Attributions: He said, she said

An admonition writers always hear from speakers at conferences is to stick with the venerable “said” as a dialogue tag. Other writers, editors, agents, creative writing teachers, and the authors of writing craft books–all seem to agree.

Every time I hear or read this piece of advice, it seems the very next time I pick up a book, I find countless examples of other attributions: urged, roared, shouted, barked, yelled, whispered, muttered, hissed, and so on. I know the prevailing view on this is that use of these words takes the reader out of the story, but I never feel that way. I enjoy a little roaring, shouting, whispering, and hissing. It doesn’t bother me one bit, unless, of course, it’s used to death. I guess every reader knows what her breaking point is.

Another thing we’re always being warned against is using an adverb with “said,” or with other attributions. I understand if you use “roared,” or “whispered,” for example. It’s redundant to say “roared loudly,” or “whispered softly.” However, I don’t mind “said sharply,” or “said quickly.” The writer conveys a certain mindset with this phrasing, and I see no reason to ban it.

One thing I do wish we’d see less of in novels is dreams. Talk about taking you out of the story. Dreams really do that to me. Whenever there’s a dream, I have the urge to either 1) skip it entirely; 2) skim through it; or 3) slam the book shut. I know there are some writers who handle dreams skillfully, integrating them seamlessly and fully into the story. I’m sure I’ve read books by some of these writers, but right now I can’t think of one. I’ll probably have to eat crow on this, but for now, enough with the dreams!

What are your thoughts, either as readers or writers? Do you prefer “said?” Do you love/hate/feel indifferent toward dreams? I’d like to know.

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