Tuesday WAW: Say said sayingly

Dialogue. Should be easy and yet, somehow, it’s not.

In my time as a copy editor, I’ve seen more crazy grammar around dialogue than around just about anything else.

For some reason, otherwise fine writers just go nuts when there’s dialogue.

Top three sins:

  1. Weird punctuation
  2. No punctuation
  3. Adverbs for days

Let’s take things one at a time

Weird punctuation

“Some words,” she said. “Period.”

That’s it. That right there. When in doubt, just do that. Comma after the speech if you’re providing attribution. Period after the attribution.

No punctuation

Seriously, why does the following ever happen?

“Some words” he said “No period cuz lol punctuation!”

Imagine the quotation marks aren’t there. Put some periods at the ends of sentences. You’ll be more right than if you throw commas around or don’t use any punctuation at all.

It’s complicated

I once had a professor who told us we should never use anything except “said” for attribution. Never. Nothing. Not a single thing except said.

That’s a slightly extreme point of view, but I mostly agree. If there’s any doubt at all, use said. If you’re just cruising along, use said. In fact, try using nothing but said for your entire first draft, even for questions. Just for fun. Then when you go back and revise, see how many of those “said”s you even notice, let alone feel you need to change.

And on that note, dialogue should be simple. It should be doing as little extra work as possible. No more “he said, doing a lot of stuff that I’m tagging to the end of this dialogue.” It’s just clunky and forgettable and sloppy. Just let dialogue be dialogue.

But worst of all, worst of ALL, is saying things sayingly. 

“It’s the worst,” I said angrily. “No, seriously. It’s the worst,” I continued furiously.

You don’t need either of those ugly, horrible, gross adverbs. The dialogue should always be doing the heavy lifting. If you can’t tell I’m  annoyed or angry, then I need to rewrite the dialogue rather than adding adverbs.

tl;dr

  • Use normal punctuation.
  • Use said. Only said. Always said. Nothing but said.
  • Don’t weigh dialogue down with a bunch of extra action or adverbs.

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