Sunday, January 13, 2013

Is Said Dead or Making a Literary Comeback?

           In an effort to publish our rubbish, is said really dead when it comes to writing dialogue?  Why should we merely have our characters say something when they can boast, gasp, snarl…or even chortle? 

            Dialogue tags are a sticking point for writers.  You have your Cormac McCarthy/Hemingway types who hardly use dialogue tags at all, preferring their prose clean with the sparsely scattered said or stray asked.  And then you have authors who adore their boasting, gasping, snarling chortlers.

            No matter what side you write on, the bottom line is characters don’t just say.  They shriek when they’re scared, murmur when in love, boast when they’re proud, and sneer when they’re enraged.  By tinkering with dialogue tags, we hope to reveal tone and subtext, while others contend it’s cheating, distracting, and just plain lazy.  After all, to be creative with dialogue tags is to commit the ultimate writing sin: tell not show.  It gets into that purple prose territory and let’s face it – when a character bloviates or asseverates, it can be an exercise in reader exasperation. The polished writer prefers to communicate tone and subtext through action, voice, and body language – not through tedious multisyllabic dialogue tags they lift from Roget. 
            I come down somewhere in the middle.  Said is simple.  It’s clean.  It’s lean.  The reader’s eyes seamlessly glide right over said without so much as a hiccup.  This perfect little word works like a drone bee so that you can attend to more important matters when characters do their chinwagging.  But there’s nothing wrong with an occasional boast, gasp, or chortle. Depending on the situation, sometimes your characters do just that.  And that’s okay, I contend.  

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