February 8, 2021 by PG
From Dave Farland:
I don’t often give actual tips on how to compose stories. I tend to focus my lessons on storytelling to things that you can’t learn elsewhere. Yet from time to time, it might be worthwhile to actually give a few technical tips. Today we will go over one on how to improve your dialogue.
A few years ago, I listened to a bestselling writer give perhaps the worst advice on dialog tags that I’ve ever heard. He told new writers, “Never use the word said. It’s boring and repetitious. Worst of all, it doesn’t really tell us much about the feeling behind what has been spoken.”
His advice was that you should “mix it up, and never repeat verbs that deal with speaking on the same page. If you are forced to use the word said, he suggested that you add an adverb to it in order to define the quality of the words spoken.
Given his advice, you might have a teen “mumble” one sentence:
“I don’t want to go to church,” she mumbled.
While the reply would use a different verb:
“Well you’re going to go, Missy,” Dad retorted.
The problem that arises is that we find ourselves using a lot of verbs that seem rather silly when put into a string of tags. Thus, you might have people mumbling, shouting, profaning, teasing, snarling, squealing, averring, blaming, and so on in rapid succession.