1. Sennett
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    Sennett New Member

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    Is said dead or is everything else?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Sennett, Jun 6, 2016.

    This is all about dialogue tags. Lately, I've seen a lot of advice on how to write dialogue tags and noticed an interesting conflict. The basics: half the people are telling me to stop using 'said' and use fancy, more specific words and the other half tells me to stick with said and avoid dialogue tags altogether. What do you prefer and why? Does using 'whispered', 'hissed', or 'mumbled' make me seem an amateur?
    (Is this the right place to ask this question or does 'word mechanics' not apply to this?)
     
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  2. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    IMO both are perfectly valid. The key is balancing them. You don't want every tag to be the same - you want a mixture of "she said" and "she muttered" and "she said [adverbly]" (that one gets a lot of hate but I stand by it) and beats instead of tags and entirely bare dialog on its own on a line. You just want to mix it up. There's no one 'wrong' method that will make your writing look bad.
     
  3. hawls
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    hawls Active Member

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    In a word, yes.

    Dialogue should flow. Tags disrupt that flow. The context of the scene and the content of the dialogue should be more than enough to convey meaning and intention.

    As for what I prefer; said, or no tags at all. And why? I have high standards and the writing should be good enough that I can follow what's going on without them.
     
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  4. JLT
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    JLT Active Member

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    I agree. "Said" is kind of like salt in a restaurant. If it's the only flavoring you have, it gets bland after a while. Other flavorings round out the dish, but it's easy to get carried away when you're using them, and then they start calling attention to themselves rather than complementing the dish. You have to decide in each case whether the word is punching up the dialog or distracting from it. For example: "'How could you have done that to him?' she hissed" is a lot more forceful than "'How could you have done that to him?' she said."

    An interesting aside that just occurred to me. In drama, the spoken word is paramount, yet scriptwriters don't get the privilege of using descriptive dialog tags. Its just

    JANE: How could you have done that to him?
    MARY: Are you kidding me? He was just asking for it!

    And it's up to the director and the actors to "weight" the dialog with the emphasis that they feel the dialog deserves.
     
  5. Kamran Ali
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    Kamran Ali New Member

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    This is very nice question posted on this thread. In my own personal experience I had this clash about writing short stories on one of my client's blogs where I was big time confused on whether to just use 'said' or dialogue tags. My initial stories either has said used in all posts or used dialogue tags but readers enjoy the mix of both with a constitution of 30 % said with 70 percent dialogue tags. Try it and you'll see good difference when you'll read it on your own.
     
  6. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Other tags are fine if they're not overdone, at which point they draw attention to themselves and get ridiculous. I don't think you'll ever have a story rejected for only using "said" when a tag is necessary. If your characters are whispering, growling, tittering, expostulating, temporizing, and ejaculating all over the place then the manuscript will probably be thrown in the trash where it belongs.

    Here's just one perspective:

    https://alisonwilliamswriting.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/dialogue-tags-an-editors-worst-nightmare-almost-writingtips-writinganovel/
     
  7. Diane Elgin
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    Diane Elgin Member

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    Diane raised her head from the pine desk, blinked twice and yawned. In day dreaming, the welt on her forehead grew to look sun burnt. 'It's entirely a stylistic choice but I personally like to avoid tags where possible by showing the character in motion on the same line as the dialogue it accompanies,' she said, 'or if I do use a dialogue tag, it's in a place where I want my reader to imagine a natural speech pause so I can draw emphasis to the line that follows. Usually, it contains an alternative suggestion. Like this one.'
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    My preference is a combination of all three options @Sennett mentions.

    These are my rules for my writing. I'm not saying it's the correct way but just the way I like to work.

    My first rule: only use a dialogue tag where it's necessary. Usually if I decide it's necessary, it's for clarity--identifying who's speaking. A mixture of beats and tags should be used for this purpose, as too much of one becomes annoying. Only rarely should tags be used because you need to show how the character is speaking. The dialogue itself and other characters' reactions to it should show how it was said in most cases. But one thing you can't always show is volume so she whispered, he shouted, etc might be necessary.

    Second rule: if a dialogue tag is needed, use 'said' unless there's a strong reason to use something else. A strong reason for me is:
    - It packs more of a punch, like @JLT's 'she hissed.'
    - I've been using said a lot and want to mix it up.
    - I want to indicate volume.
    - It's the simplest/best way to show the character's mood or intention with the sentence. Sometimes their words are at odds with their mood and, to avoid confusion, you might want to label it.

