Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Liar!" he shouted dubiously...

O dialogue, how thou dost vex me...

Most writers (and all good editors) insist that 'he said,' or 'she said,' is the only proper attribution to dialogue. My literary crush Elmore Leonard sometimes peppers his with exotic fare like: 'Then Frank says, "No,"' Or 'Frank came back with: "No."' But he NEVER adds an adjective. (In fact, it's one of his Top Ten Rules, which I'll explore in another blog post.)

The truth is this: If dialogue is powerful, the attribution doesn't need an adjective. For example, when a character says, "I disliked Kilroy," rather than add, 'He said angrily,' I can change the dialogue to: "Kilroy deserved worse. So I gave it to him."

Still not sure what he's feeling? How about: "Kilroy's with his family. In Hell."

Another of Mr. Leonard's tricks is short, snappy back-and-forth conversations that reveal clues and plot twists. Sometimes a whole page of dialogue contains only a single attribution or motion tag to keep the reader clear about who is speaking. (BE COOL, pg 7.) The effect is like punching the throttle on a Mustang GT: Pure speed.

But there a caveat: The dialogue has to be good. Really, really good. I'll confess my current manuscript still has a few adjectives that modify attributions--usually to clarify a sarcastic remark.

I'm trying to get up the courage to remove even those.

Cheers...and happy writing!



  1. "Thanks!" she happily chirped. "Great post."

    1. "Of course," she drawled slowly. "Anytime."


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