I’ve heard the advice about using descriptive verbs in the place of adverbs a lot lately. For example:
He ran quickly.
She gave him the papers angrily.
She thrust the papers into his chest.
I see the wisdom of this because the language is more concise. A good verb choice can also take on the workload of adverbs in many cases.
I have also heard lately that any of the more descriptive verbs for “said” are gauche, purple prose, amateur, etc..
Now, I’ve got to wonder—because the same people who give the former advice to writers are likely to give the latter—why this disparity occurs.
If she ordered or crowed or snickered or murmured, aren’t those words stronger and more descriptive than the vague, albeit utilitarian ”said”? And which advice is right? Which advice should writers take when it comes to dialogue tags—use descriptive verbs or use only “said” and “asked”?
I may not have a point here, but if I do, it’s this: advice from writers about writing is flawed. It pulls from the style and preferences of the writer giving the advice, and is therefore stupendously subjective. A writer can give you advice in one breath that will firmly contradict the advice in his next.
Beware, my fellow writers, of those stating their opinions as fact, especially if they fail to include why they have that opinion. One writer’s style choice is not and should not and can not be the style choice of another. The words we use may be the same, but the way we choose the wield them is not.
Please do not give in to what I call “fad advice”—advice which is not so much bad as it is a trendy opinion. Your style is your style, and the only person who should be making judgment calls about your style is you.
I like this post a lot, because I feel like it addresses a pretty serious issue with writing and common writing advice. Since I should be sleeping, this is an excellent opportunity for me to give my two cents on the issue.
Firstly, I agree that it’s generally more interesting to use more descriptive verbs - “thrust the papers into his chest” versus “gave him the papers angrily”. It’s more interesting to me, as a reader, and adds more life and color into the writing.
However, I don’t think you should be afraid of using ‘said’. I’m not about to call anybody who uses other things than ‘said’ an amateur, but it stands out when every time somebody opens their mouth, they do so in a different way. If somebody says something, then somebody else declares, then somebody else states, then somebody else proclaims, then somebody else enunciates…it feels like the writer is trying too hard. But that doesn’t mean you should avoid these words.
The different ways to say ‘said’ are different for a reason: they imply different things. For example, ‘stated’ sounds more like an official, important message that leaves little room for argument. It’s something final, definite. ‘Declared’ indicates an announcement, you’re also saying something important but it’s more to let people know. They all have their different nuances that go along with the words.
So, if your characters are having a discussion that’s deviating from the main point. One character could say something, another character could counter it, a third could add to the second’s point, the second could say something else, and then to try and put an end to the silliness, the first character could state or declare something definite and inarguable. But if they’re just having casual conversation, ‘said’ becomes just another part of the dialogue.
On another note, to spice it up, you can also show who’s speaking without using any kind of speech indicator at all. Things that the characters are doing can indicate what their tone of voice might be.
She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Look, can we just get back to the point?”
Basically, write what you want to write, and if you want people to enjoy it you should try not to sound too repetitive or flat (the whole show, don’t tell thing). But don’t be afraid to use a certain word because you think other writers might call you an amateur. I’m sure you could read any book and find plenty of ‘faults’ in the writing, despite the fact that it’s an enjoyable book, if you keep your rules too strict. Writing and reading are supposed to be fun. Breaking the rules can be fun.
Also, just think about the way you speak. Sometimes you really do state or declare things. You might comment, remark, or chirp. You may even declaim or bemoan. But mostly, in an average conversation, you really do just say things. ”Said” is too a valid dialogue tag.