1. scribbledhopes
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    scribbledhopes Member

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    to "Said" or "not to said" Which is best?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by scribbledhopes, Jun 25, 2012.

    Hey guys,

    I keep getting mixed advice about this in various books that I read. Some feel the dialog description "said" should be used in ninety percent of all dialogs because it becomes invisible to the reader. Yet other books mention that "said" can become very boring very quickly and needs action if involved in a detailed on lengthy conversation.

    My instinct is to pepper the dialog with action: Asked, offered, noted, replied, ect.. Sometimes I add a descriptive modifier (not sure if that is the correct term), "Bob asked looking confused." I wonder sometimes if that is okay.

    I feel like using "said" should be 40% of the time or when the conversation is short and quick. It could be just my rookie skills talking. It would help if the opinions of the writers of the books lined up. I wonder if it is just a question of style opposed to bad writing technique.

    When I look back at some of my favorite writers (I do this a lot for sentence structure tips) I notice they do use a lot of action dialog or descriptive modifiers.

    It is a topic as bad and as confusing to me as the use of semicolons, but that is a thread all by itself. (Some writers think they are poison and yet some find it an adequate alternative to a conjunction.)



    Any help would be appreciated. Thanks, Dave..
     
  2. Mokrie Dela
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    Mokrie Dela Member

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    The way i look at it is "Said" should only be used if it's needed. If two people are talking, you don't need to:

    "Hi." Bob said.
    "How you doing" Alan said.
    "You ok?" Bob said.
    "Yeah not bad" Alan said.

    Most of the times you'd use different words:

    "Hi." Bob said.
    "How you doing?" Alan greeted.
    "You ok?" Bob asked.
    "Yeah." Alan nodded.

    and even then that's not needed.

    "Hi." Bob said to Alan.
    "How you doing?"
    "You ok?"
    "Yeah."

    Look at your dialog and ask yourself: does this word add anything to it? The example of "You ok?" does not need "said" after it because, with two speakers, you've established who's talking. Also, it doesn't even need "asked" after it, because it's clear it's a question.

    With your work, i think reviewing and proof reading is good here - don't always compare yourself to other writers, as their style may differ, but i think unless the words add soemthing to the intent or flow to the dialog, leave it out (if for example someone asked agrily, then adding "asked angrily" is appropriate. If he's asking it 'normally' then ask yourself, is "said" "asked" etc needed?
     
  3. thetyper
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    thetyper Member

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    This ^^. Write your dialogue, leave it a while, come back when it's fresh and only use "said' when it's not clear who is speaking. Less is more! And personally I wouldn't use too many words other than "said", although I have used replied a bit I think.
     
  4. Estrade
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    Estrade Member

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    I think you're confusing two good pieces of advice, scribbledhopes.

    Firstly, "said" is the default speech tag because it pretty much becomes invisible to a reader. Sometimes said really isn't appropriate, so you'll need something like whispered, sang or shouted. The other alternatives tend to have a cluttering effect on the prose and are a lot less necessary than you think. You'll have to forget some of what they teach in schools, because they encourage children to use as many alternative tags as possible. It's not generally a good plan unless you're writing high fantasy or similar. And everyone has their own preferences about what is an okay exception. But I would advise anyone to stick with "said" when they need a tag.

    So, secondly - be sparing. Sometimes "said" is exactly the kind of non-event you need, but, as illustrated above, you can imply by a paragraph break, or use action / description in the place of tags*. That usually results in stronger writing, but it can get beat-heavy, (the flow of dialogue gets held up by the constant intrusion of minor details) or readers lose track of the speaker. So be prepared to consider that.

    *To illustrate that:

    Instead of:

    "Where are my shoes?" Bob asked, looking confused.

    you could try:

    "Where are my shoes?" Bob looked confused.

    or:

    "Where are my shoes?" Bob looked all around.
     
  5. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Instead of depending on the advice from 'how to write' books, consider studying novels in the genre you're writing and that you've enjoyed.

    See how those authors approached the issue of using 'said' in the dialogue tag. How often did they use it? How often did they use another descriptor such as 'yelled' and what appeared to make the difference use of 'yelled' better than said? When did they use action of a character or structure of the dialogue to enable the reader to identify the speaker? How did they accomplish this effectively? What about using modifying information 'said after sneering at the politician'.

    Studying what has been successful by several authors and then modifying it to your needs and writing style might be the best way to go.
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely 'said' becomes invisible, which is good because dialogue tags are not what you want the reader focused on. Note the last bit - dialogue tags are not what you want the reader focused on. Unless what the character says is ambiguous even within the context, there's no good reason to use "other words" for said. For example, Character A is responding to Character B and it's possible that A could respond angrily, sarcastically, or ironically. It could be difficult to show the subtle difference between those reactions so you include a modifier. Otherwise the only reason to include a dialogue tag is to clarify who is talking.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...that's not really 'action'... they're just alternative speech verbs to 'said'...

    ...action would be what you added here:
    ...but a comma is needed after 'asked'...

    do what TWE advises and just see how the best writers out there do it and no conflicting how-to advice will confuse you...

    mokrie...
    ...you need to watch your punctuation... see corrections in red:

     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Remember that the purpose of a dialogue tag is to identify who is speaking. For that reason, you can often omit the dialogue tags completely if it is clear from the context who is speaking at the time (an occasional reminder in a lengthy conversation is still a good idea).

    Try to make the dialogue stand on its own, and you can eliminate a lot of qualifiers and forced verbs in the tags.

