“Just to let you know, I will use ‘said’ to attribute most of the dialog in Always Gardenia. Maybe an ‘asked’ here and there. The occasional ‘growled’ or ‘whispered.’ Otherwise, I’ll stick to ‘said,'” the Novelist said.
“What?” the Character demanded loudly. “How boring! How pedestrian! What I say deserves more description than a measly ‘said!'”
“Common wisdom is to stay away from fancy dialog attribution,” the Novelist said. “Readers tend not to notice ‘said’ or ‘asked,’ but unusual dialog tags stand out. The words of dialog and the context should convey the sense of the speaker’s tone. Characters don’t need to shout, whimper, snigger, groan, whisper, or chortle if the writer is doing her job.”
“Hey, pick up any romance novel, or thriller, or even some ‘literary’ fiction, and you’ll find all sorts of dialog tags, not just plain old ‘said’ and ‘asked,'” the Character asserted forcefully. “Maybe you’re just behind the times.”
“Well, chacun à son goût,” the Novelist said. “Personally, I find all those fancy dialog tags distracting so will avoid them in my work. Oh, and by the way — I will rarely, if ever, use adverbs with ‘said.'”
“Oh give me a break!” the Character snorted derisively. “Didn’t you learn in elementary school to write with vivid language? Choose interesting words?”
“May I quote Strunk and White?” the Novelist asked.
“Strunk and White are a couple of dead geezers. This is the modern age,” the Character scoffed loudly.
The Novelist did not reply to this and instead, read from page 61 in The Elements of Style:
Be sparing . . . in the use of adverbs after ‘he said,’ ‘she replied,’ and the like. Let the conversation itself disclose the speaker’s manner or condition. Dialogue heavily weighted with adverbs after the attributive verb is cluttery and annoying. Inexperienced writers not only overwork their adverbs, they load their attributives with explanatory verbs. . . They do this, apparently, in the belief that the word ‘said’ is always in need of support, or because they have been told to do it by experts in bad writing.
“Oh, and I’m sure you’ve heard what Stephen King tells us about adverbs,” the Novelist said.
“As a matter of fact, I haven’t. I might remind you that you are the expert on all of this,” the Character mocked defiantly.
“He said that the road to Hell is paved with adverbs,” the Novelist said.
“Just because Stephen King writes about devilish people doesn’t mean he knows a gosh darn thing about Hell,” the Character opined sharply.
“Nonetheless, I’ll stick to ‘said,’ and I’ll allow myself only the occasional adverb — I will describe Arnold Wiggens as stirring a salad ‘vaguely’ with a spoon, I admit,” the Novelist said.
“Okay by me if you don’t attribute my dialog at all,” the Character grumbled peevishly. “Please be my guest. Do with me what you will. You are the author, after all.”
“That I am.”
“But you’d better promise to write lines that show the reader the real me.”
NEXT WEEK: VERACITY IN MADE-UP WORLDS