1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    said said said yawn

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by doggiedude, May 9, 2016.

    I'm trying to clean up my overuse of "said" in dialogue. I'm wondering how grammatically correct this is.

    William was surprised by that and said, “Really? They can do that?”

    William was surprised by that, “Really? They can do that?”

    Can I do that second version & still be correct?
     
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  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Yes you can but it would have to be a stop rather than a comma before the dialogue.
    In most cases, you can usually drop any form of 'said' from the sentence and it still works.
    The only reason to do it is to assert who's talking in talking scenes with lots of back and forth.
     
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  3. KokoN
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    KokoN Active Member

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    Yep A.M.P is correc. It should read,

    William was surprised by that. "Really? They can do that?"

    You can definitely eliminate "said" by just including an action by the speaking character in the same paragraph. The assumption is that the same character has then said the dialogue, so adding the words "and said" or "he said" could be considered redundant.

    However, as I read somewhere once, the word "said" is something of an "invisible" word. People just skim over it while reading, and while it may leap out at you, it's unlikely to do so for the reader. What's far more distracting is when people use a bunch of weird synonyms instead of "said." (It's okay to do sometimes but can get annoying when over done.) I really wouldn't worry too much about getting rid of the word "said." In some ways it's like trying to get rid of the word "the" or "a." It's not in the way so just leave it be. In this sentence though removing it is fine because the word is redundant, as discussed above.
     
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  4. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I'd just eliminate the whole of before the "Really? They can do that?"

    It conveys surprise quite nicely on it's own :)
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, you need the full stop in the second example. You can use beats instead of saying "said," but honestly I feel like said becomes pretty much invisible for the reader. Writers fixate on it, readers gloss right over it.
     
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  6. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, but that "surprise" thing might be serving as a dialogue tag, to let the reader know who says the line. Depending on what came before and what goes after. However, the writer can find other ways to show, rather than tell, William's surprise.

    William's mouth fell open. "Really? They can do that?" (or some physical action that shows the reader he's surprised....)

    "Said" does call attention to itself if it's used every third or fourth line, especially if it's the only dialogue tag the writer employs. Sorry. I have stopped reading books that do this, just because I don't feel anything for the characters. Readers do notice. It's only invisible when it gets woven in with other methods of dialogue attribution as well.

    "Said" rarely conveys anything other than a normal tone of voice and unemotional statements. If you want every line to be uttered in a deadpan way, fair enough. But it's perfectly okay to choose other words as well, as long as they aren't overly melodramatic in the wrong places or too 'creative.' The best way to learn what works is to read your favourite books and take note of how the writers handle their dialogue. You should get a feel for it quickly, if you see what it is they're doing. If you love Elmore Leonard, you'll love this said said said said thing. If you're like me, it will put you right off.

    I do suspect that most accomplished writers use action beats more often than any other kind of tagging. (The William's mouth fell open bit above is an action tag.) It shows the reader what the speaker is doing, as well as what they are saying. This makes for a much richer picture in most cases. Kills two birds with one stone, so to speak, and avoids silly 'said' substitutes.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't agree with this. If you're relying on the tag to convey emotion and tone, you need to rework the dialogue itself. It's not doing its job.
     
  8. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    What they said - 'said' is pretty much invisible. I'd worry far more about overusing other tags than overusing said.

    What readers may notice is the Character said, "Thing." construction because it's so unusual. "Thing," said character. (or "Thing," character said. as Steerpike pointed out) is the norm.
     
    Last edited: May 9, 2016
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Or "Thing," character said. That's what I see most commonly. Is it different across the pond?
     
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  10. Lifeline
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    Lifeline The Dark - not in Wonderland Supporter Contributor

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    I'd think it depends on the kind of voice you are using. I don't use 'said' (I do believe I have never, ever used it), but then this is just me. You can use any number of ways to convey surprise, as @jannert said. :D
     
  11. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    Oh, that bit I never notice. I think 'character said' is probably more common here, too.
     
  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    But if that's what they actually said...? :)

    "Really? They can do that?"

    Surely you can conceive of instances where that line would be said differently. Somebody can be pleasantly surprised. They can also be horrified. They can be sarcastic. They can be excited. They can be totally unconvinced. They can be genuinely seeking information. They can be really angry. You just plonk 'said' after that phrase and move on, you lose nuance.

