Hi! I’m Kathy Ide. In addition to being a published author, I’m a full-time professional freelance editor. For CAN, I’m blogging about tips for writers based on the most common mistakes I see in the manuscripts I edit.
A lot of writing books warn against using too many dialogue tags (“he said,” “she asked,” and all the various synonyms). You can replace some of those dialogue tags with “beats”: narrative descriptions of what’s happening in the scene. For example:
Madeleine looked up from her knitting when her husband walked in the door. “Did you go to the store today?”
“No.” Harry took off his windbreaker. “Why do you ask?”
“Did you forget again?” She shook her head, wondering what in the world she was going to do with this forgetful man.
In addition to getting rid of the dialogue tags, narrative beats help the reader envision what’s happening in the scene so you avoid having the dreaded “talking heads” syndrome. Beats can also reveal to the reader what the point-of-view character is thinking. They also provide a pause in the dialogue or action. The longer the narrative, the longer the pause.
Now, you can get away with an occasional “he said” or “she asked,” as those are pretty much “invisible words” to a reader. You can even combine dialogue tags with actions, facial expressions, tones of voice, body language, or internal thoughts (as long as the point-of-view character is in a position to see or hear or think it). For example:
“Where are you going?” he asked, his voice trembling.
“I don’t know,” she replied as she tucked her child into the car seat.
Combine the various methods so you don’t have the same sentence structure so repeatedly that it’s noticeable to the reader.
Don’t tack on adverbs to dialogue tags, such as “he said softly” or “she answered loudly.” But avoid “saidisms”—synonyms for said such as retorted, insinuated, interjected, protested, blurted, crowed, pleaded, pointed out. Make it obvious from the dialogue, actions, and body language how something is said rather than telling the reader in the dialogue tag.
“He laughed,” “she sighed,” and such are actions, not dialogue tags. Words can’t be laughed or sighed, only spoken. Therefore, punctuate these as complete sentences.
Incorrect: “You’re so funny,” she giggled.
Correct: “You’re so funny.” She giggled.
If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor (or know someone who is), e-mail me through the contact page of my website. Or go to the Christian Editor Connection website to get referrals to other established, professional editorial freelancers. If you’re a freelance editor yourself, or think you might be interested in that field, check out The Christian PEN: Proofreaders and Editors Network.
And when you’re ready to proofread your manuscript, consider getting a copy of my book Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors. It reveals how multi-published authors proofread their manuscripts to avoid typos, inconsistencies, inaccuracies, and errors in punctuation, usage, grammar, and spelling. The book is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website.
If you read or write fiction, check out my new Fiction Lover’s Devotional series! The first book, 21 Days of Grace, released June 1 and is available in bookstores and online. Details on the series are at www.FictionDevo.com.