8. The Seven Deadly Perils of Style

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He said, she said...

Here's another mistake to watch out for: not, as you might think, too many instances of he said and she said, but rather the temptation to use substitute phrases because you think you're using those phrases too often!

The mistake is so common that there's a name for it: said-bookisms. Here are some examples of said-bookisms (when used before or after direct quotes):
he exclaimed
she rejoiced
he intoned
she smiled
he chortled, wheezed, gasped, snickered, barked, retorted
You get the idea.

Now, it's not that you should never use these words, but you should use them sparingly.

Many authors fall into the trap of peppering their dialogue with such phrases because they think he said and she said (or asked) becomes tiresome and repetitive. But in fact, those words simply disappear into the page. They're like the article the. You don't notice it most of the time. By their very repetition, the words become unobtrusive.

The substitute phrases, on the other hand, generally only call attention to themselves while adding little power to the dialogue. This may, at first glance, seem to contradict what I said in the last section about using strong verbs. The key here is to remember that the strength should be in the dialogue itself. If the words quoted ("You idiot!" "Hurray!") are a clear and vivid exclamation, you don't need to say he exclaimed. If the quote isn't clear, you need to work on the quote, not the tag.

more info
In short, said-bookisms are often used as a crutch to try to make weak dialogue stronger. Use them only when they truly add information or power.


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