1. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Other Words Than Using Said

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by MilesTro, Sep 9, 2012.

    In one of my dialogue writings, I used words like complained, teased, or giggled instead of said to show how my characters were talking.

    For example:

    "You are fat!" Tom teased.

    "Shut up Tom!" Betty complained.

    Are these the right words to use instead of using said?
     
  2. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    Generally, you should have a reason for replacing "said" other than simply avoiding it. Said becomes nearly invisible to a reader, and using too much variety in the tags actually becomes objectionable. Words that duplicate what the dialog already tells us are unnecessary clutter. If the words are obviously angry, or are a complaint, don't tell us so in the dialog tag.

    Sometimes you can use an action to good effect instead of a dialog tag.
    "This spaghetti sauce is too spicy." Tom pushed away the plate and stood up.

    Also, in a back-and-forth between two people, you can omit some dialog tags entirely, using only enough to keep readers on track. This works best when the characters have a different voice from each other.

    Cogito has an essay on "He said, she said" that may help.
     
  3. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    "This spaghetti sauce is too spicy." Tom pushed away the plate and stood up.


    Sometimes I write dialogue and the action together like that.

    That essay is very helpful.
     
  4. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    Dialogue needs to be integrated in to the story. If you are in the 'he said/she said' mode, you aren't telling the story. Like Miles said, the dialogue with the story or action is good but to take that point further, you should be considering the gestures, actions and body language of the characters having within the dialogue. Also, what activities are going on around them.

    Take for instance, my wife and I can be having a great conversations at a restaurant but my eye lingers off to the table that's getting the thing I probably should have ordered. Life goes on around the people, so this along with the actions within the conversation give a sense of scene.

    Think about these things in a dialogue, perhaps someone needs to seem distant, perhaps being distracted is a way to convey this. Perhaps the opposite, a big crash of a dropped tray in said restaurant but one of the characters didn't even flinch or react because they were so intent on what they were saying.

    You get the idea. Dialogue needs to be wrapped within the scene it is being spoken.
     
  5. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    Sometimes it is hard for me to balance what my characters are doing as they talk.
     
  6. Idealistic
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    Idealistic New Member

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    On the 'other words than said' note, I find that using it often provides a norm for the reader; that using it often, gives representation to the instances when you do use a substitute word or phrase. More than likely if you are using a word other than said, the sentence is of importance, value, or emotion. So using them far and few gives your writing style and structure, based to the tune of your pen. No pun intended. ;)

    As far as having a problem with your character's having interactions while they're talking goes, it isn't always stressed but it's needed.. As Jeff said, you have to thread your dialogue into the story as it progresses. And there are many techniques for doing this. I suggest keeping a comfortable setting for the conversation. A setting gives you movement for the characters during discussion, a surplus potential objects for them to touch, see, or sense in any way, and it can be used throughout the conversation in these number of ways to keep it knit to the story. That along with thing such as gestures and body language, as Jeff explained. :)
     
  7. TrinityRevolution
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    TrinityRevolution Member

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    Ones I use frequently are 'demanded' 'laughed' 'cried' but on the whole I either use said or cut straight to the action such as Mile's example.

    When you read through your completed draft you're able to pick up on little niggles, too many 'saids' in a row etc.

    I personally don't have a problem reading 'he complained' 'she accused' etc, so if I were to read your completed work I would be ok! :)

    Oh and even throw in a few adverbs, that tends to p*ss off 'English's elite' >8D
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    My preference is for either "said" or no tag at all. An occasional non-said tag works, though, especially when even within the context, what's being said could be taken more than one way. But when the writer rarely or never uses 'said', it passes into the realm of comical. I have beta'd for people who have an absolute phobia for said, and despite the book being a deadly serious thriller, I was distracted and laughing at all the ways they avoided "said".
     
  9. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't claim skill, but I do like words other than "said". "Grumbled", "blustered", "spat out", "laughed", "shouted", "argued", "complained", etc. In moderation and carefully selected.
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    miles and dm...
    words cannot be either 'giggled' or 'laughed'...
     
