Assonance, Alliteration, and Adverbs, oh my . . . #AtoZChallenge

a-buttonWelcome to the inaugural post of our new blog! In the next few days you’ll begin to hear from all of us in this author’s cooperative, and we’re all very excited to be bringing you the best in erotic literature and other musings from our ink- and toner-addled brains. We decided to kick off the blog with the “A-Z Challenge” that’s going on around the blogosphere. It begins today, 1 April, and when our fearless leader posted the schedule, I thought, Hey, what the hell? I’ll just take the first day. How hard can that be?

It’s not. I write in my sleep. I’m not going to promise that it’ll be sensible, but I will promise that it’ll be at least somewhat entertaining. So enough about that. On to taboos.

Yes, I said taboos. You thought I was going to write about assonance, alliteration, and adverbs? What do those all have in common? They’re all taboo for writers. Throw some consonance in there for good measure, and they’re all the kiss of death.

Or are they? A little while back there was a post going around on social media regarding things authors should never do. One of them was: “Alliteration. Don’t do it. Alliteration is always aggravating.” Or some such drivel. I’ve also heard authors talk about doing their edits and going on an “ly” hunt. If it has “ly” as its suffix, it has to go. They’re usually just as equally nutty about gerunds.

I’m here today, fellow authors and readers alike, to bust those myths. So let’s get at it, shall we?

Take assonance. I personally like it. Supposedly it’s the devil. Why, you ask? I have no idea. I will say that I don’t really like contrived assonance. Sometimes, however, it happens naturally. The words just fit together properly and it works, like the phrase “high and dry.” It either fits the mood, or it fits the cadence, or maybe, just maybe, it fits the character’s personality. Better yet, maybe it fits the writer’s personality, or the personality of the piece in general. I don’t think there’s a better reason to use assonance than one or all of those reasons. It’s a linguistic technique, pure and simple. It calls attention to a particular string of words, and that’s not always a bad thing.

Then there’s alliteration. I live in Kentucky. Where would the Bluegrass, or college basketball at large, be without March Madness? I immediately think about the “big beautiful woman” genre in romance and erotic romance. What would we call it without the alliteration? I shudder to imagine, but I’m guessing it would be far from polite or politically correct. In both instances, alliteration serves a purpose: It makes the terminology easier to remember because of the repetition and the motion the lips are required to make in speaking those words. That isn’t a bad thing.

It follows that consonance would be next in line for harassment. But if I told you someone was stiff and stuffy, you’d know exactly what I meant, now wouldn’t you? Does “undo a lock” or “unlock a lock” have the same pizazz for you as “pick a lock?” Didn’t think so.

And then there are adverbs. At the risk of sounding smug with a clever alliteration, let’s talk about the much-maligned adverb. I’ve heard, “Show, don’t tell. Show, don’t tell,” until I’m about to choke someone. You are showing when you say, “He tiptoed gingerly through the doorway.” That brings to mind the Pink Panther’s Inspector Clouseau; I can just see him in my mind, sneaking about. And “he stroked her face tenderly” makes much more sense than “there was great tenderness in his demeanor as he stroked her face.” So why would someone be afraid of using the adverb? It would save them some work, would it not?

But right now, there’s another particular little literary war going on, and I have to speak out.

“Said” is not a dirty word.

I recently read a piece that left me in tatters. The entire time I was reading it, I was struggling to figure out who was speaking. Bless his heart, the writer was so afraid of using the “s”-word that it became hideously difficult to figure out who was speaking at any given time. To my dismay, I was engaged recently in a debate about the exact same literary device.

So here’s the deal. There’s nothing wrong with the word “said.” When it’s used, most people don’t even notice. I know, I know, there are writing geniuses out there who believe that their every syllable must propel them to Pulitzer potential. People, get over yourselves. I’m not writing to a Pulitzer nomination. I’m telling a story. If the readers who read my story can’t figure out who’s speaking because I’m afraid of a simple four-letter word, they’ve got a problem. And if they’ve got a problem, I’ve got a problem – they won’t buy any more of my work if they’ve got to abandon the storyline to figure out who’s speaking. Simple as that. No, I don’t have to use a dialog tag every time a character speaks. But if there’s any question at all about who’s speaking, I’d better use one. It just makes good sense.

I know writers who spend hours poring over their work, looking for instances of “said” or “ly.” They edit and cut and tinker until their eyes bleed. They rework entire paragraphs because they believe they’ve used words that are wrong, or bad, or archaic.

Let’s not forget about clichés. They’re evil. But let me tell you, if you’re writing dialog, remember that people do use clichés in their speech. If you’re working hard to get rid of clichés in dialog, you’re barking up the wrong tree. Same thing for similes, metaphors, analogies, and hyperbole. Natural speech is what it is. You can have characters who speak like people, or characters who sound like they’re quoting entries from a thesaurus. Which would you rather read?

