Lynne Stringer – Author & Editor

Never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’

I have less of a problem with this rule, but I still don’t think it’s hard and fast.

There is a definitely a degree of truth to it. Do we really need to write ‘Jane said excitedly’ or should Jane’s words carry across the realisation that she is excited? Is it necessary to put in terms like ‘gravely’ or ‘loudly’ or ‘boorishly’ to communicate how the character is speaking?

I think it is correct that these things are often not needed. I have tried to avoid them as much as possible in my writing, but there have been times when I’ve felt it works better with them. Perhaps that’s because I am still inexperienced. Whatever the reason, I do think they should be kept to a minimum. Words that end in ‘ly’ can get tedious anyway.

However, it does have to be remembered that this is the way a lot of people talk. I’ve heard people use these kinds of descriptions in general conversation. So if your trying to relate to a particular age group, or your trying to imbibe your writing with the identity of the character you are writing about, is it acceptable to use these kinds of terms? Perhaps, as with everything, use in moderation is best.

Facebook Comments

4 Responses

  1. I can see the point of this “rule” too – using an adverb to describe said can be a lazy way out. Rather than say “excitedly” it would perhaps be more engaging to the reader to describe how the character looks or acts when he/she is excited – or as you say, convey excitement in the words of the dialog. However, tone of voice and inflections are an important part of communication (Just think of the conversation between Gandalf and Bilbo where “Good morning” comes to have so many meanings.) So I have difficulty with a blanket bane on “ly” words describing said especially when describing the quality and intonation of the voice makes sense.

    I think these “rules” are better described as “guidelines”. It makes us think and challenges us to do better – but sometimes, for good reasons, can be ignored or broken. But perhaps that is anathema to the literary legalists among us?

    1. Yes, it probably is, Jeanette. There are certainly plenty out there who seem to think these rules MUST be obeyed. Perhaps they do lessen a book’s impact, but I wonder if the level of impact would be significant, of if it would be overlooked most of the time.