Also, I would like to state for the record that you guys are welcome to call me Stephanie. I must say, I'm very impressed by the overall politeness I've encountered on Go Teen Writers. It's good to call industry professionals Mister or Missus until given permission otherwise. This is me giving permission otherwise. You can call me Stephanie.
On Monday, I posted about how words matter and that we should pick interesting nouns and verbs when telling our story. As I mentioned there, the exception to this rule is the word "said."
In my early writing days, I loved getting creative with my dialogue tags. My characters rarely said anything. Instead they stated, retorted, shouted, queried, hissed, and so forth. I also liked to mix up the order. Instead of, "Do this," Tina said. I would often write, "Do this," said Tina.
You may think this is dumb. You may want to argue about this with me. Fine. If you're writing something just for you, your characters can retort and exclaim all they want. And you can write "exclaimed Tina" until your pen runs out of ink.
But if it's something you're wanting to publish, wanting agents/editors to take seriously, then you will have to stop spicing up "said" and you'll need to write it "Joe said" rather than "said Joe."
The idea is that "said" is an invisible word to a reader. All they're looking for is who is saying it. They see Joe's name and they move on to the next line. So even if you try to sneak in "proclaimed" or "screamed," your editor will change it. If your agent hasn't already.
But how will my reader know the tone of my character? you might be asking yourself.
This comes back to the concept of, "Show, don't tell."
This is telling:
"Why can't you just say you're sorry?" Joe shouted.
This is even worse telling:
"Why can't you just say you're sorry?" Joe shouted angrily.
This is showing:
The vase Joe threw shattered on the concrete floor. "Why can't you just say you're sorry?"
If any object is being thrown, the reader gets that Joe is not a happy guy. Even without the throwing of the vase, from the context of the conversation, we could probably pick up on Joe's tone.
You'll notice in that last example, there's no dialogue tag at all. Instead there's what is called a "beat." It's an action that shows who's talking and what's going on. Here are some other options for beats. (This isn't a conversation, these are individual lines.)
Marin swallowed. "That's not how I meant it.""Are you sure?" I couldn't believe he really thought that.With a wink, Tom passed the butter. "You really think that's a good idea?"
I'll confess, I still struggle with using action beats versus "said." This has been one of the hardest habits for me to let go of.
A few other questions you might have:
Can I use "asked"?
Yes. You may occasionally use asked, although many feel the question mark at the end of the sentence makes "asked" redundant. Same as an exclamation point makes the word "shouted" rather redundant.
Can I use "whispered"?
Again, yeah. Sparingly.
Why does it need to be "Joe said" instead of "said Joe"?
I don't know. That's just the industry standard. I had a few "said so-and-so" in my manuscripts, and my editor changed them.
But in Twilight/The Shack/Hunger Games...
Yes, I know.
I think the worst was in The Shack when it was "Whatever he said!" Jesus whispered. I gaped at that line thinking Seriously? Nobody thought to change this? I mean, did he shout it - like the exclamation point shows - or did he whisper - like the author says? Sheesh.
Roseanna White has said it best - Yes, you might be the exception ... but don't count on it. The above are the current standards for dialogue, and you'll save yourself a lot of time and energy if you just embrace it.