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“Dialogue Tags,” He Wrote, Adverbedly

Another in my endless series about dialogue and dialogue tags is here!

Adverbs are my nemeses, and they should be yours as well. You can read more about my lifelong campaign to end all adverb use here but in the meantime, put the following in the context of the story being told from Lois’ point of view:

“I never want to see you again,” Lois said, pointedly.

We’re in Lois’ head in the story, so using an adverb here is doubly lazy. Lazy because adverbs try to point to an emotion rather than explore an emotion. Lazy x 2 because since it’s Lois’ point of view, we don’t even need to rely on adverbs, we can simply let Lois think what she’s thinking, rather than skirt around it by using bland adverbs. Consider this alternative:

“I never want to see you again.” Lois was tired of Ray’s lies, his cheating, his lies about his cheating, the drunken shouting matches, all of it. She’d had enough, and was ending it, this time for good.

Not only does this second version have the advantage of avoiding the “she said/he said” tag entirely, it also provides a superior alternative to the use of a single adverb to express what may (and in this case is) a complex alternative.

Adverbs are a poor substitute for explaining the emotions. How someone says something can still be open to interpretation. And repeated usage of dialogue and tags such as “‘XYZ’ she said, adverbedly” gets old quickly for a reader. When we the readers are in the character’s head, the writer doesn’t have to rely on how someone says something, she or he can add what the character is thinking and feeling.

Looking for more tips? Here’s what’s up so far. More to come!

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