My daughter is a voracious reader, and I’ve taken dozens of pictures of her cuddled up somewhere with her nose in a book. Every once in awhile she gets really excited about a book and asks me to read it. One thing I’ve noticed about a lot of these chapter books is that the characters spend a lot of time exclaiming, claiming, replying, answering, asking, interrogating, responding, denying, and so on.
I’m just saying, there’s nothing wrong with simply saying dialogue.
Overly flowery dialogue tags run rampant in some adult fiction, too. And frankly, they’re a bit distracting.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
“But I don’t even know how to bake a cupcake,” Randy explained.
“Well, someone poisoned the entire birthday party,” Officer Denton insisted.
“You’re wasting your time!” Randy exclaimed.
“How do you explain the icing on your sleeves?” Officer Moore asked.
“The boys in the lab will tell you that it isn’t icing,” Randy replied.
It’s distracting, isn’t it?
Now, let’s replace some of those dialogue tags with the more elegant “say” and see how it plays. While we’re at it, let’s lose some dialogue tags and simply pair the dialogue with actual actions. See if the scene doesn’t get a bit deeper:
“But I don’t even know how to bake a cupcake,” Randy said.
Officer Denton crossed his beefy arms over his wall of a chest. “Well, someone poisoned the entire birthday party.”
Randy flailed his arms. “You’re wasting your time.”
“How do you explain the icing on your sleeves?” Officer Moore said.
Randy stared at the floor. “The boys in the lab will tell you that it isn’t icing.”
Notice that I didn’t “said” instead of “asked” for the questions. That’s because the question mark tells you that it’s a question. I also omitted the exclamation point, because they’re a bit overused as well. In the vast majority of cases, the strength of the dialogue and actions in a scene will imply the exclamation point.
Likewise, let the strength of your dialogue stand on its own. Don’t try to prop it up with dialogue tags. Let it be. Just say it.