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most interesting dialogue

There is a war of words in the world of the writer. Some argue that when it comes to effective dialogue, the label “he said” or “she said” is all you need. They argue that the word “he said” is invisible to the reader, therefore it does not interrupt the flow of the spoken word. However, there is growing opposition to this rule that cannot be ignored. As proof, I ask you to write the sentence, 300 ways to say said in any search engine. In less than half a second, my Google search returned over 15 million results.

Does that mean that using he said/she said is wrong? No, but let me ask you this, do you use the exact same word at the beginning of each chapter? Do you always put an explanation mark at the end of every sentence that shows action? The key is not that the rule is wrong, it’s just that it’s incomplete. Have you ever heard the saying, “Money is the root of all evil?” I’m not here to debate religious philosophy, but the phrase is “the love of money is the root of all evil.”

Instead of saying “he said/she said is the only dialog tag you’ll ever need,” I’d say, “he said/she said is a great dialog starter tag.” HAS dialog label is a small phrase either before, after, or in the middle of the dialogue itself. Most people use it to let the reader know who is speaking, but it doesn’t have to end there.

Dialogue is used to create action, to move the story forward, not to frustrate the reader. While using the same phrase repeatedly can be irritating, using a different phrase each time can be worse. In other words, if you have a list that says 300 ways to say saidDO NOT use all 300 forms in the same story.

When a writer creates a scene, they write visually, but when they write dialogue, they write what they hear, which is why we often use phrases like softly, loudly, or silently. The problem with most adverbs is that they say more than they show.

One of my favorite Stephen King quotes is this: I think the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I’ll shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they are like dandelions. If you have one in your garden, he looks pretty and unique.

However, if they can’t root it out, you’ll find five the next day…fifty the next day…and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, profusely covered in dandelions.

Many writers agree with this sentiment, the use of adverbs (specifically “ly” words) can often become a bad thing. Some people try to overcompensate for the “no adverbs” rule by stuffing their verbs with $300 words, like: “she hinted” or “he cheated”, the problem is that these don’t show us anything either.

One way to avoid redundancy is to use no tag at all.

“Why are you always late?” she asked her.

“Because I have more important things to do,” he said.

“So now you’re saying I have no life?”

“No, I’m saying you’re not the only one.”

I noticed that we used he said/she said to start, but with only two characters talking, you don’t have to repeat it every time. The same goes for names, remember this quote from the Brady Bunch? “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha”, that got old fast, didn’t it?

The other option is to use a dialogue beat instead of a tag. HAS dialogue rhythm it’s a clever way to break up the dialog by adding more details.

Jason looked out the window. “Why are you always late?” He checked his watch for the third time.

“Because‚Ķ” she looked at herself in the mirror of her dresser. “I have more important things to do.”

Now we are beginning to go beyond the words spoken by two people. Now it begins to resemble a fairy tale. I don’t have to TELL you that Jason was impatient, he looked at his watch for the third timeSHOWS you what I was thinking.

You can use a tag and a beat at the same time, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. “Why are you always late?” Jason asked. (tag) he looked at his watch for the third time. (defeat). You can even use a “ly” word, once in a while, but don’t overdo it. Keep it pretty and unique, just like Mr. King said.

The bottom line is that we want to hold the reader’s attention. If the words blah blah blah come to mind while reading your dialogue, it might be time to cut it off. You may need to focus on showing more details, not just reporting who said what. You can get creative without filling pages with $300 words, but you don’t want to use the same five-cent phrases, either. The exciting plots and exotic setting can be fun, but the dialogue is what holds the story together. Your job as a writer is to get your readers to turn the page, the best way to do that is to have more interesting dialogue.

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