Is “Said” Really Dead?

In keeping up with my industry reading, I came across two blogs by CreateSpace author and resident blogger Richard Ridley yesterday (whom I normally worship almost without question) claiming that the use of the word “said” is most certainly not dead. Apparently it’s all the rage these days. Supposedly, the author modifying the verb in any way, or replacing it with an alternative, is a VERY BAD IDEA because it means the author is sticking their nose into the middle of the story. It can take the reader out of the story.

Uh… what?

As a reader, I can honestly say the only time I’ve been taken out of a story by a word choice of the writer, is when I need to pick up a dictionary. There is nothing wrong with attributing dialogue in an alternative to “said” if it’s done within reason.

I know I’m an amateur, but I just can’t accept that we’re not supposed to use alternatives anymore. I don’t want the story to be left up to me, as a reader. I want to be told exactly how these characters are interacting with each other – shown their emotions via their speech tag. If someone’s having a lover’s quarrel, they should be shouting and screaming. If someone thinks what the other is saying is ridiculously outlandish, they should laugh. If someone is scared, maybe their dialogue will be in whimpers and pleas.

Not. Simply. “Said”.

On the flip side, as an author, I know exactly how my characters are interacting, and I’m going to tell/show my reader. I think using “said” all the time is incredibly lazy! I’m not advocating that we should all go out and use the biggest, most difficult words we can think of, but for god’s sake put a little variety in there.

By all means, don’t go out and replace all your dialogue attributions/speech tags with “said” – equally, don’t replace every “said” with alternatives. Find a balance. If the scene is calmer, or needs to be fired off quickly, succumb to “said”. If the lovers are whispering to each other in hushed or low tones, convey that, as well. People in real life don’t always use exactly the same tone and volume in their voice. Literature characters should by all means be granted that variety as well.

And for god’s sake, don’t go and replace “said” with stupid words like “ejaculated” or asseverated. Remember the KISS concept when writing: Keep It Simple, Stupid.

This isn’t to also claim that every line of dialogue needs a speech tags. If there’s only two characters, a reader can keep up with who’s speaking on each new line. If there’s three or four, normally a reader can keep up by the difference in speech or opinion, if the characterisation has been done well enough. More than five, and you’ll occasionally need to tell the reader who was speaking, and sometimes how they’re speaking – unless it’s back and forth between one character and the rest as alternates.

Sometimes, I like to forgo attributions, and use action or introspection to express emotion in my characters.

Here’s an excerpt from Dadewalker (don’t all go crazy, ya’ll) to illustrate my point:

“You are filthy,” Gramma scolded. “What have you been doing?”
Her disapproval irked me. I’d been working hard and it showed, and she thought I’d been messing around. I squared my jaw and kept firing. “Training.”
“Well, you have learnt pyromancy now, Innocence. It’s time to go.”
“No,” I said, and fired again.
My grandparents looked at each other. “No?” Grandpa repeated.
“I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying with Eissan. I’m his protégée.”
“Do you even know what that word means?”
I shrugged, and fired again. Eissan loomed behind me and put his hand on my shoulder. “If she chooses to stay, that becomes tribal business.”
“She is of my clan,” Gramma snapped, “born and raised. She is of our blood, and she needs to come with us.”
“If the child wishes to stay,” Eissan repeated, showing his teeth, “then who are you to stand in her way?”

If you’re interested, here’s a wonderful website dedicated to alternatives for “said” – Said Is Dead.

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4 thoughts on “Is “Said” Really Dead?

  1. Archer says:

    I totally agree with this. Just using “said” over and over means alot of the context and inflection of the dialogue can be lost. It all depends on context, simply replacing “said” to be edgy and different is a bad idea but using an alternative for whispering, chastising and enforcing mood can be vital as a part of the growth of the character and the tale… the blogger who said using different forms is a very very bad idea is obviously talking out of his arse in my opinion.

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  2. Charlotte says:

    I agree entirely. I’ve read some posts on this topic myself recently – Elmore Leonard’s wise words, weren’t they? – and I had the same sort of reaction.

    That being, WHAAAT?

    I subsequently read through one of my own scenes, mentally taking out all modifiers or alternatives and replacing everything with ‘said’. It all looked very drab.

    It annoys me because it’s the kind of fatuous writing advice that presupposes that all writing is essentially the same. Or should be essentially the same. So a method that worked for one writer in one genre will, of course, be ideal for everyone. And many people slavishly follow it because it was a successful author who originally said it.

    Balderdash to that. Imagine a world where every book is written in the same formulaic way. Hideous.

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