What Elmore Leonard said

“Right,” declared Fred…

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it? Perhaps it needs to be a verb with just one syllable?

“Right,” barked Fred…

Nope – still not right. Looks like we’re best off sticking to the simple original.

“Right,” said Fred… Yep, that’s the one.

So maybe Elmore Leonard’s statement about the use of verbs to carry dialogue stands true.

“Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking their nose in. But ‘said’ is far less intrusive than ‘grumbled’, ‘gasped’, ‘cautioned’, ‘lied’.”

Well, last week we ran a little twitter poll to find out what the #WritingCommunity thought, and the results were pretty conclusive.

It provoked reaction almost immediately. Bradley Mitzelfelt replied with: “I was taught this at school. Still not 100% onboard with it.” Goergia Boon agreed: “I always thought this was gospel, but looking at the poll apparently not…”

Although the ‘Disagrees’ had it with a majority of almost 70%, there was some sense of agreement during the twitter conversations. Sarah Ridolfi said: “Agree sort of but the thing that’s stopping me from fully agreeing is the absoluteness of ‘never’. Maybe most of the time ‘said’ should be used but I think there’s a place for others.”

Nick Lord Lancaster concurred.

“There was a time when beginning a sentence with a conjunction like ‘But’, ‘And’, ‘Or’ was big no-no, yet writers do it often now.” This was a good point made by Patricia K McCarthy. She went on to write, “I go with ‘said’ in dialogue but I also get bored following this principle and ‘said’ becomes ‘explained’ or ‘barked’.”

AlyWrites and Barry Ryerson went further, pointing out that writing is artistic and emotional.

Language is ever evolving, and therefore so is writing. And, as our current author quote at the foot of the website from Joe Abercrombie says, “As a writer, you have to first of all write what you want to. Listen to advice, by all means, but don’t get bogged down by it.”

Ways of expressing ourselves change and come in and out of fashion. Just think of the relatively recent developments of ‘text speak’ which came about purely by necessity. (In the early days of mobile phones, you were only allowed a certain number of characters in a text – much like a single tweet on twitter.) Even more recently, the development of emojis. Just a simple, rudimentary picture to communicate thoughts, ideas or emotions, they had some language purists apoplectic. But when you think about it, aren’t hieroglyphics and cave drawings exactly the same thing?

It’s a debate that will continue to run, no doubt. Whatever your thoughts on it, we felt we had to give the final words from our twitter poll to Nick Lord Lancaster and Solstice Shorts Fest…

Whatever verbs you choose to use, happy writing everyone!

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