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“…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” –Stephen King
Today's TIPSY is about Dialogue Tags and Adverbs — and Stephen King.
The overuse of such... I mean, there are books and blogs about 'adverbs for dialogue tags' all over the place. Some are okay, but maybe you don't need such books and blogs.
If you write your story, dialogue and narrative, in such a way to express—or show—what's happening, you won't need adverbs in your dialogue tags.
I mean, if the dialogue tag is "he whispered softly" — what's wrong with saying something like this:
"I can't wait until we can be alone," John whispered. His warm breath against Carol's ear caused her to shudder.
The reader understands the whisper was soft without the dialogue tag softly. I mean, if John had whispered loudly, the chill caused by his breath... well, I don't think it would have caused a shudder—at least not a nice shudder. Right?
We could even go so far as to change it to something like this:
"I can't wait until we can be alone." John leaned in, whispering in Carol's ear, causing her to shiver with anticipation. =)
No dialogue tag needed and we know who is speaking.
In King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, he shows the following sentences and tags:
“Put it down!” she shouted.
“Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.
Not bad, right?
Now read the following with the use of adverbs along with the tags:
“Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptuously.
Ouch!! Those hurt.
King then points out the 'no adverbs' club where attributed verbs seem to be on steroids and how you should stay away from them, too.
“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.
Watch your adverbs, cut out overused words, and keep qualifiers to a bare minimum, too.
Qualifiers, you ask? Words like REALLY, SOMEWHAT, QUITE, ACTUALLY, VERY, or even STARTED, BEGAN.... you get the picture. The use of too many or unnecessary qualifiers weakens your sentence and your writing.
Stephen King is also an advocate of the utilization of the small book — Strunk & White's The Elements of Style. I recommend adding both King's On Writing and Skrunk & White's Elements of Style to your library. I don't think you can go wrong with having them in your arsenal of writing tools.
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