I’ll be the first to admit that when I was a newbie writer, I was guilty of using (read: overusing) busy attributives, and I had a bad case of the wrylies. When I look back at some of my early prose, it’s completely embarrassing.
You know your dialogue is infected with wrylies if your novel has attributives like these:
The handcuffs clicked around his meaty wrists. “I am not a criminal!” he shouted loudly.
Sara ran around the room waving the lotto ticket. “I won! I’m rich! I’m rich!” she shrieked excitedly.
“Mom, mom, mom, mom, mom,” the toddler jabbered incessantly.
“I got fired on Friday, so I guess that means I’m not busy on Monday,” she commented wryly.
Focus on the “wrylies” in the sentences above—the use of adverbs explains how the dialogue should be interpreted or how it was uttered.
And there are attributives that use a variety of verbs to convey the speaker’s emotion or physical action:
“Your place or mine?” he chuckled.
“You wish,” she snorted.
“No one will find out,” he smiled.
“I’ll tell your wife,” she warned.
“You’re cute when you’re angry,” he winked.
Busy attributives try to pack too much into a sentence:
“He divorced me. And now I’m falling apart,” sniffed the attractive blonde as she wiped tears from her clear blue eyes, knowing she would never find another man like the rich doctor she married two years after leaving the leper colony where she grew up.
Take all the dialogue samples above as examples of how NOT to write your character’s attributives. “Keep it simple,” she said.
Using the “simple said” is the best way to make your attributives invisible to your readers. It won’t distract them from the flow of your story. And if you craft your narrative and dialogue well, you won’t need to be showy in your attributives.
Trust your readers to pick up on the nuances and tone in the interaction and dialogue between your characters. Don’t hit them over the head with overwritten attributives.