Saturday, June 14, 2008

Writing Tips: The Amazing Invisible Word

"Listen up!" I say, shout, reply, recommend, plead, mutter, adjure, announce, articulate, and vent. "I have some advice for you."

Writers, like everyone else on earth, can get bored doing the same old thing over and over again. Hence the temptation to stop writing the letters s-a-i-d on every page and use other, more colourful words instead. Sometimes abandoning "said" in favour of other dialogue tags is a good thing. Often, though, it is not. When dialogue is dogged by them, descriptive tags quickly become distracting, annoying, or just plain silly.

Don't believe me? Perhaps I'll let a conversation speak for itself:

"Stick to the word 'said' in dialogue tags," the professor crooned.

"Why should we?" the students shouted.

"Because it's invisible," the professor muttered.

"I don't know about that," Tom doubted.

"I also disagree," his girlfriend hissed.

Any minute now, that classroom is going to break into a fistfight over word choice, led by the girl who sounds like a snake--or your readers are going to fall over laughing. But while they're duking it out, we should note that the professor was right. "Said" is invisible. Readers will hardly even notice it as they read. "Asked" will also fail to blip on their radar--and that's good.

In any piece of fiction or narrative writing, your goal is to immerse readers in the scene. You want them to hear the words spoken, to feel the underlying emotion, to be doused in the atmosphere of your setting. "Said" will help you do that because it's so low-key. Readers won't notice it, so their attention stays where it should--on the story itself. Obtrusive dialogue tags, on the other hand, will yank them out. Fancy writing for its own sake is rarely effective.

Make use of the Amazing Invisible Word, I say, and let your story spring to life.



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