If you read writing books, you know that your characters should say whatever they say, with no help from you. “John said” or “Mary said.” Neither spluttered, murmured, extemporized, or expostulated. And no one ever said anything with an adverb attached – apologetically, artfully, dolefully, anything. In early to mid-20th century books, even successful authors just added “-ly” to any adjective, however unlikely — I’ve seen “boringly” and “heart-warmingly.” I think that habit is what killed the questionable art of adverbial speaker attribution.
It’s easy enough to know who is speaking when you only have two or three characters in a conversation. In fact, with two, you don’t have to do anything except let them talk – your readers can just follow the back and forth. But what do you do if you have a crowd to manage – a dinner party or the denouement of a complicated mystery?
The first step in keeping a chatty crowd under control is to know all the different ways you can flag the speaker of a line of dialogue. Speaker attributions, of course. “’We’ve got some old friends coming over tonight,’ Mary said.” But if you start ending every paragraph with a “said,” your readers are going to start tripping over them.
Injecting a little bit of action before a line of dialogue can flag a speaker. “Sky held out a hand with dirty fingernails. ‘Hey, dude, it’s been, like forever.’” You can also use a little interior monologue from your viewpoint character. “John could not for the life of him understand why Mary had invited Sky and Lotus Petal. They hadn’t seen them in years. But he may as well make the most of it. ‘It has. Good to see you again.’” [Read more…]