I’ll never forget the time a line of dialogue in a Nancy Drew book that ended …Nancy pontificated. I laughed out loud. Everyone knows Nancy Drew has strong opinions. She’s always pontificating! Why would the author need to interject herself into the dialogue with such a dialogue tag as pontificated?! Said would have easily done the job, and I could have continued reading without smirking.
I’ve seen a few long lists of dialogue tags on Pinterest being circulated on boards for writers, such as 100 Ways to say Said. A hundred? Really? It makes my brain want to scream. One list contains the following suggestions:
acknowledged admitted agreed answered argued asked barked begged bellowed blustered bragged complained confessed cried demanded denied giggled hinted hissed howled inquired interrupted laughed lied mumbled muttered nagged pleaded promised questioned remembered replied requested retorted roared sang screamed screeched shouted sighed snarled sobbed threatened wailed warned whimpered whined whispered wondered yelled.
Don’t Do It
Keep in mind that using these dialogue tags may get you labeled an amateur. Author and editor Dawn Boeder Johnson suggests that relying on dialogue tags other than said or asked “might be considered melodramatic—possibly even making prose sound unprofessional.”(see Scribophile)
Elmore Leonard’s third rule for good writing is “Never use a verb other than ”said’ to carry dialogue.”
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’d be the first to admit I like breaking rules, but I agree with the master writer Leonard. The main job of a dialogue tag is to inform the reader who is speaking. That’s it. Everything else from what the character is saying to their actions should indicate how the dialogue is being delivered.
Stick with Said and Asked
Maybe a writer could get away with Jacob yelled, whispered or mumbled, but good writing informs the reader about the character’s the state of mind before he speaks. It should be obvious from the speakers words whether he or she is barking, complaining, denying, or demanding. Dialogue tags other than said or asked are distracting and redundant. If you think they aren’t redundant, I’d say you need to take another look at the writing or what the character is saying so that it’s clear.
What do you say? Or, better yet, what do your characters say?
Linda K. Sienkiewicz is the author of In the Context of Love, adult contemporary fiction about one woman’s need to tell her story without shame.
2017 Sarton Women’s Book Award Finalist.
2016 Eric Hoffer Book Award Finalist.
2016 USa Book News “Best Book” Finalist
2016 Readers Favorite Book Finalist.
Angelica Schirrick had always suspected there was something deeply disturbing about her family, but the truth was more than she bargained for.
“At once a love story, a cautionary tale, and an inspirational journey.” ~ Bonnie Jo Campbell, author of National Book Award Finalist, American Salvage, and critically acclaimed Once Upon a River,and Mothers, Tell Your Daughters
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