Bottom line: Everything in moderation. If you have a book that’s sixty thousand words long and you’ve used “said” eight thousand times, you’re in trouble. You need to go back to writing class and learn some variation. But you do not have to use every entry in Webster’s every time you write something. You’re not writing to impress; you’re writing to be read. You can try so hard to be lofty and clever that your writing becomes unreadable. Is that what you really want?

Write. Have fun. Entertain your readers. If you can find a way to get rid of half of your adverbs or dialog tags, do it. If you decide your use of assonance, alliteration, or consonance sounds hackneyed, rewrite it. If it fits, remember, it’s part of the language and there’s nothing wrong with it. But don’t get rid of anything just because someone tells you it’s bad. That would just be, well, bad. It’s all about instinct and message and moderation.

Get it? I knew you would. Now get out there and write something spectacular. I know you can. I have complete faith in you.

I’ll be back on Friday to tell you a little bit about myself. And now, in the interest of shameless self-promotion, you should know that the launch party for my eighth book, Adventurous Me, is going on today (yes, today is release day!). Hop on over to my blog and to the promotional site to see what’s going on, enter a contest, and have some fun. See you there!

Author: Deanndra Hall

I'm a working writer living in far western Kentucky with my partner of 30+ years and three crazy little dogs. When I'm not writing you can find me kayaking, hiking, working out at the gym, cooking healthy food, eating chocolate, and hanging out with family and friends.

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  1. Hi,

    A very sensible approach in my view, the middle path.
    Good luck with your latest book.

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    • Thanks so much, Owen!

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  2. Rules are made to be broken. Alliteration rules as far as i’m concerned!

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    • YAY! Another believer! Thanks, Donna. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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  3. Great start to the A-to-Z Challenge, and very useful advice about dialog tags.

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    • Thanks, Nya *she says as she grins*!

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  4. Exact…ly. There is nothing wrong with moderation and nothing wrong with descriptive verb substitution for the word ‘said.’

    Really like the theming on your blog! I’m using an Elegant Themes too.

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    • Thanks, Zac! (And I saw what you did there too.) And thanks for the compliment on the blog! We’re really enjoying the new site! Have a great day.

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  5. I’ve recently been seeing a lot about not using the word said. I honestly didn’t quite get why it was suddenly so evil. Maybe it’s just the current trend and eventually the focus will turn to another thing that writers shouldn’t do. Whatever. I think I’ll stick to writing what feels natural for the story and characters.

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    • Patricia, that’s exactly how I feel about it. As long as it feels natural, what’s the harm? One of the last steps in all of my pieces is to read them aloud. If something doesn’t flow, I know to change it. Otherwise, it’s good. Thanks for visiting.

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  6. I’ve been reading over some of my older works, and found that I actually like the “said” word with some other form of action in the tag. For some reason it struck me as more descriptive. Don’t know about anyone else.

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    • That’s my favorite way to do it, Scarlet, adding things like “he said with a grin.” I did hear one guy say something about impossible dialog tags, like saying “‘I hate cookies,’ Derrick frowned.’ According to him, a frown can’t speak. I get that, really, I do, but I still think it sets the tone, gives the reader the correct image, and makes the reading more interesting. So do what works. Thanks for stopping by!

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  7. Ack yes everything in moderation! I don’t mind a lot of these things but then you get hit with some where lord help ya every other sentence is literally a cliche of some sort and it just makes your eye twitch. lol

    Good for you not letting others “rules” rule you 😉

    Happy A to Z-ing! And congrats on the new blog!
    My A to Z.

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    • Thanks, Anna! Yeah, my big thing is that people do talk that way, so I use cliches in dialog, but everywhere else I try to find something fresh to say. Sometimes an extremely well-known cliche is the only way to go. Thanks for stopping by. (BTW, I like your entry for April 2!)

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  8. Welcome on board the challenge, and I’m so glad you decided to kick off your blog with it– smart move! ;)– and so much good advice right off the bat! great job.

    Co-host, A to Z Challenge 2014

    Twitter: @damyantig

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    • Thanks, Damyanti! I felt like being the first out of the chute was a big responsibility, so I wanted something that would resonate with readers AND other writers. Guess I managed, huh? Thanks for stopping by and for giving us an opportunity to use something so universal to start up our blog.

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  9. I like using dialogue tags when I’m writing so I don’t confuse myself when writing. I figure that I can always go back and tighten them up during editing and such, but I’d rather have it clear who is speaking than trying to guess all of the time. And I’ve had to guess with my own work before….*grins*

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    • I’ve been there with my own work too, Molly, and if I can’t figure out who’s speaking, I’m pretty sure nobody else can either. That’s one of the reasons that I always read it out loud!

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