Don’t be an Ejaculator

A couple of years ago, I was on a panel discussing dialog.  What? It happens. Sometimes people pity me I’m a respected, highly sought-after expert in my field. Anyway, one of the authors on the panel told the audience to avoid using bookish dialog tags, and someone asked what he meant by that. There was a momentary pause, and my good friend, author Lou J Berger, held up a hand dramatically and shouted:

“‘The front of my pants are wet,’ he ejaculated.”

We lost about five minutes of panel time due to uncontrollable, wall-shaking laughter. Needless to say the panel went downhill after that was fruitful and very productive.

Lou’s reply was hysterical, but it was also dead-on. There is no need for that sort of ridiculousness. In fact, 90 percent of the time, “said” is the right call. You know why? Because I said so. And you know why else? Because almost any other dialog tag that you use colors the novel with opinion. Or tells the reader how you want them to feel. Said is a fact. It is objective. It is transparent and seamless. To many of you, it may seem a bit plain or repetitive, but it’s not. “Said” fades into the background, which is the point, as I mention below…

And another thing…

Dialog tags aren’t always necessary. In fact, they are an interruption, and should be taken out whenever possible. If you write a sentence like this:


“How dare you steal the Eternal Llama of Youth!” Sir Galahad said, drawing his sword.

Then go back and change it to this:

“How dare you steal the Eternal Llama of Youth!” Sir Galahad drew his sword.

And consider writing a new story.

Oh, and if you do this…

“Bow, interloper! Bow to the Llama of Eternal Youth!” He hissed infuriatedly!

I’m a huge believer in Elmore Leonard’s fourth rule of good writing (the third rule talks about not using any tag other than “said,” incidentally). And that rule is: Never use an adverb to modify a dialog tag. So, if you type a sentence like this:

“Before this day is through, I will steal all seven of the Llamas of Power!” He said angrily.

…then don’t worry about deleting it or editing it in any way. Simply take your laptop into the landfill and throw it in whatever area is set aside for toxic waste. Buy a new laptop and start again, free from the contamination of that line. Jokes aside, using a word like “angrily” to modify said is worse than using a bookish tag like “he regurgitated,” or the like. But it still sucks. So don’t be an ejaculator.

’nuff said.