In my spare time, I like to peruse writing articles and blogs. We all need to keep learning, and we can always find time to improve ourselves somehow. So I hope that every one of my books will be better than the one that came before it.
Some writing advice that I have come across a lot recently involves speech tags. You know, those little he said/she said things that appear in the text to tell readers which character is speaking. The goal, of course, is to have the dialogue flow smoothly, with the reader able to effortlessly follow the conversation, hearing and seeing the speakers without really noticing the speech tags, and without having to count quotes backward to determine who is saying what.
The current, fashionable advice is to avoid adverbs, particularly in speech tags. Some bloggers/editors seem to prefer eliminating the use of adverbs entirely, in favor of strong verbs. Instead of saying, “Eric ran quickly,” we should say, “Eric sprinted.” Now we achieve economy of words, eliminate the adverb, and a more vivid mental image is produced with the use of the strong verb. I agree that the second example is better. However, I disagree that adverbs should be done away with entirely. As long as they are not overused, and as long as they do not become crutches for weak writing, I do believe that they have their place.
We can even use adverbs in speech tags, so long as we don’t overdo it. JK Rowling herself does so, and if she can do it, so can I. To say that a character spoke grumpily, happily, loudly, angrily, sadly, is okay every now and then, and I’m going to keep doing it, regardless of what the Writing Gods claim is fashionable at this time.
Another problem that has bugged me for years, though many editors say that it is good, is what I call “said-itis.” This is where a writer only uses “said” in speech tags. Never “yelled,” “whispered,” “moaned,” or any other colorful, and may I say—strong!—verbs to describe speech. As a reader, I find incessant “saids” far more infuriating than too many adverbs thrown in to describe how someone said something. I don’t understand how people can claim that replacing “said” with a stronger verb is distracting to the reader when we are supposed to use strong verbs everywhere else in our writing.
For the record, “said” lends itself to the addition of adverbs in speech tags:
“He is not well,” Ciara said.
How did Ciara say it?
“He is not well,” Ciara said sadly.
“He is not well,” Ciara said haughtily.
“He is not well,” Ciara said firmly.
Each of those adverbs changes how the reader perceives Ciara’s remark. We could also use Ciara sobbed, Ciara sniffed, or Ciara insisted, producing the same meaning as the previous adverbs by using a stronger verb than “said.”
So I’m going to keep doing my dialogue the way I do. I’ll put adverbs in speech tags where I want to, being careful not to overdo it, and use strong verbs in the place of “said.” I also regularly use action to show who is speaking. More important to me than some writing pundit’s fashionable opinion is the opinion of my readers, and from the feedback I’ve been getting, I’m doing alright.
How do you prefer speech tags in novels? Are you a fan of "said" or stronger verbs? How about adverbs generally? What bugs you? Let me know! I'd love to hear your thoughts!
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