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  1. hind11
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    hind11 New Member

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    Really??!!

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by hind11, Jan 12, 2009.

    :confused:I've just been looking at an article by Elmore Leonard published in the Guardian a while back, in which he says 'Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue. He goes on to say 'The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped,cationed, lied. I once notice Mary Mcarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated", and had to stop reading to get the dictionary."
    I can understand a less commonly known word distracting the reader from the writing, but would you agree with this? Surely a piece of writing would be dull without any verbs at all. I'm currently editing some short stories i've written that will be assessed and wouldn't want to be marked down for using verbs? What do you all think? :confused:
     
  2. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I haven't read the article you referred to, but I'm guessing he doesn't mean all verbs--just verbs used as dialogue attribution.

    I agree completely. I don't even use he said/she said if the reader can tell who is speaking.

    And you will never see me use something silly like 'she asseverated'. Just my opinion of course.

    Even more odious is the adverbial phrase, or Swifties.

    One of my fav's:

    "I'm the plumber," he said, with a flush. :D ~ From Stephen King's On Writing
     
  3. Mello
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    Mello Member

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    Yeah, I normally don't use "said" with every line of dialogue either.
    I am definitely of the opinion that words other than "said" used with dialogue are to be used sparingly, but I would never cut them out completely. Sometimes describing the tone with which one of your characters says something can give the reader a whole new context.
     
  4. othman
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    othman Member

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    i know what he means but still, you've got to try and portray the motion as the way you say things are often as important as what you say (like animals tell your meaning by tone). And said is like saying something without ant major or needed expression, whilst if someone screamed for help you couldn't say they said for help...
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    It's overstated, but that is the way to make you really think about a rule.

    You really should stick with said 90% of the time, preferably more. What seems monotonous to yoiu as the writing becomes invisible to the reader. That's what you want. You want the reader focusing on the actual dialogue. Tone should be conveyed by the content and the context, not the speech verb.

    Certainly it's ok to use asked for the occasional question. But even there, stick to the basic.

    Keep the tag invisible. The main reason for a tag is to literally tag the dialogue with the speaker's identity, so the reader doesn't get lost in terms of who is saying what.
     
  6. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    See now I really hate saying said too much. I try and vary it a bit. I keep my words simple, like not daft long words no one knows what they mean, but things such as whispered, asked, replied, shouted, I think are generally not too distracting put give a little bit of advice to the reader on how it was said. I hate it when you are reading something and you do not get enough information on how it was said, so you don't know how to take it.
     
  7. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using 'said' as a dialogue tag is preferred, as it is invisible, so to speak, to the reader. Use 100% of the time? No. But use other tags sparingly. The main purpose of a dialogue tag is to make sure the reader attributes to the bit of dialogue to the correct character.

    As an aside: Avoiding dialogue tags when possible is beneficial. Using action of a character in conjunction with dialogue. Using alternating dialogue between characters, especially with each character's 'voice' as part of the clue for the reader, occasionally using a character's name--or referring to them within dialogue, are several common methods to avoid tags.

    In general, if a scene is well written, one doesn't need to include the other tags such as cautioned, gasped, etc. The action/context of the scene should enable the reader to do it on his own.

    Terry
     
  8. Leaka
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    Leaka Creative Mettle

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    My three verbs after dialogue is, said, ask, and reply.

    But after a few times saying said and ask and what not I just drop the said, ask, and reply.
    Cause ya already know who is talking.
     
  9. Jim Rowley
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    Jim Rowley New Member

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    Pesonally I agree somewhat. Though every rule may be broken it must be worth its weight in gold to do so. But in general, I think without rules there would be too many choices in writing. As I approach a writing project I try to sniff out the rules of my world and if there was a rule that the reader would understand, that would support using a verb other than said, then by all means. But, I am also always wary of novelty or sentimentality. They can quickly lead to pretentious prose.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Very true! But on the other side of this coin, I see many published writers overdoing this (in my opinion). Too oftem I encounter a page of dialogue with very few tags,and I find myself having to backtrack to decide who is taking which position.

    Beats can help too. A beat is a small action between fragments of dialogue. It breaks the flow of the dialogue, introducing pauses, and it can also help ground the reader as to who is speaking.
     
  11. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I use said the most, or often nothing at all if the conversation is between two people. I try to vary it a little because said to much can get tedious. Occasionally I'll use replied if the character is answering another.
     
  12. TwinPanther13
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    TwinPanther13 Contributing Member

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    So it is ok to use said often. I tried to avoid it because it became redundant, but I do see it used often by other writer's.

    I will remember this.
     
  13. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, Twin, like others have said, it's good to avoid using tags at all when possible, if it's not going to create confusion. I've only read of of Hemmingway's books, but he has pages and pages of little more than dialogue, and you don't get confused as long as you've been paying attention to what each character is like.
     
  14. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I always use the words 'said, questioned, asked, snorted, muttered, groaned' as my big words there. Anything else is removing the flow.
     
  15. Jack
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    Jack Contributing Member

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    I occasionally use the following words:
    Hopefully this might help you?

    I will use the past tense for this matter...

    Replied, asked, questioned, said, exclaimed, yelled, screamed, laughed, chuckled, responded, giggled, murmured, exailed, etc.
    You may also incorporate some opposites from these.
     
