Line of Fire, An Autumn Rain Novel
My newest print novel, Line of Fire, is available! Click
here to read about the book.
Tired of being surprised at unexpected content in your books?
Movie-like book ratings are finally here! Click below to find out more:
For a complete list of my books, click here.
Click here for Site Map
By David G. Woolley
Here are a few suggestions that I put forth as gospel. You can disagree with
everything else I say, but not when it comes to speaker attributions. Dave
is the KING of locutions. Speaker attributions are such a simple thing, but
they can make or break your dialogue scenes. Give King's advice some thought
the next time you're working out some dialogue:
(Excerpt from Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and
Dave King. Quoted parts are in italics.)
Unless your dialogue consists entirely of one character talking to himself
or herself, you will need to include speaker attributions so your readers
know who is saying what. Bear in mind that the only reason you need them
is so your readers know who is saying what. Don't use speaker attributions
as a way of slipping in explanations of your dialogue ("he growled," "she
snapped"). As with all other types of explanations, either they're unnecessary
("I'm sorry," she apologized) or they are necessary but shouldn't be ("Do
you consider that amusing," she whined.)
What this amounts to is your using the verb "said" almost without exception.
("I feel terrible about it," he said. "You always keep me waiting, you never
call," she said.) Some authors get a little
nervous when they see a long string of "saids" spreading over the
pagesthey hear the voices of their creative writing teachers telling
them to strive for variety and originality in their verbs. So they write:
"Give it to me," she demanded.
"Here it is," he offered.
"Is it loaded?" she inquired.
Or, even worse:
"I hate to admit that," he grimaced.
"Come closer," she smiled.
"So you've changed your mind," he chuckled.
To use verbs like these last three for speaker attribution is to brand
yourself an amateurand to stick your character with an action that
is physically impossible: no one outside of hack fiction has ever been able
to grimace or smile or chuckle a sentence.
We're all in favor of choosing exactly the right verb for the action,
but when you're writing speaker attributions the right verb is NEARLY always
"said". The reason those well-intentioned attempts at variety don't work
is that verbs other than "said" tend to draw attention away from the dialogue.
They jump out at the reader, make the reader aware, if only for a second,
of the mechanics of writing. They draw attention to your technique, and a
technique that distracts the reader is never a good idea. You want your readers
to pay attention to your dialogue, not the means by which you get it to
"Said," on the other hand, isn't even read the way other verbs are read.
It is, and should be, an almost purely mechanical devicemore like a
punctuation mark than a verb. It's absolutely transparent, and so is graceful
and elegant. Which, actually, is another reason to avoid explanations and
adverbs. Even when you use them with "said" (I said sternly), they tend to
entangle your readers in your technique rather than leaving them free to
concentrate on your dialogue.
There are other ways to keep your speaker attributions transparent. Don't
open a paragraph of dialogue with the speaker attribution. Instead, start
a paragraph of dialogue and place the speaker attribution at the first
natural break in the first sentence. ("I don't know," he said, "I've always
felt plungers were underrated as kitchen utensils.") This is an especially
good idea when the paragraph is fairly longthe ear seems to require
a break near the beginning.
David G. Woolley's comments on the excerpt above:
The point here ("he growled" and "she snapped") is that if you remove them
and let the dialogue sit there on the page without the explanations, you
may find that the dialogue doesn't really snap and doesn't have enough growl
to scare a sparrow from its nest. And then most authors use the simple
justification to put "growled" and "snapped" back into the locution and call
it necessary when it may not be. What I am suggesting is that by avoiding
a simple explanation of the dialogue, you are forced to find the dialogue
that really has bite, that growls and snaps and when you find those words
for your characters to speak, you can lean back on your chair, bounce your
baby on your knees and enjoy a moment of silence in honor of a run of dialogue
that gives you a thrill, that says, wow, that's exactly what they would say
in that situation and I don't need to tell anyone what they're feeling, it's
all been said very eloquently by the characters themselves, without any help
from the author. I'm certainly not suggesting how anyone SHOULD write, I
am only suggesting that removing the explanations is a wonderful test of
the strength of your dialogue and when you search for another solution, it
is nearly always better. As an experiment,after you have had your character
snap or growl or whatever, remove the explanation and then search for a better
way to say what they said, something that really snaps:
"I don't think you really mean what you're saying," he growled.
Doesn't have a fifth the bite as say:
"Have you lost your mind?" David snatched the pen from her hand and pushed
the manuscript off the desk. "You can't write something like that."
The same test is true of -ly adverbs. I don't mean to be the evil adverb
monger, especially when you think of the many adverbs that are floating out
there to be plucked out of the air and put down on the page, and when I suggest
that you NOT use them, it's as if I were limiting your writing; ripping out
pages of your dictionary and throwing them in the trash. But I do believe
that if you apply the -ly adverb test to your writing that you will find
that it forces you to find a much more powerful way to get the emotion across
and that in doing so you find your "writer's voice," that elusive style that
allows you to bring the characters right off the page. Ly adverbs throw a
cloud over a good voice, hide the characters behind explanations and create
a solid divide between the characters voice and the authors voicea
line that we are all trying desperately to blur so that our voice is the
voice of the character.