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  11. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I try and remove dialog tags as much as possible from my writing. The only times I use them is to help express how something was said other what's indicated by the punctuation and tone.
    Like "What do you mean?" He snapped. You can't really express that he 'snapped' without saying it. The rest of the time I'll just use said, and only when it's necessary for the reader to know who's talking.

    Does that make sense?
     
  12. MilesTro
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    MilesTro Active Member

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    I get it. Sometimes I write the action first and then the dialogue sentence next to it.
     
  13. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's something to think about. I had a look on the Project Gutenberg site. I did find some examples:

    "laughed" is used as a tag extensively in "Daddy Takes Us to the Garden" by Howard Garis.

    And also in "The Bobbsey Twins in the Country" by Laura Lee Hope.

    These books all seem rather old. But then they are out-of-copyright books on Gutenberg.

    I'm interested to know if "chuckled" is used the same way.

    Would usage like this count as a verb metaphor? "Laughed" or "chuckled" are not as different from "said" as we see with the verb metaphor "he bathed in her beauty."

    Note: I'm not saying that because I can find examples of this usage, that it's correct. However, in some way I still like "laughed" and "chuckled" in light-hearted prose.

    Edit: And of course, there's the classic English "chortled".

    Edit: is that a beat? Or a tag? There's a comma before the quotation mark.

    Maybe this one:

     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, you will find many examples of poorly chosen tag verbs. In fact, there are examples in print of nearly every "stanky" writing habit you could name. Some are so infamous they have given names to those bad habits. Look up "Tom Swifties", for example.

    Even J. K. Rowlings had one of her characters "ejaculate" a sentence. That was a poor tag verb choice where it was used, even though you can in fact ejaculate words.

    Writers are human. Sometimes they ignore principles for effect. Sometimes they simply screw up. Sometimes their screwups help define new principles.
     
  15. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    "ejaculated" really doesn't work for me. Ugh.

    However, while I don't want to do it often, I very much hope that one day I'll have a character "chortle" out some words.

    Do I have to go and sit on the naughty step?

    Edit: In 1929, Tarquin Fotheringay-Smythe and his upper class boarding school chums, were kidnapped by aliens who speak cockney through wristband communicators. If that wasn't dastardly enough in itself, they've been locked in a cell with, he can barely bring himself to say it, girls, kidnapped from the nearby girls boarding school. Their sworn enemies. The aliens' plan being to breed them for sale to interplanetary zoos. However, it turns out that these girls, having been playing a game of hockey when they were kidnapped and still equipped with their hockey sticks, are all frightfully decent types. The boys and girls together (including the school dog Timmy) escape the cell using a hair-clip to pick the lock, take over the ship, and foil the dastardly plan of the alien bounders. After safety returning to earth, the local bobbie arrests the alien attack force. Tarquin now has considerable respect for the girls, and invites them along on the boys' next apple-scrumping expedition to Farmer Jack's orchard.

    Surely there would be a chortled line or two in there?
     
  16. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Although an occasional aberration is okay, you really want to make the author's footprint in your writing as invisible as possible. Throwing in wholesale variant tags, adjectives, adverbs, or any other writing technique for that matter, is going to result in exactly the opposite. Keeping your writing seamless and your reader in the story can be either the most difficult thing for your or one of the easiest.
    And, one of the simplest ways to begin is to try to avoid tags lines such as you have suggested. (beamed, huffed, teased, complained, sighed, etc.) Again, it's okay to use these things infrequently, but don't try to make every other dialog line 'more exciting' or whatever by the use of these words. Rather than improve your writing, it tends to bring it down as the reader becomes more, amused, annoyed, focused-on those attributions instead of the story!

    Unless your narrator is actually a character in your story, you want him or her to be as far into the background as possible. using the invisible attributions "he said/she said" is one of the best ways to do that.
     
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  17. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's definitely something for me to look into when I do some reading of target market writing this evening.
     
  18. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    A character cannot laugh words. They can "say with a laugh."

    I'm reminded of a journalism article some years ago called "Three bananas' is not "two bananas and one elongated yellow fruit.'" just because there is another word you can use does not make it the best word for you to use.