    Writing is a creative and exciting process—as is reading. I wouldn't try to suck life out of the process, by avoiding specific emotions or effects for fear of creating drama. Just do what achieves the effect you want, and to hell with the absolutes.
     
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  13. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I've always been curious about it. I had an editor, long ago, change my said Character to Character said, and I've used the latter since then. And while it seems to be more common, I do see the other. I didn't know if one was actually considered more standard, or if that was a quirk of an individual editor.
     
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  14. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Sure, but you're not reading that in a vacuum. It's all within the context of the story, the characters the ongoing conversation etc. I think it is better to let all of that other stuff tell the reader how it is being said. If, on the other hand, the way it is being said isn't clear from context etc., and you can't really make it clear by those mechanisms, then I'd add in something extra to tell the reader how it is being said. Yes, sometimes you might need that for nuance, but in my view it should be more of a last resort, after you've exhausted other possibilities for the same nuance, like stronger dialogue, characterization, context, and so on.
     
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  15. Wayjor Frippery
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    Wayjor Frippery Contributing Member

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    Yes, it is. Brits tend to use said name more than the other way round.
     
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  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks. I read a fair amount by Brits, so I've seen it a lot, I just never stopped to think about whether the distinction might be based along those lines.
     
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  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I'd vote for quirk of individual editor! :)
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Probably. Funny thing is that I was just starting out, so it stuck with me and I've done it that way since. But I do actually notice how it is done when I read, and these days it seems like Character said is a lot more common among American writers. I don't see much difference in the effectiveness of either, though.
     
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  19. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Well, I agree to some extent. I do think strong dialogue is a skill we should all learn, and bolstering weak dialogue with overblown tags isn't a good habit to get into. But tagging serves a different purpose than just propping up weak dialogue. It also keeps readers on track as to who is speaking. And if you can vary that, using all the tools at your disposal, why not?

    Tagging variety renders itself invisible to a reader, not a repetitious 'said said said.' In my opinion anyway.
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Contributor

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    It's a quirk but it's not all that rare. I had one critiquer do the same thing, and frankly I thought she was crazy and ignored her suggestions. I've since seen a few people on writing boards say said Character irritates them... and I still think they're crazy.

    I've seen others say you shouldn't mix them up, and have said Character and Character said in the same book. Again, not something I'm going to act on. I use them both and never notice which way I'm doing it in a particular tag.

    I do know that said Character was prevalent in older books (maybe only British ones?) so I guess some people consider it old fashioned. It's completely invisible to me.
     
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  21. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I use it to keep the reader oriented. But I tend not to use it to characterize the dialogue as being said in a particular way (unless it is said in a way that is contrary to what it would appear based on the context etc.). Even then, I'd rather use some other mechanism than straight out telling the reader via a tag or tag modifier.
     
  22. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It's invisible to me, either way. Then again, I read a lot of old novels so maybe I'm used to seeing it a lot.
     
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  23. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As already mentioned, the second version needs a full stop before the dialogue, then it's perfectly fine. I'm only here to drop a few terms for the sake of pedantry. :)

    This version:

    William was surprised by that and said, “Really? They can do that?”

    ...is a dialogue tag. A complex tag, but a tag nonetheless. It is grammatically and syntactically part of the sentence that includes the dialogue, hence the comma.

    This version:

    William was surprised by that. “Really? They can do that?”

    ... is called a beat. It is not part of the sentence of dialogue, hence the full stop (period). It also nearly always only implies who spoke, rather than directly stating it.

    Both dialogue tags and beats are collectively called attributions.
     
  24. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Now that you've mentioned this, I'll keep a lookout for the form. I read lots of both American and British modern books, so I'll try to notice.
     
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  25. Raven484
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    Raven484 Contributing Member

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    I can't stand the whole "Said" issue. You could put out an entire dialog with just said being used. You will be critiqued and told you are using said too much. So you put out another piece of work with a couple saids thrown in and spice it up with a couple other verbs like replied, uttered, whispered, groaned, etc. Then you get critiqued that you should replace them with just "said". Sometimes you get the same criticism from the same person.
    How do you win?
    Dude you should have just used said instead of whispered. No dude, the character didn't say it in a normal voice, he or she whispered it! Some days I just want to put a gun in my mouth, no one is ever satisfied.
     

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