Adverbs and the Hideously Boring “Said”

Just a quickie post today. It’s nearly midnight where I am and I’m feeling a little vague. Or, well, it was going to be a quick one.

It seems every writing blog, website or book I come across has something against adverbs and using alternative dialogue tags. I happen to like adverbs, when used correctly, and find a constant barrage of “he said, she said” jarring enough to make me stop reading. Adverbs, of course, need to be used in moderation but can add a little diversity and seasoning, if you will, to one’s writing. Adverbs are like spices: use too much and you set your tongue on fire, too little and it’s too bland. The dialogue tag “said” is much the same. Like when it comes to most “rules” about writing, it’s completely subjective and open to interpretation. So, people, please stop bashing adverbs and alternative dialogue tags. The rest of us prefer to not be bored to tears.

A good rule to follow is if you’re going to use an adverb, check to see if there’s a better word available. It’s better to write “he sprinted” than “he ran quickly”. When it comes to replacing the word “said” when describing dialogue, if someone is shouting/yelling/screaming/whatever it might be better to use a word like that if it gets the emotion of the character across better. I’d rather read ‘”Get the hell out of my house!” she shouted’ than ‘”Get the hell out of my house!” she said.’ Sometimes a dialogue tag isn’t needed at all, or an action can replace the tag. Example: ‘”I don’t know what went wrong.” He dropped his head in his hands.’

Hard and fast rules rarely, if ever, work when it comes to something as subjective as writing. Why do other writers complain about the use of adverbs or alternatives for the word ‘said’ when they are used all the time to great effect? People split infinitives all the time, yet anyone who freaks out over that is declared pedantic. At least, that’s the case in the circles I run in.

That is all.

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3 thoughts on “Adverbs and the Hideously Boring “Said”

  1. Yeah i always find it odd when people say stuff like NEVER use adverbs. Use them, but not too much. The thing is using “he said”, “she said” isn’t as annoying as “he said cheerfully”. Most people automatically skip the “he said” bit. If you want a character to say something cheerfully, make your readers see it in the dialogue. If you’ve done that, there’s no need to add “he said cheerfully.” That’s the main advice I got from a bunch of blogs ;)

  2. Also, I think another reason they say don’t use adverbs too much is because adverbs “tell” more than “show”. So, instead of “telling” your reader that your character is saying something “cheerfully” by writing “he said cheerfully”, you should “show” your reader that your character is being cheerful and do away with the “cheerfully” in the dialogue tag

    • I don’t skip the word ‘said’. I’ve read books that have ticked me off because that’s all that’s ever used. Over and over again. This was before I started writing, mind you, so it wasn’t like I was having a grammatical freak-out. Adverbs do have their place as well. Sometimes there isn’t a replacement word. The “show, not tell” rule also has times when it’s not appropriate to use. If we always “showed” everything, then our stories would be at least twice as long as they should be because we couldn’t write any quick transition scenes. There’s a time and place for everything :D

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