Sentimentality in fiction is generally considered something to be avoided. I’m thinking, for example, of the advice Laurie Alberts gives in her book Showing and Telling, though I’m sure similar advice would be given by any writing instructor. Sentimentality is cheap, and particularly if used at the end of a book, gives it an overall saccharine feel that detracts from its impact.
As writers, we’ve all been told to “show, don’t tell.” This oft-repeated advice is useful, but can sometimes be counterproductive. There are times when you actually want to tell.
Laurie Alberts helps to reframe the problem in her book on writing craft, Showing and Telling. Alberts tells us that in fiction (and other narrative prose) there are two primary modes of writing: scene and summary. Ultimately, we need both of these techniques, and few (if any) successful books use exclusively one or the other.
Dialogue tags (“he said”, “she said”) seem simple, but can be surprisingly subtle. There are also a lot of variations that aren’t covered in common guides. I’ve had trouble finding good information about dialogue tags online, so I decided to put together this guide, mostly for my own use. Hopefully it might be useful for others as well.