For my study of bestselling authors, I have switched from a romance novelist to a thriller writer. Thrillers are more my style, so I expected to enjoy myself, but it’s not happening. In his own way, the author of the thriller is as terrible a writer as the author of the romances, which doesn’t say much for the taste of the people who buy these books.
Perhaps I’m too fussy now that I have a basic knowledge of the craft, but some elements cry out for commentary, such as his speaker attributes.
His characters never just said something. They agreed, cautioned, reminded, mimicked, answered, contributed, guessed, explained, responded, admonished, confessed, encouraged, clarified, blurted, pointed, winced, replied, corrected, acknowledged, returned, laughed, challenged, chided, objected, contested, quipped, offered, moaned, complained, repeated, stammered, pleaded, inquired, mumbled, interrupted, confirmed, addressed, countered, advised, completed, allowed, supplied, ordered, asked, continued, chided, answered, whispered, teased, requested, hollered, echoed, declared, informed, spoke, bellowed, spit out, thundered, hissed. All within a few pages. Whew!
The best speaker attribute, as we all know, is the word “said.” Like “the,” our brains barely register it, so it doesn’t yank us out of the story world. But the few times this thriller writer used “said,” he ruined it with an adverb. A professional, he should know that the only time to use an adverb with “said” is when the character’s words are at odds with his mood, such as: “I had a great time,” he said sadly.
In many cases, the writer would have been better leaving off the speaker attributes entirely, particularly when the dialogue was between two characters. It’s not difficult for a reader to figure out which character is talking when there are only two of them. And, to remind us who is talking, all the writer would have had to do was in insert an occasional beat.
Beats, those small actions that accompany a character’s dialogue, help set the stage, tell us about the character’s personality, and vary the rhythmn of the dialogue. Overdone, the beats are as distracting as any other speaker attribute, so the secret is to pay attention to the flow. Do you want short snappy dialogue? Don’t use beats. Do you want to slow things down a bit, keep the dialogue from seeming too disembodied? Use a few beats.
If the thriller writer had followed these simple rules, his work would have been much more enjoyable for me. But I guess I shouldn’t complain. He did give me a topic for today’s post.