Let’s Talk About Writing: Dialogue Tags by Judy Penz Sheluk…

Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns, then turned his talents to crime fiction. One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, he wrote about two dozen novels, most of them bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch. Unlike most genre writers, however, Leonard is taken seriously by the literary crowd.

His 10 rules of writing are all worth serious consideration, but my my favorite is Rule #3.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

Why? According to Leonard, “The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

Well said, Mr. Leonard. But there’s a simpler reason. As readers, we’ve been “trained” to ignore “said.” Further, you can’t chortle a sentence. Try it. “Sam, you make me laugh out loud,” chortled Diane.

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