In writing, there are trends. Some people like the trends, others don’t, but knowing the trends and what following them (or not) says about you as a writer can make the difference between getting traditionally published or not.
One trend is in regards to dialogue tags. There used to be a time when people wanted variety, not just “he said” and “she said.” So more authors would use phrases like “she questioned” “he commanded” “she responded” “he replied” “she barked” “he stated”. However, these days professionals look at all those words as signs of amateur writing. The current trend is to only use “said” and “asked” (and maybe an occasional “whisper” or “shout” if the volume they are using is important to note and is otherwise unclear from context.)
The reasoning behind this is that words like “said” and “asked” become invisible to a reader. They are merely there to remind them who is speaking so conversations aren’t confusing. Putting a variety of synonyms in your dialogue tags draws attention to the dialogue tags themselves, which weakens the impact of the actual dialogue. Another reason the industry has trended away is that these synonym words are often considered lazy cheats for the writer, a way of telling how the character was feeling or acting instead of showing it.
Consider the following example.
1- Marge looked across the street, eyeing the empty space in the driveway next to Carol Smith’s van. “He hasn’t been home since Tuesday,” she gossiped.
2 – Marge looked across the street, eyeing the empty space in the driveway next to Carol Smith’s van. She leaned over to me and raised her hand to shield her mouth, but made no effort to lower her voice as if welcoming the world to hear. “He hasn’t been home since Tuesday.”
See the difference? One tells you Marge was gossiping. The other shows it and reveals more about Marge’s character by letting you see the way she gossips.
Which brings me to another point. You’ll notice in the second example above, I didn’t use any dialogue tags at all. I didn’t need to. It was clear from the action description before that Marge was speaking. This is another tip from the pros: get rid of as many dialogue tags as you can through context, action description, etc.
So what do you think of this trend? Do you like variety in your dialogue tags? Are the words “said” and “asked” invisible to you when you read? I’m also curious to know who your favorite author is, when they published, and if they follow this rule or not.