weather. This was to do away with the infernal nuisance -- as all we greater authors find it -- of having to write conversation into our novels. Not that conversation does not have its place in a novel of the old sort; it has -- but it carries with it the sickening necessity of writing down ten to forty thousand times (according to the length of the novel) the platitudinous refrains "she said", "he said", "said she", and "said he". This is what drives many good men out of the novel writing business.
The Scenic Novel, being nothing but weather and scenery, was meant to obviate the necessity of the "he said" and "she said" annoyance altogether. Unfortunately, before I had thoroughly established the use of the Scenic Novel form, the general idea was grasped by another branch of the trade and, as you know, the market has been flooded with scenery and weather books, which have been highly successful. We have had an especially notable group of books dealing with the scenery and the weather (some of it pretty warm) of the South Sea Islands, for example.
I do not complain of the use these authors have made of my hint. I am glad they have succeeded; I am merely sorry the novelists did not jump at the suggestion I offered. That has been, I admit, a little discouraging. It leads one to ask, "Are there, indeed, no longer any Balzacs, any Thackerays, any Laura Jean Libbeys eager to carry fictional literature to new heights?" I believe there are. It is to such that I offer the enormous field of my newly invented "dit" school of literature.
Deep consideration of the whole subject of fictional literature has convinced me that I was too radical in wishing to do away with all conversation in novels. In fact, a study of the new European boundary lines, the Einstein theory, and the basic qualities of the human mind leads me to believe that I was absolutely and diametrically wrong in my former ideas. The novel should not merely contain conversation, it should be nothing but conversation.
Now this thought is in itself tremendous, but it is as nothing to the thought that it led up to -- the thought that has led me to create the "dit" school of fiction. I have said that it was my opinion that conversation in novels was a nuisance, and that I now know I was absolutely wrong about that. Many of the most successful novels published since I invented the Scenic Novel have been almost nothing but talk.
"Ah!" thought I then, "if I was wrong in one thing I am probably wrong in all. I am probably always wrong. If so, I am wrong in thinking the 'he said' and 'she said' business is a nuisance. It is probably the essence and fine flower of fictional literature. Let us consider that!"
It is thus really fine minds work.
It was thus I came to invent the "dit" school of literature which I see now is destined to be to the old style novel what free verse is to poesy and what Impressionism and Cubistry are to art.
The word "dit", which I have given to the new style of fiction writing I have invented, is French. Those who have studied languages deeply will know that it means "said". In plain English one might call my new style the "said" style, or -- if one wishes -- the "he-said-she-said" style.
In working on the "dit" style and thus bringing it to perfection, I have read everything ever printed, from the Bible to this morning's newspaper. I find that there has been a gradual and very slow change in method of saiding. From the clumsy Bible mode -- "And Moses spake unto Aaron, saying" -- there was a gradual simplification of usage, culminating in the twentieth century "he said" and "she said" or, at times, "John said", "Amelia answered". With the beginning of the twentieth century, when the cakewalk developed into the more colorful tango, there was an evident unrest among the more prominent saiders, and many of our better writers began the attempt to add color and life to what had been so long the sodden lead of fictional writings. We begin to find such passages as these:
"Drane's girl will have to speak out," mouthed Hemmer.
"She may, at that," thought Elise audibly.
This was a great step forward and the progress was rapid, culminating in the splendidly colorful saidings of George Randolph Chester in his dignified tales of Wallingford. Here the saidings were evidently in the hand of a master artist. His characters saided with unapproachable brilliance of originality. In line after line new and original saidings flashed gemlike: "he gurgled", "she imagined", "Wallingford cringed". Nearly every word in the dictionary came forth and took the place of the outworn "said". To read:
"That's the boy," Wallingford cavorted.
"You're right," Blackie Daw sasophoned.
"Who is right?" the elderly man snailed.
"I am -- always," elephanted Wallingford.
"Except when you are wrong," steamboated Blackie Daw --
to read this in a Wallingford tale would cause us no surprise, but it would cause us pleasure. Here the tale becomes subservient to the brilliant saiding. We read on and on, forgetful of the tale, seeking only to enjoy the saids.
In Wallingford's history Mr. Chester came so close to my "dit" school of literature that I even now tremble. One step more and he would have discovered it. In short, my "dit" school of fiction eliminates everything but the saids. This intensifies the interest while it leaves more to the reader's imagination. A novel thus becomes a permanent thing; it can be read a thousand times and new meanings always found in it. Old novels can be republished and seem like new -- newer than new.
To illustrate the system I take in hand a novel sent me recently by a friend.* He wrote it. It is, as old school novels go, a decidedly good piece of work, I think. It holds the attention after one has read a chapter or two. Need I say, however, that for a few pages I saw little but the saidings? This was, perhaps, because I had my "dit" system so deeply in mind, thinking of nothing else day or night. But observe how much more thrilling, how much greater this book would have been had it been written a la "dit" or, to use the phrase I prefer, if it had been "ditted".
I turn to the second chapter of this novel. I stop at page 15. I rewrite a portion, omitting everything but a little punctuation and the saidings. I choose as a title the one word -- the name of one of the characters -- "Dibdin". Observe the result:
A Tale of Mystery
"," he remarked.
"," I told him.
"?" he demanded with a gruffness that of his charm.
"," he said.
"," I wondered.
"," he answered elegantly.
"," I sat down facing him.
"!" was his only comment.
"!" I retorted irritably.
"," he said.
"!" I cried with a harassed laugh.
"?" he growled.
"," I told him.
"," he observed.
"," I pursued.
"," said Dibdin with emotion.
There is mystery in that. He came, he demanded with gruffness, he said with emotion. Evidently the heart of a gruff man was touched. By what? How? Why?
It will be seen at a glance that this is superior to anything now being written, both in form and content, but it may be that the change is too radical to institute suddenly. For those who are conservative and fear to venture too boldly, I offer my "semi-dit" form. This permits the author to give the reader, who he thinks has a solid mahogany head, a key to the conversation. It includes the last word only of what the character is understood to have been saying. In exemplification I proceed with Dibdin, from the middle of page 17. Let me call this "Dibdin Seen".
"Damnably," said Dibdin without emotion.
A Mystery Solved
"-- am," I retorted warmly.
"No," said Dibdin gravely.
"-- freedom," I went on, ignoring him,
"-- obsequies?" he queried.
"-- yes," I answered sadly.
"-- happen," he remarked to the ceiling.
"-- that?" I caught him up.
"-- know," he replied in his carefully lazy tone.
"-- this," he muttered.
"-- 'Horace'!" I exclaimed.
"-- me," he replied.
"-- it!" I cried, as my fingers caressed it.
"-- devil," murmured Dibdin in his beard.
"-- it!" I exulted incredulously.
"-- point," muttered Dibdin.
"-- scientist," I marveled.
"-- victimized." Dibdin puffed at his foul pipe.
That, I admit, presented Dibdin and the whole matter in a now light to me.
Naturally it would present Dibdin in a new light! But in what new light? Here is a mystery that does not have the failing many find in detective tales; the mystery is not solved in the last chapter.
To the novelists of the English-speaking world I present the "dit" system absolutely free of charge. All may use it. I demand no share of the royalties. All I ask is that there be printed in simple type, immediately following the copyright notice in each ditted or semi-ditted novel these words: "Written in the 'dit' style invented by Ellis Parker Butler. Honor to whom honor is due."
* "The Man Who Lived in a Shoe. By Henry James Forman. Little, Brown and Co.