This was originally posted by Dani Greer on January 12, 2010. We repeat it because of its timeless content.
Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy. She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used:
she spoke up
Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flatly, proudly, and even jokingly.
That's just our female romantic lead - the hero was just as amazing as he supposed, surmised, rationalized, declared, sneered, sputtered, and grunted his way through the conversations. What really intrigued me about the dialogue though, is that the author, being a skillful enough writer, weaved the tags in such a way that they were often imperceptible. The only word that really jumped in my face was "quipped", and it wasn't used as often as in prior novels, having been replaced by emphasizing, noting, sighing, chuckling, countering, and exclaiming.
I wonder if the author has a contest going with the editor to see how infrequently the word "said" can be used? So far, the author is winning, and since there is another in the series due out this year, the editor hasn't yet been committed to an asylum. ;) We'll keep you apprised if that happens... she laughed (wickedly).