When writing dialogue in your stories the golden rule is to keep to just ‘he said’, or ‘she said’ as an attributive.
Elaborate too much and you focus attention AWAY from what your characters are saying onto what YOU are saying. And as an author should be invisible inside their own story, this is not what you want.
Most of all, you want to avoid the Tom Swifty.
The Swifty takes its name from a boy’s adventure hero created by Edward L. Stratemeyer.
Under the pseudonym Victor Appleton, he published a series of books featuring the young Tom Swift. Appleton went to enormous lengths to avoid repetition of the unadorned word “said”, with sometimes hilarious results.
Parodying the Tom Swifty has now become an art form in itself. Here, for your amusement and delectation, are a few:
1. “I’ll have a martini,” said Tom, drily.
2. “That’s the last time I’ll stick my arm in a lion’s mouth,” the lion-tamer said off-handedly.
3. “Hurry up and get to the back of the ship!” Tom said sternly.
4. “The doctor had to remove my left ventricle,’ said Tom, half-heartedly
5. ‘Is that your cat?’ Tom purred.
6. “I can’t hear a thing,” said Tom deftly.
7. “This must be an aerobics class,” Tom worked out.
8. “Who would want to steal modern art?” asked Tom abstractedly.
9. “Fire!” yelled Tom alarmingly.
10. “You have the right to remain silent,” said Tom arrestingly.
11. “Use your own toothbrush!” Tom bristled.
12. “This must be the Netherlands,” Tom stated flatly.
13. “We have no bananas,” Tom said fruitlessly.
14. “Would anyone like some Parmesan?” asked Tom gratingly.
15. “We’ve run out of wool,” said Tom, knitting his brow.
16. “I’ve got to fix the automobile,” said Tom mechanically.
17. “Do you call this a musical?” asked Les miserably.
18. “I’m tired of smiling,” moaned Lisa.
19. I want a motorized bicycle,” Tom moped.
20. “I can do an excellent impression of Sinatra,” said Tom, being perfectly frank.
21. “Has my magazine arrived?” Tom asked periodically.
22. “I need to clear my throat,” said Tom phlegmatically.
23. “Are you homosexual?” Tom queried gaily.
24. “Have you ever been whitewater rafting?” Tom asked rapidly.
25. “That is remarkable,” remarked Tom.
26. “I’d better repeat that SOS message,” said Tom remorsefully.
27. “This chicken has been stuffed,” said Tom sagely.
28. “How long will I have to wait for a table?” asked Tom unreservedly.
So – you get the idea. There’s a lesson in there for every writer.
And the best way to avoid an unintended Tom Swifty is not to complicate things … he said, simply.
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