  16. ArckAngel
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    ArckAngel Member

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    I've always been a fan of the voice description.
    "Who's there?" Fred's voice rough and dry.
     
  17. Bob Magness
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    Bob Magness Senior Member

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    Well, as others have said it is best to limit the tags as much as you can without confusing the readers. When you do use a tag it is best to limit it to said. No one will ever do it 100% but it isn’t a bad goal to strive for.

    I also hate the adverbs attached to the dialogue tags.

    “Hurry!” said John loudly.
    “Are you kidding?” asked Sue incredulously.

    I mean, give the reader a little bit of credit.
     
  18. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that the context, words chosen, and reactions of the other person involved in the dialogue are usually enough to convey how something has been said.
     
  19. JoelMarriott
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    JoelMarriott New Member

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    Wow, i'm learning new things every day. If my old English teacher read this, she would have a heart attack!

    5 years of secondary (high) school told me to always use "he said" and "she said" 100% of the time, and use a verb to direct how they speak - i'm glad I've found out bending the rules in certain places is sometimes beneficial, maybe now I can give my pieces more edge!
     
  20. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Just because somebody is published and they give some "advice" doesn't make it absolute. Take everybody's advice with a grain of salt--even beststelling authors. ESPECIALLY if they say to NEVER or ALWAYS do something a particular way. Try to avoid absolutes.

    While writers shouldn't go out of their way to avoid using "said," I feel there's nothing wrong with alternate words if the situation warrants them. You'll find some writers who insist otherwise, but sometimes people really DO giggle their speech, or mutter, or hiss. And just because there's an exclamation mark at the end of a piece of dialogue doesn't necessarily mean the character has just screamed or yelled something--they could just be talking loudly--so it's okay at times to use "screamed" or "yelled" after there's been an exclamation mark. It's not necessarily redundant. It's clarifying. One can't always clarify everything just in the way that a piece of dialogue is written, so speech tags are then necessary.

    I might use what are sneeringly called "said-bookisms" a bit too much, but they're not the black plague. They're fine as long as you know when to use them and when not to. When I look at a chapter of mine I notice that, even though there are plenty of "muttered"s and "grumbled"s and "yelled"s and "sighed"s and whatnot, I actually use "said" a lot more than I thought.
     
  21. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sometimes, yes, but you know when someone says something sarcastic, but you don't always get that it has been said sarcastically.

    One thing I like to do to avoid that though is, instead of writing about how he said he, you culd say something like, "Bob said, with a roll of his eyes", rather than Bob said sarcastically.

    I think it depends on the situation to be honest. If the pace is fast and tense, use said, as you want the dialoge to be the main point. If the atmosphere is relaxed and descriptive, I think that mentioned how the dialoge was spoken, by using words such as shrieked and whispered can add to the peice.
     
  22. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Hm, three pages worth of replies. I doubt I will add anything new, but here goes...

    I am sure that the article was referring to the fact that many writers just go berserk on the flagging and tagging of dialogue. They go out of their way to find new and ever more flowery verbs to express how the dialogue was delivered. This habit kinda' falls under the give 'um an inch and they'll take a yard rule. I think the writer of said article was just swinging the pendulum in the other direction.

    I personally favor using as little flagging and tagging as possible. Most often it is completely obvious as to who has just delivered the line of dialogue and there is no tag needed. The use of flowery verbiage to denote the way the dialogue was delivered falls under tell instead of show, and I feel is a weak way of getting the point across. Much better to use the tone of the scene and the dialogue itself to get point across.
     
  23. Alex_Hartman
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    Alex_Hartman Contributing Member

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    This is slightly off topic.

    But it's interesting finding out that when your fifth and sixth grade teachers told you that you weren't allowed to use "said" because it would make your writing better to use a speaker tag, they were wrong.

    And then everything you always thought was right, turns out that it was never right at all. It's almost hard to keep up with what you should and shouldn't do when you write.

    Don't use speaker tags.

    Don't fluff things up with over description.

    Don't use big words.

    I think reading through the forums and other books about writing (and just from reading in general), I've learned that there's a huge handful of crap that earlier teachers told me.
     
  24. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Teachers aren't always right. I had a sixth grade teacher, Miss Wilbur, who insisted that the power in household outlets was direct current "because the lights don't flicker."

    It's probably just as well that this low-wattage teacher only taught two science lessons the entire year.
     
  25. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, Alex, the thing about that is that when you're in elementary school, you're taught how to use the words and what the words mean. A director I once listened to talking about different takes the actor did when she was angry said that at first she did it really big and then toned it down for the take that ended up in the movie. The same sort of thing applies here. Some writers think adverbs should be used sparingly (yes, I know). I agree with that because most of the time there are more interesting ways to express what the word is expressing or what it's telling the reader is obvious anyway, e.g. "He said sadly" You should know from the context that he's sad. But we can't cut them out of our writing entirely, so we have to learn how to use them. The best way to do that is to use them all the time at first.

    Then there is also the fact that most teachers are not actual writers. They know what skills they have to teach their students based on what is in the curriculum and the exemplars of what the work should look like. They don't necessarily have the same experience and understanding of what makes a piece of writing good that experienced writers have.
     

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