I have never been much of a Stephen King fan. I don’t like books about crazed dogs (although I did love Misery, which was about a crazed person). Also a couple of others. But for the most part, not my genre.

I’m listening to the audiobook of Joyland, and I’ve become not only a fan, but an acolyte. A follower, a convert. I want to kiss the hem of his schmatta. His writing is so smooth, so understated, so humble. There are no wasted words, and most important, there is no trace of the author in the narrative. Do you know how difficult that is?

I edit so many books in which it is clear that the authors just can’t resist the plays on words. They can’t resist the slightly strained alliterations. They can’t help filching for the least appropriate words in the thesaurus (high on the list of sins per King, about which more later). The best advice I can think of for amateur writers is, “Get out of the way.”

“Said” is not good enough for them. They need to laugh, coax, offer (I really hate that one), ask, quiz, query, inquire, inform, exclaim, explode, spout, sigh, blurt, prod, sputter, tease, protest, groan, moan, whisper, gasp. Even expostulate, fer chrissake. Said is good enough. No dialogue tags whatsoever? Even better.

This is one sure-fire way to tell the amateurs from the pros. Dear Elmore Leonard, who died recently, never used anything but “said.” Didn’t have to.

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