Okay, it’s a silly title for a blog post. My quandary is rather comically illustrated, though, for I take issue with repetitive language. A past crusade was against the word “was”. This indicative can so easily become a crutch, I think. An early original series of mine received a serious purge, then I subsequently encountered “was” so many times on the first few pages of a book that I refused to read this popular author’s entire series!
Later, a friend kindly pointed another tendency I had to overuse “had”. Yikes. Thanks, Nikki! The kind pointers from artists like you and other dear colleagues really help my craft and improve my tales.
Now, as you’ve surely guessed, I’ve moved onto dialogue tags. The ideal goal is to not need to blatantly indicate the speaker. An author should aspire toward the reader determining who is talking without such aids. Other times, we unavoidably need them, especially when inserting a descriptive paragraph in the middle of the exchange. In those instances, I’ve become obsessed with avoiding “says” or “said”.
A big part of this is just me being picky. And yet I listened to a book on tape that would have been pure pleasure except for the constant “he said” or “she said” sprinkled liberally throughout. The phrase actually came to annoy me and my captive spouse during the long car ride. Whether or not “said” blended into the written page, I physically flinched as time went on.
Considering this, let’s agree that my beef against the word is somewhat founded. Still, I face a quandary. How often am I harming my stories by using a fancier alternative? Apparently my proclivity is not rare among this generation’s new storytellers. In my Oxford American thesaurus for writers I discovered a warning that the creative ways we folks avoid repetition makes the tags jump off the page. That’s not good, either. These little verbs should blend in behind the all-important character exchange except when portraying something specific regarding the speaker, the listener, or their situation.
The best solution is to just keep writing. Eventually, I’ll come up with a satisfactory balance. So I have to ask, what do you have to say? Is my obsession founded or is it flotsam?