    If unsure, I err on the side of said above everything else. Other dialogue tags really do sound amateurish to me (because only amateurs tend to use them in large numbers...) and drag me right out of the story.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My view is:

    - You need some small excuse to use a dialogue tag at all. Not a big excuse, but they shouldn't just automatically, always, be used. For example, if exactly two people are having a conversation, you absolutely don't need a tag, a beat, or any indicator on every single exchange.

    - You need a bigger excuse to use a non-"said" dialogue tag. There's absolutely nothing wrong with "said." There's absolutely nothing wrong with "said" being the only tag used for a page, ten pages, a chapter, a few chapters. "Said" is the default. If you use a non-"said" tag it shouldn't just be because you used "said" a lot of times--it should be for some other reason.

    - You need a bigger bigger excuse to use an adverb with the tag. ("He said averbly.") There would be nothing wrong with never, ever using an adverb with a dialogue tag.
     
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  10. zoupskim
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    zoupskim Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think the problem with using discriptions of emotion or speech when framing dialog is the simple fact that people's emotions don't shift so frantically in the course of a conversation. If a lot of dramatic things are getting talked about, I'll buy people 'gasping' and 'exclaiming' left and right.

    But 'said' is fast, moves the plot, and let's us focus on the dialog. Descriptors of mental state and movement distract from what's being said. How important is what the character is saying vs what they are doing or thinking?
     
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2016
  11. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    First, when I can (like everytime) I avoid using 'said'.

    Second, there are certain instances where I use it almost exclusively. But these are special circumstances and tie in with the MC having a specific mindset. This then is a conscious choice for me to use it, the emotionless awareness 'said' transfers is necessary. In these circumstances I am glad that 'said' is there to use :)
     
  12. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Dialogue for me is not a separate idea apart from the scene so I try to be flexible in how I handle it according to the scenes needs.
    I like variety.
    I will use a dialogue tag - like a verb or adverb when I want to quickly reinforce something - whispered, shouted. Some of these aren't needed because I will have built up the scene to show my character is angry or that whispering is necessary. But sometimes it's helpful to remind readers. For instance if my characters are in a movie theater discussing something - Sheila whispered - immediately lets my reader know Sheila is conscious of her surroundings and trying not to be annoying.
    I use said to remind readers who is doing the talking
    I drop all tags and allow for a tagless back and forth to keep focus on the dialogue. This is good as long as I've set up who starts the exchange.
    I interrupt the dialogue by inserting a said in the middle of it allowing for a description of action to reinforce the characters mood or a needed pause or beat.
    I will start dialogue with a descriptive action as a 'tag' to give the dialogue more drama.
    The stay away from adverbs things is to make you more conscious on developing a scene and not relying on a single adverb to explain a characters mood.
    If the dialogue absolutely needs the adverb to make sense there's something wrong with the scene and dialogue.
     
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  13. Samuel Lighton
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    Samuel Lighton Contributing Member

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    From my preference, I don't like using any word often. I might use said, but Id fancy it up with something alongside it. Not just, he said, she said. He said, flexing his knuckles.

    Most of the time I feel I can get away from the word said though. I'd only use it if the speech is accompanied by an action, like in the example above. It puts emphasis on the statement and it's tone for me. For everything else, I do away with 'said' and use description of tone or attitude. He growled under his breath. She hissed quietly to evade suspicion. It's all pretty much the same as using 'said' but it keeps the writing fresh for me.
     
  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I suspect we'll have some controversy over this. When I was reading submissions, a lot of the type of uses you describe here (instead of just using "said," which is largely invisible to the reader) would make me move on to the next story pretty quickly.
     
  15. Samuel Lighton
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    Samuel Lighton Contributing Member

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    But it emotes more. 'He growled' implies his disdain, his lowered voice in anger. It influences a readers perception of a character more than 'said' could. But, I do think that style of writing is fully capable of the same flaws as 'said'. It's just taking care not to repeat that action too often so that it pops out as something glaring.

    I don't know. I view the use of 'said' exclusively over just as viable, possibly better, alternatives as exactly the same as any other pet word. I don't find it invisible when I read a story and it's said this, said that. It pops out to me, but I might be weird....I'm probably weird. No. No, I'm definitely weird.

    The word weird has now lost all meaning. We must now create alternatives.
     
  16. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    'Growled under his breath' and 'hissed quietly to evade suspicion' are redundant, to me. It does add emotion, it's just that hissing is always quiet (unless it's a stage-whisper kind of thing) and growling is always kind of under your breath. I'd use just 'growled' or 'hissed' instead.
     
