Follow the Rules, She Whispered

Here’s some good advice for novices and old hands alike.

BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog

priddy Jan Priddy

by Jan Priddy

Some years ago in a writing workshop, twelve people sat around a broad conference table arguing about the word “whispered.”

The text we were looking at had a dialogue tag of “he whispered.” That was a problem. Our instructor insisted we avoid words other than “said” to attribute dialogue. If you have attended a writing workshop at any time in the past thirty years or so, you know this rule. The variations on “said” my fourth grade teacher once suggested—averred, argued, contended—are today often viewed as authorial intrusions detracting from the message. The dialogue itself should indicate the emotion without attendant “shouted” or “demanded.”

In the case of this particular “whispered,” the writer said his character’s words were spoken softly even though the words themselves did not indicate volume. The group sought alternative wording to eliminate “whispered,” but “said softly” or “said quietly” were also…

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