Bashing Out Bookisms

We’ve all read them.
Heroes ‘trumpet’ and villains ‘hiss’. Sidekicks ‘comment’ and minions ‘sneer.’ Such synonyms for “he said” and “she said” pepper the pages of novels everywhere. They might as well be waving colorful banners saying “This is a NOVEL, where people gasp and exclaim and proclaim and snicker and I just wanted to remind you of that.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not advocating the complete removal of “said” synonyms, but I am saying that some authors try too hard to be descriptive at the expense of distracting their readers.
There are some synonyms that are especially offensive. The following examples came from books that I have recently read, which shall remain unnamed.
For your consideration:
1.      Commented
Say something. Now comment it. Did you do anything differently? There is really no reason to use this word, because it doesn’t add additional meaning.. Basically, it is using three syllables when one will do. Even worse is the “commented + adverb” which is an even longer mess.
Consider: “The dark tower’s sure to be guarded by trolls,” said Ghast.
Compared to:
“The dark Tower’s sure to be guarded by trolls,” commented Ghast thoughtfully.
The first tag is nearly transparent. The second one might as well be a neon sign. It makes it seem like the writer is trying too hard and sounds amateurish.

2.      Hissed
“But”, you might say, “My villain just has to hiss!  It’s a villainy thing to do!”
J.K. Rowling could get away with it.  Lord Voldemort happens to be sort of a snake-like creature himself.  However, villains by and large are not.  Unless your ‘hissing’ character is half snake or uses almost exclusively “S” words, hissing is perhaps not the best word to use.  If you just can’t live without it, it would be best to use only sparingly.

3.      Laughed (and synonyms like “chuckled”, “chortled”, “snickered”, etc)
Laughing is a great thing to do in a story.  Once again, I would ask you to try it: laugh and speak at the same time.  You might speak in between bouts of laughter, but you can’t really “laugh” something.  Consider the following instead:
“You look absolutely ridiculous,” laughed Alex
Vs.
“You look absolutely ridiculous,” said Alex with a laugh.
Or
Alex laughed. “You look absolutely ridiculous.”
4.      Beamed/Smiled or other things that are facial expressions:

Once again, this is not a way to speak.  It’s a facial expression.  Unless your character is a flashlight or some other type of light-emitting robot, I would stay away from ‘beamed’.  A smile is silent, and thus it doesn’t make sense to equate it with speech.  Consider this:
“This is the happiest day of my life!” smiled Fred.
Vs.
“This is the happiest day of my life!” said Fred, smiling. 
Or
“This is the happiest day of my life!” said Fred with a grin. 
I’m not trying to step on anyone’s toes, but I’m observing things like this in published works and it is becoming a distraction.  Nor am I immune to this problem in my own writing.  It is something I’m trying to work on so that the dialogue can speak for itself, and the tags will not muddle the waters or remind the reader that they are reading a novel and not just having an experience.
What do you think?  Please weigh in, and point out any types of offenders I might have missed. 
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Categories: Bookisms, writer experience | Leave a comment

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