The current advice to is avoid using “he said/she said” and instead show the characters doing something. There is also a similar tendency for some authors to write too many of the details of, for example, the character getting from Point A to Point B.
Details can add texture to our writing, for sure. But let’s not allow them to get in the way of the story.
Sometimes, a simple “he said” is perfect. Because if you put in instead, “Tom shrugged,” you add a bland action and interrupt the dialogue for no good reason. Unless you describe him thus:
If you put in, “Stella shook her golden hair and some fell over her right eye. She brushed it aside,” you’ve really interrupted the dialogue. The only possible reason for this is to show Stella has blonde hair, if it hasn’t already come up. And of course, to avoid using “she said.”
Nothing irritates me more than not knowing who the speaker is in a section of dialogue. It used to be said (!) that “he said/she said” was invisible to the reader—it helped the reader keep track of whom was speaking, but it didn’t get in the way. Lately, however, that is not the advice being given. Instead, we’re told to put in those “small” actions to indicate who’s speaking. And some authors do that so consistently, I want to stop reading.
Another reason given to not use “he said/she said” is to show what the character is feeling or thinking. This is sometimes a good idea, but it can also be overdone. What the reader already knows about the character will give him a clue as to what the speaker feels or thinks. Or the words in the dialogue alone can convey the emotion. In other words, as the story progresses, the reader should know how the protag and several of her friends, relatives and enemies think and how they feel. No need to “show” us those reactions on every page and during every chunk of dialogue.
The other, similar problem, which fortunately is still frowned upon, is putting in too much detail when a character goes from one place to another. We’re given a laundry list (what is a laundry list, anyway? I know what a grocery list is, but a laundry list must be something done by our great-grandparents)—we’re given a list of street names, right and left turns, type of roadway, shifting gears, and pushing hard on the gas pedal or the brake. Give me a break! Or we spend time with the character actually getting in and out of a car, what kind of car it is, the color of the upholstery, and so on. Is any of this important to the story? That’s the ultimate test. If it’s not important, no matter how interesting to the author, cut it out!
And that should be the final test for any detail inserted anyplace in your story. Does it make the story better? Is it important to the story? It is interesting enough in itself to leave it in? If none of these apply, get rid of it. Your readers will thank you. This reader in particular will salute you.
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