One of my biggest problems is attribution in a novel. I can stand exclaimed as a verb to replace said, and whispered is perfect. He whispered, and she exclaimed. Great.
But then a novelist will write, "I haven't felt right in years," Julia sniffed. Julia may have sniffed before or after she said it, but she didn't sniff it. She said it. A better way: "I haven't felt right in years," Julia said. She looked away and sniffed into a handkerchief.
I hate it when a novelist uses no attribution at all — it's tough to tell who's saying what. And I really hate it when the novelist expects me to remember Sally, Joan, Martha and Lula Belle without a scorecard. I probably can remember Lula Belle for obvious reasons. It might help to occasionally remind us that Sally and Joan are cousins, and Martha is Sally's next-door neighbor.
It's not better when it's he said, she said, he said, she said... I was recently listening to a book-on-CD by Robert B. Parker, one of my favorite novelists. "I don't know what I'm doing," Jesse said. "You never did," Crow said. "He never will," Molly said. It might not have been so bad if I had been reading the book, but it was obvious on CD: Parker needed some other form of attribution.
I guess I can't complain too much. At least Parker added some action to his dialogue.
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Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie