More help with “said”
I hope it’s okay to ask for a little more help with ‘said’. Your post was fantastic and I feel like it could’ve been made because of me if I didn’t know better, lol. I struggle with this a lot because I use too many mannerisms in place of 'said’. How should I show what the character is feeling (if the character isn’t the POV one) without the 'trembled’ and all that?
Of course it’s okay! :) <3
So, to be clear, I did not mean that you couldn’t use words like “trembled” in your description. It’s absolutely fine to bring mannerisms like trembled (aka visual cues) into the description around dialogue to illustrate how a character might be feeling. You just shouldn’t use those words as replacements for “said.” So, for example, you wouldn’t want to say:
“I did my report on the Civil War,” Ted trembled.
You wouldn’t want to say that because “trembled” isn’t a synonym of “said.” Trembling has nothing to do with saying words. You can’t walk up to someone and tremble a greeting. You can tremble WHILE greeting them.
To illustrate how a character is feeling during dialogue, you can use visual cues to set up and explain the dialogue:
Ted went to the front of the classroom. As he stared out at his audience, he began to tremble. “I did my report on the Civil War.”
As long as your narrator can observe the visual cue, they can report on it. In the above example, “tremble” is used to set up the dialogue.
You can also use other sensory cues like sound and smell:
Ted went to the front of the classroom, leaving the stench of nervous sweat in his wake. He began to tremble as he stared out at his audience. “I did my report on the Civil War,” he said, voice shaky.
So, to break this down…
Ted went to the front of the classroom, leaving the stench (sensory cue - smell) of nervous sweat in his wake. He began to tremble (sensory cue - visual) as he stared out at his audience. “I did my report on the Civil War,” he said, voice shaky. (sensory cue - audio)
From these three words we understand that Ted is nervous about this presentation.
Also, if you wanted to say the above without the “said tag,” you can do it like this:
Ted went to the front of the classroom, leaving the stench of nervous sweat in his wake. He began to tremble as he stared out at his audience. “I did my report on the Civil War.” His voice shook with each word. “It all started back in 1861 when Confederate war ships turned back a supply convoy headed to Fort Sumter.”
If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi. You can buy it on Amazon on Kindle or in paperback. You guys know I’ve been writing forever and even I find this resource incredibly helpful. Sometimes you just can’t conjure the visual cues that go along with certain emotions. This reminds you of what they are. Plus, it offers internal cues as well. Another book that has some handy emotional and body language lists is Bryn Donovan’s Master Lists for Writers. It’s also available in both paperback and on Kindle. :)