Tag Archives: beat

Use Plain Said; Cut the “ly” words

Our elementary school writing teachers spent a great deal of time getting us to add interesting tag words to our writing.

“Help. The house is on fire,” John said excitedly.

“Just what we needed,” Eric shouted angrily.

Esther whispered dejectedly as she wiped her tears, “I am at the bottom of my barrel.”

The expert advice I’ve read says, “Use plain said.” Other words distract readers and take them out of your story (which you don’t want).  Distracting words are: uttered, whispered, shouted, repeated, stormed, chuckled, laughed, answered, or others that mean said.

Choose words for your dialogue that show the emotion.  Put words in your character’s mouth that would come from someone feeling that emotion.  What would your character say if he was excited?

To show “excitedly,” add a beat to your manuscript. A beat is writer’s jargon for action. Add action to show the emotion of your characters. What would your character do if he was excited? Add it to your manuscript.

Check your manuscript. Many times your dialogue already contains words that describe the emotion and then you added the “ly” word. Cut the “ly” words.  These “ly” words are telling words.  Replace your “ly” words with dialogue and action to show the emotion.

Here are three sources that explain using simple dialogue tags and leaving out adverbs in more detail.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.

Novel Metamorphosis by Darcy Pattison.


Please share your comments, questions, and/or resources below. I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you for reading my blog.

Joan Y. Edwards, Author/Illustrator

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Copyright © 2010 Joan Y. Edwards. All rights reserved.