Consider the following:
Robert walked into his office. Suddenly, Carla stepped out from behind the door. She had been waiting for him.
“Carla!” said Robert. “I haven’t seen you in…”
She slapped him across his face. It obviously hurt him.
“Since you left Angel’s place and disappeared without another word!” she said, glaring.
Now let us revisit the very same scene, but this time using sensory description to draw the reader into the story:
Robert strode down the hall to his office, running thin fingers through thinner hair. The door rattled on its hinges. Right away, he smelled gardenias—an odor alien to the stale carpet and tacky wood panelling. It reminded him of…
A pale Latina, her head no higher than his chest, appeared from behind the door. She was removing severe leather gloves from her hands.
“Carla!” said Robert in a voice way too high. “I haven’t seen you in…”
His head snapped back. A small, perfect hand print reddened upon his cheek.
“Since you left Angel’s place,” she spat, “and disappeared without another word!” Her glare turned the rest of his face just as hot and red as the slap.
Using such detail also allows the writer to communicate information about the characters that otherwise might have required potentially dreary exposition later in the story. In this case, we now know that Robert’s office is not very impressive or well-maintained, and Carla is a Latina who usually wears a particular scent.
While a number of editors would tsk at the use of “spat” instead of “said,” I believe it is acceptable to include a more colorful or demonstrative word, keeping firmly in mind that, most of the time, “said” is all you need for dialog.
But that is a topic for another day.
*Image Source: Pixabay – Public Domain