>> Thursday, September 9, 2010
Nathan Bransford wrote a very fine post on the elements of good dialog and I encourage everyone to read it. As a dialog aficionado, I can fully endorse all of his main points. In fact, I was quite pleased - I feel I write dialog like that (though, of course, I could be deluded.)
The one place I differ with Mr. Bransford (and many others) is in the use of verbs more descriptive than "said" or other descriptive phrases. I always have. I've been hearing this "rule" for some time, but I just won't do it.
The "no-saidism" camp's position is that people don't read so-and-so said anyway so putting something else in the dialog tag doesn't buy anything. What's more, it can be disruptive if you overdo it. I absolutely agree with the last part of this (and personally suspect that's the real reason why this "rule" was instituted - more about that later).
Yet I am not of this camp. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is that I DO read the saids. I note when the tags use said or use something else, andI have (frequently) become bored or found the dialog go stale because all that's going on is talking. And I should warn the unwary that I'm a very dialog heavy girl.
Another is that I learned to write by studying the authors I liked best. And, as I have discovered about a number of "rules" many consider sacred, those authors tend to use language descriptively to support the actual dialog, much like I try to do myself. Sometimes creative use of "saidisms" not only adds color and drama, but also humor and charm. Georgette Heyer's clever use of "saidisms" provide some of her most memorable and hilarious moments.
In my opinion, dialog needs something besides the words themselves. Oh, I know, the dialog itself should do all the talking except . . . in real life, it doesn't. In real life, body language is a bigger part of communication than the words are (as my non-talking son proves daily). That's why plays aren't performed by actors standing in place on a stage, speaking monotonically. Except, with a book, we have to replace the actors, the movement, the inflection, the nuances with words. If we forgo: shouted/muttered/breathed/demanded/scoffed/snarled/moaned/gasped/hissed/bellowed/mused/chuckled/whispered/shrieked/tittered/etc. you have to express all that another way, probably using far more words. Or you can skip it and all those nuances, those distinctions will be lost.
So, if it's so good, why is there such a movement against it?
Well, because, if done clumsily, it's extremely distracting. Even the best actual dialog can get clunky and bogged down if not belied with descriptors that are nearly right but not quite. Or worse, so dramatic and overblown that they become laughable even when they shouldn't be.
Know you're language, know your nuances, don't get carried away . . . otherwise you might just want to stick with said after all.