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  17. JennaPeterson88
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    JennaPeterson88 Member

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    Said/asked are easily glossed over by the reader, so they don't disrupt the flow of the dialogue. They serve their purpose (identifying the speaker) without getting in the way. If you don't have a reason to have your characters do something other than say/ask, it's probably best not to. There are, however, most certainly going to be times when something else is a better choice. Mumbled, for example, might be the best choice for the narrative, and it's hard to "show" mumbled rather than simply changing the dialogue tag from said to mumbled. Using alternative dialogue tags where appropriate is definitely fine! Using them for the sake of using them, however, is going to be distracting to readers, and probably a red flag for agents/editors.
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Why not cut the tag altogether?

    "Blah blah." He flexed his knuckles. "Blah blah."
     
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  19. Midge23
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    Midge23 Member

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    The risk of tags like 'hissed' and 'growled' is that it feels like the author is tapping the reader on the shoulder and saying, 'that line of dialogue you just read, they growled it by the way. Okay. Carry on.'

    If the reader can see the character in their minds-eye, feel emotion from the scene, then you won't need the tag, and the writing will be stronger for it.

    It is what I aspire to - bloody difficult though!
     
  20. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But do you try to avoid other "pet words" like "the" or "and"?

    "Said" is a utility word. It just quietly sits there. You wouldn't build a house with a different decorative switch plate for every light switch, or a different hinge for every door. Those are utility things, and it's not their job to offer variety--it's their job to efface themselves so that the viewer can focus on the more important parts of the decoration.
     
  21. Samuel Lighton
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    Samuel Lighton Contributing Member

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    I understand what you're saying, but I can not view said as a utility word. Despite the fact that by the time of it's use, you already know that someone said something, so the focus would move from the 'said' to the he/she/name part - it's still an action word. If I see a piece of dialogue with multiple lines split up by he/she said in relatively close succession, in my head the characters are all speaking in monotone. I know I'm meant to gloss over it, but I wouldn't. Having said that though, I don't do long dialogue pieces, so it's usually one/two lines and done.



    Note: I'm not really defending my way or the said way here. Just saying I'm insane when I read :D
     
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  22. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I try to mix them up, although sometimes you become blind to your writing and suddenly it's riddled with tags!

    When writing:
    if I need a tag -> said is the default

    if I want to convey the way something is said and the words or the setting aren't sufficient enough to convey it -> I use some other action verb as a tag (cried, barked, growled, hissed, snapped...)

    if it looks like I've got a bunch of talking heads, but I deem the words sufficient enough to convey emotion -> I use a beat. I try to keep them fairly short. "Well, well, isn't that interesting?" Kat rubbed her chin. "Not quite what I expected, though."

    When reading:
    As long as it's varied enough, I'm not too strict about it. You see authors use all these things:

    "...everybody take Jacob to the churchyard," he managed to stammer.
    "I'm to give Dina a hand. If she needs it," he added.
    ***
    "You don't want help from me on the day of the funeral?" he asked in a low voice.

    (Herbjorg Wassmo: Dina's Book)

    "I need another tourniquet, now!"
    Paul was on it even as Liam's words died and he took over and dealt with Cameron's right leg immediately with lightning proficiency.
    "Speak to him!" Paul shouted at Liam. "Remember your training..."
    (
    Andy McNabb: The New Recruit)

    You just have to decide which option would serve your story and the given situation best and avoid repetition and redundancy.
     
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  23. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    This makes me giggle so much. My sister who is currently still in school had an argument with her english teacher because of this. My sister is the only one who I allow to read my work and in return she attempts to teach me how to draw. She was told for homework to construct an argument and she wasn't happy with all the 'he shouted' and 'he growled'. So I told her to use more gestures and face expressions and scrap the tags in the middle of the argument because people would just assume they would speaking loudly. She handed it in was told to 'there is a lack of adverbs and verbs'. There is such as dissonance between taught english and practised english. It really rather stupid.
     
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  24. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    Would you suggest anything different to the ideas given in this thread when writing for children aged around 10? I have tried hard not to keep putting xxx said, but need clarity as to which character is speaking as I have two main characters who are together most of the time. I have, surprisingly avoided using lots of 'ly' words.
     
  25. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just used my first ever dialogue tag :)

    I've always liked action tags for dialogue better than just

    "Something something something," said Character

    but last night I wrote in my new vampire WIP:

    “The hell are you doing?“ Charlie screams from the driver’s side.
     

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