    Using "fancy" words in lieu of "said" shows you know how to use a thesaurus and nothing more. You can elaborate on tone elsewhere. If someone says something, then it was "said."
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that... in spades!

    if you want to be a good writer, don't emulate poor ones... or even the rare mistake of a good one... and being an immensely popular writer does not necessarily mean that famous author is a good writer...
     
  20. JeffS65
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    JeffS65 Contributing Member

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    I will say that I try to avoid words that pull the reader out of the story. I might contrary to many who prefer a literary style and all the verbiage that comes with it but, I can never find a time that I would use the word 'chortle'. I've never chortled and I've never seen it either. For that matter, I've never actually seen someone 'flit about'. I mean, by definition I have but by the connotative element these words are meant to convey, I have not.

    Key is, these are words that people who like the 'writing-iness' of writing use.

    Don't crush me everyone, it's only my personal assessment and even my wife tells me I'm wrong.

    But I do have a point that fits within this thread; when you are writing character dialogue or the context prose, I feel that the 'literary' words should be left to the characters if it is important to their development. However, I think they are easy mechanism that are a shortcut to really explaining the action or activity.

    I mean, in real life, have you ever said to someone, 'man, when I told Bob about that youtube deal, he really chortled'?

    Why then would it fit as a contextual reference in action and dialogue? I agree with JamesOliv...to expand, even if you don't want to keep on saying 'he said'...You can say:

    He stared off to the corner of the room and took in a deep breath. There was something on his mind. "Dan, I'm not sure how I should tell you this but Maggie has not been honest with you"


    That kind of thing...It's telling the story. Some of the things I call literary catch words get in the way of really good descriptive writing and in the end, they are used in the place of 'he said/she said' as an alternative when, in fact, the answer may be in how the scene is written and structured.
     
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  21. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you think that it would be impossible to use a "'xxxxxxx,' chortled Tarquin", and have it work, given the story summary I listed above?

    I'd very much agree that "chortled" absolutely doesn't work in the modern setting of your sample sentence. "chortled" for me implies a period story, which is why my sample context above is set in 1929. And not just in 1929, but a parody of the outdated adventure fiction of that and slightly later eras. Perhaps similar in style to The Comic Strip's parody "Five Go Mad in Dorset." I do think that using "chortled" as a tag could work very well in that scenario/style.

    I don't think that discussing whether "chortled" would work using a modern example really addresses the point I'm trying to discuss.
     
  22. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    All things are possible, but not all things are advisable. One thing that I've learned from this forum is that you can do anything that want when writing. Everyone else does. But... that doesn't mean that it's a good idea!
     
  23. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    Lewis Carroll, Jabberwocky

    According to Martin Gardner's The Annotated Alice, Carroll coined the word chortled as a blend of chuckled and snorted.

    Unfortunately from the context of the poem, with the exclamation mark and new line we cannot tell whether chortled is used there as a dialog tag or whether the last line is an action separate from the dialog.
     
  24. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    This reminds me of that commercial where the steel drum band bursts into the business meeting singing about how the presenter used big words ("he used a big, big word. Promote him right away.")

    I will add that the other day I was reading a story where the author kept stating the character "said simply." at first, I didn't even think about it. I suppose my imagination kicked in and reasoned that this was a simple, flat reply which was devoid of any real emotion.

    Then I realized that "he said simply" just doesn't tell you anything and is useless to the interaction.
     
  25. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    Part of what makes me want to consider how "chortled" could be gainfully used is that: there are rules in writing. And sometimes it's best to break the rules. My story scenario was me mulling over under what situations the rules can be broken. Part of what has motivated me to do this is that I'm reading a book on how to write that gives a lot of rules, and doesn't mention when and how they might be broken. It just seems too prescriptive to me. My natural inclination is to rebel.

    Jake coughed, and coughed again. A staccato rhythm. Suddenly Sandra got it. Morse code. She looked at the scabby unshaven man who was their captor. He didn't seem to have noticed.

    "Can you reach the knife?" coughed Jake.

    She couldn't. She giggled a bit, and looked at their captor. She laughed. He looked at her quizzically, but took no real interest. Laughing out Morse code, this is going to be a challenge. But their lives depended on it.

    "No, I can't reach it," laughed Sandra.
     

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