Roman Castavet, a Satanist and morgue employee, has been supplying the antagonist Corky Laputa in Dean Koontz’s The Face with foreskins from cadavers. He is a character that we meet very briefly. To that end, Koontz must make him at once a “character”. We all have that obligation. But at what cost? We visit again the dreaded adverb when Corky surprises Roman with a visit in his place of work. Corky assures Roman that his presence won’t raise eyebrows because the guards at the sign-in desk think he’s a visiting Pathologist.
“Huh? Why would they think that?”
“I have a source for excellent forged documents.”
Roman boggled*, “You?”
“Frequently, it’s advisable for me to carry first-rate false identification.”
“Are you delusional or merely stupid?”
“As I’ve explained previously, I’m not just an effete professor who gets a thrill from hanging out with anarchists.”
“Yeah, right,” Roman said scornfully.
Reading the give and take in its entirety, this dialogue already shows us that these two are far from friends. That Roman doubts Corky’s competence and ingenuity is implied. Do we really need the adverb? Must we be truly shown or can the author (I still say it’s the editor flubbing this book) describe the sentiment? You decide.
*Boggled is a verb. Very descriptive too.
Well, yes and no. In a series, one relies on the POV character (1st person usually) in such a way that when they describe someone’s speech or action with an adverb we aren’t jolted out of the story but are brought into it by the narrator/POV character’s description. We are immersed in their world and are not repelled by them relating events in their voice. In fact that’s why we read the series.
That said, sometimes one-off novels implement this same technique when tagging dialogue from an important secondary character. It is sparse and rare but it nonetheless exists. In Dean Koontz’s novel The Face, page 155 Bantam Books, May 2004, Hazard Yancey is (SPOILER ALERT!) visiting Rolf Reynerd at his apartment in connection with some mysterious gifts left at the doorstep of famous actor Channing Manheim. At one point there is a knock at the door. The suspect, Reynerd, says he isn’t expecting anyone. The next line reads, “Me neither,” Hazard said dryly. By the time we read this line, we know Hazard’s personality (pretty dry). We also know that someone in a stranger’s house is likely to make this comment dryly. Yet here it is, stated in the obvious. I wonder today, so many years later, if this tag is editor-generated. Koontz is way too seasoned to do such a thing.
At any rate, readers should already know if a statement by a character is made “dryly”. But if you are writing a series, feel free to add these tags to your dialogue as part of your narrator’s (protagonist’s) voice.
And, yes, I know that “dryly” is called for in this context. I just don’t like it.