Category Archives: Writing

When are Said and Asked not Enough?

I got roped into a discussion on a forum for writers (oh, that can be a time sink!) on writing dialog. The person who started the topic said they were looking for “dialog tags” other than said or asked because they thought using those all the time is boring.

Using other words for dialog tags is known as “said bookisms” and are almost universally frowned upon. And if taken to extremes they can turn something worth reading into something worth chucking at the wall.

But in some cases they do enhance the writing. For example…

Sarah’s mother hissed, “Get over here now!”

Anybody who’s had a Mom *knows* what that sounds like and I think it’s stronger than something like,

With narrowed eyes and pursed lips, Sarah’s mother said, “Get over here now!”

If you don’t think the second example is stronger, that doesn’t negate the fact that sometimes a “said bookism” is worth using — let’s take a look at what’s happening in the real world.

Last night I downloaded the “samples” of 6 of the top 10 books from the current NYTimes bestseller list and looked through each of them for all the dialog tags.

I didn’t count things such as…

Brady laughed. “You’re too much.”

…because with the period there it makes it two separate things. But…

Brady laughed, “You’re too much.”

…did count. So here’s what I found — in all cases said and asked (or, says and asks for 1st person books) were by far the most numerous. But every one of the books I looked at included at least a few more (again, this was just the first part of the book available to be downloaded as a sample)…

Stolen Prey by John Sanford

  • grunted
  • cried
  • blurted
  • snapped

11th Hour by James Paterson & Maxine Paetro

  • muttered
  • continued

Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris

  • called
  • murmured
  • agreed
  • admitted
  • muttered (x2)

Calico Joe by John Grisham

  • declares
  • reply/replied
  • added

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel

  • demands
  • pronounces
  • boasts
  • chuckles (x2)
  • adds
  • cried
  • whispers
  • smiles
  • suggests
  • urges

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

  • began
  • shouted
  • agreed (x5)
  • remarked
  • replied
  • called
  • mused
  • screamed

Also, in many cases there were no dialog tags – context made it perfectly clear who was doing the talking. In many other cases, such as the first “Brady laughed” example above there was some kind of action next to the dialog that also made it clear who was talking.

To Summarize:

Said and asked should be used by default — you probably don’t need to worry about boring the reader by using those if best-selling authors use them 95% of the time.

  • Exception #1: Two characters back and forth don’t need to be tagged every time.
  • Exception #2: If there’s an action happening (and is described) as the person talks, a dialog tag isn’t necessary.
  • Exception #3: When something other than said or asked makes the story/intent/character more clear for the reader.

Fun, Not Great Literature

This weekend I’m working on the first of many short stories that will stand alone, but will also fit together with one all-encompassing story arc. Think of watching an episode of your favorite TV drama. While part of the storyline may have to do with things that happened in the last episode, and things that will happen in upcoming episodes, you can usually watch any episode by itself and still be entertained.

That’s what I’m aiming to do with Troupers.

It’s going to be a fantasy series and the focus is going to be on action and adventure. I don’t intend for it to be “great literature” although if that happens by accident I’ll still accept credit for it. ūüėČ

Instead, the story is the main thing, not poetic wording. The adventures the characters have is more important than great writing.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of churning out garbage. But what I’m looking for is someone to read it and say, “That was fun! When’s the next one coming out?”

That will mean more to me than someone saying it was “great literature.”

I hope to release the first of the Troupers stories within the next 30-60 days and I can’t wait for you to read them!

They’ll be available as downloadable ebooks and I’ll post links here as soon as they’re ready.

Read Kindle Books without a Kindle!

If there’s a Kindle ebook available that you’re dying to read but you don’t have a Kindle device, no problem!

Amazon makes a FREE Kindle reading app for all major smartphones, tablets, and computers, which means you can download and read a Kindle book on just about anything.

Follow the link below to get the app for your computer or mobile device…

Kindle Reading App

Once you installed the software you can download a Kindle ebook into it and read away!

New Blurb for the Book

Every book needs a summary — the one on the back of a book (or inside front-cover for a hardback) is written by the publisher, but the one that goes out in a query letter to get the book sold is written by the author.

Here’s one I worked on tonight — let me know what you think about it.

Charlie may be just a teenager, but he’s old enough to know his new ability to fly has to be kept completely secret if he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life locked in a laboratory being prodded, poked, and probed (the Three P’s of abduction).

So when the creepy Mr. Smith discovers his secret and turns on the blackmail, Charlie¬†doesn’t have any choice but to go along with the plans. Plans that include a multi-state crime wave where Bryan takes all the chances and Smith gets all the loot!

With Mr. Smith on one side and the FBI on the other, Charlie’s¬†caught in a trap that will tear his whole family apart — unless he can carry out a scheme that will turn the tables on the evil Mr. Smith.