“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.” – Elmore Leonard
I know Mr. Leonard is right when he goes on to say, “The line of dialogue belongs to the character, the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with ‘she asseverated,’ and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.”
I also know he’s correct when he says to never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” According to him, “To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.”
When it’s obvious which character is speaking tags are not required. However, there are many times tags are needed for clarity. Good writers show the emotion (or lack of it) by the actions or the expression of the character; they don’t need tell the reader how the speaker’s words were delivered.
These rules are ingrained in my brain. Yet when I’m revising my manuscripts, I find that I’ve not only given in to the temptation to use more descriptive tags, but that I’m also guilty of committing the mortal sin of adding an “ly” modifier. I changed many of them to “said” or removed the tag altogether. But I left a few unchanged.
I’ve decided that maybe Elmore Leonard is a bit too strict when he uses the word “never.” In surfing the web, the general consensus is that the “said” tag should be used at least 90 percent of the time. That means that it is OK to use other tag words as long as they are few and far between. It's also important to be sure that the tag is a doable action.
If, like me, you give in to the occasional use of a more descriptive tag, you may enjoy visiting “550 Alternative Words for Said” at Bukisa.com. The list also includes adverbs and phrases to use with other words for said. It’s quite an extensive, fun-to-read list even if you’re not guilty of using alternative tags.
As a writer, how do you handle tags? As a reader, do dialogue tags other than said draw you out of the story?
Before I go, I’d like to thank Carol Kilgore at Under the Tiki Hut for the Sweet Blog Award. Her posts are always entertaining. I particularly enjoy her top ten lists.
I’d also like to thank Ranya Iyer from Coffee Rings Everywhere for the Sunshine Award. She certainly brought sunshine into my day when she awarded me this special honor by saying, “for being such a wonderfully positive person- if I hadn't seen one particular post of her's several months back, I would have thought she didn't have a care in the world, except to spread happiness.” Rayna blogs from Bombay, India. Her posts are interesting not only for learning about cultural differences but for discovering our similarities as well.
I hope you’ll have an opportunity to visit both of these wonderful blogs.
Thank you for stopping by today.
Tags: Elmore Leonard, dialogue tags, alternative words for said, , Carol Kilgore,Rayna Iyer