Friday, May 19, 2017

He Said/She Said

After four books and four different editors I have learned a few things about “talking heads”. When your fiction is overloaded with dialogue that relies on he or she said or John or Mary said, we end up with people talking to each other with minimal forward movement of the story. It gets worse, because we are so dependent upon the verb “said” we look for substitutes. Like he exclaimed or she questioned. There are websites that give you hundreds of alternate words for said.

Here’s what works for me: I try not to use the word said or any of its substitutes. The reader knows generally who is speaking in the story. If the dialogue is a question, there is no need to clarify the dialogue with an added, “he questioned.” Many times, you do not even need a “said tag” because it is obvious who is speaking. Furthermore, “said tags” are a lazy way to describe character emotion. For example, if the character is angry, you could write “he bellowed”. Forget the tag and describe the anger and how it affects the character. Some readers may understand the “bellow tag” completely different than you intended.

When you do not use “said” and its substitutes the writer then could provide action beats that describe the inner thoughts of the character. You can add depth to your characterization by providing sensory information, the smells, sounds, etc.

Action beats should propel the story forward.

Try writing a few pages without the word “said” or it substitutes! You may be surprised how well it turns out.

Robert Parlante

No comments:

Post a Comment