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TIPSY TODAY with Rogena
"I'm going to write dialogue with tension," Sam said angrily.
Wait! That's not how it works. That's not how any of this works.
(Ok, I went into a commercial there.)
Let's discuss writing dialogue that 'shows' rather than 'tells' today.
How often have you seen speaker attributions (also known as dialogue tags) that end in adverbs?
"Get it," he said angrily.
"I'm not ready," she said grouchily.
"Pretend I'm not here," she said cheerily.
"I'm not going," he said matter-of-factly.
Writers use this sort of speaker attribution as a shortcut to tell readers what a character feels because telling is always easier than showing.
Showing is a mark of good writing. Telling is not.
Eliminate adverbs and show emotions instead.
"Get it," he said angrily, is better written as "Get the damn thing," he said.
Or better yet:
He slapped his mammoth palm on the table with a force that rattled the plates, but when he spoke, she had to lean forward to hear him. "Get it now."
The last version has an ominous tone, and readers will recognize anger in the character's actions—no telling necessary.
How would you show grouchiness? What about a cheery disposition? Showing will never be as easy as telling, but your goal is to put readers as close to the action as possible, so they feel the table shake with the character's anger.
You can't do that with, he said, angrily.
Another lazy version of telling avoids the adverb and replaces "said" with a verb meant to tell what should be shown.
"I wanted it hours ago," he roared.
"We have it in thirty colours," she smiled.
"I bet you do," she giggled.
How does one giggle something? Or smile a sentence? Avoid this sort of telling. If you want a character to smile, have her smile. Write: "We have it in thirty colours." She smiled and pushed the sample swatches across the table. "Not all of them are attractive, but there's plenty of choice."
ADDITIONAL NOTE: Don't look for 'better' ways to say 'said' or other words to use instead of the word said. Look for ways to remove all dialogue tags by 'showing' how they said something by using narrative... descriptive, well-written narrative.
(Source: Be a Better Writer with Pearl Luke [Google Search] — a few edits made by RMJ MS)
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