    Most of your dialogue tag verbs should be said or asked, because they virtually disappear to the reader. Occasionally, you might need shouted, shrieked, mumbled, whispered, etc, particularly if the conversation's tone is not yet established or has abruptly changed. But make sure your verb is one that can actually articulate speech. You cannot really gasp, hiss, sob, or choke a sentence, so don't use those as tag verbs.

    Finally, don't overlook the use of beats, which are short action sentences interspersed in the dialogue. Beats are actions performed by the speaker, and they help ground the conversation back to the scene. They can also manifest pauses. Beats, unlike dialogue tags, are separate sentences, so they always begin with a capital letters and end with a sentence-ending punctuation.
     
  9. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with Cog. Especially on the helpfulness of beats. Like anything else, they can be misused too. But I've found them to be quite helpful in my own writing.
     
  10. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    My thinking, and this might not be worth much, is this:

    The dialog should do the heavy lifting, not the tag. So use "said/asked" as much as possible and only use another word if you absolutely need to. This is so the reader won't concentrate on the dialog tag, but on the dialog itself. If a reader needs to shout or whisper, try to use the "show don't tell" rule by making the character imply the tone of voice. For instance, if the character is whispering, have him motion another character to lean in, then look around suspiciously, and block his mouth with a hand so the conversation is private. By that logic, I would say even 95% of tags should use only said or asked, because everything else can be better conveyed in "show don't tell." You don't need to tell the reader someone's shouting when you've established that he's angry. Then again, telling works better in some cases, so use as needed.

    Having said that, I'd advise using a beat instead of a tag whenever possible. The "he said/she asked" tags are implied by the character saying or asking. So it goes back to the economy of words rule: cut out whatever isn't useful. If you have

    you don't need "he said/she whispered." It's superfluous. I try to fit in a beat whenever a dialog tag isn't useful. When do you need a dialog tag more than a beat? Generally when the speakers are trying to be subtle, you're making your narration quick, etc. You'll get the hang of it after a few drafts.
     
  11. Darkkin
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    Darkkin Reflection of a nobody Contributor

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    Dialogue should flow, but using said in 90% of the lines is like trying to read through a cheese grater. Said might become invisible to some readers, but not all of them. Beat tags are one the best ways to add dash to conversation. They bring characters to life, giving them far more dimension. Watch people when they talk, there is always infliction, small movements, occasionally a catch phrase...No one just stands perfectly still. Look for the little eye movements, flickering expressions. There is always something. Imagine your MC's expressions when he/she speaks, do they have tells, mannerisms? It is the little things, which when subtly noted can make a world of difference.

    - Darkkin
     
  12. ithestargazer
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    ithestargazer Active Member

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    One of the most frustrating things to read is dialogue where the writer feels the need to 'tag' every sentence with a said, asked, replied, stated, etc. These words are fine when they're indicating a speaker but they don't have to be used after all speech. I notice that some writers (especially in YA which is what I most frequently read) do this. I also notice that a lot of writers try desperately to use flowery language to over-describe speech which can really disrupt the pace, especially in action sequences. I think Cog had some examples of verb usages. When a writer wants to describe the setting, mannerisms, character movements, action, etc, I prefer the use of beats too. They do a similar job to the 'said' tag but they offer more excitement and insight for the reader.
     
  13. josie101
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    josie101 Member

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    I totally agree and understand what you are saying, sometimes i even find myself writing 'said' too many times in my writin and try to use other dialouge actions, but it should flow naturally if you think 'said' should be included, theres nothing dangerous about putting it in, just the lack of descriptive proffessionality ( i dont know if thats a term)
     
  14. killbill
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    killbill Contributing Member

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    But IMO your writing is much more stronger if you can make the readers imagine all those mannerisms without the tags. My favorite example is The Road ; very very less beats and tags, and most of the times no tags at all because there are mostly only two persons in most of the scenes. Despite that the context is so clear that i could imagine their facial expression as they converse. However, my advice is to use "said/asked" tags when there is the slightest chance of any confusion, and use alternative speech verbs and beats very sparingly. This advice is particularly useful for beginner writers because it helps develop writing stronger dialogues and prose.

    edit: One more thing I forgot to mentioned. As I said beats and speech verbs are okay if you use sparingly, but new writers tend to over do it while trying to imitate real mannerisms in dialogues. But fictional dialogues are not real conversations. Just as we should avoid useless 'greetings' we don't need to show all the mannerisms of real conversations through tags and beats.
     
  15. scribbledhopes
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    scribbledhopes Member

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    Thanks Everyone,

    That helped a great deal. Actually researching beat tags was very enlightening. I was using them and didn't realize I was worming them in as I went. I think I was doing it because it sounded right to my ear. When I read what I wrote out loud to myself I found the said tags I strung in a row came accross chopy. Unhappy with the flow, I had an urge to fix it and was using beat tags to help. Now I feel a bit better knowing I wasn't so much cheating as going with the flow. .

    I do enjoy writing but often feel I can pull it off because I have read so much, not because I read books on it. As if I took a little chunk of each author's style with me as I went. Actually I was writing long before I picked up a book on novel writing. I started picking up grammar books when I realized I had a serious flaw. I needed to learn the proper use of grammar and punctuation and polish my skills. I had a horrible time with run on sentences and comma splices. This led to various grammar books and in that mix a splatter of "how to books on novels."

    The grammar books were a huge help and I often read them over and over to keep the concepts fresh. What wasn't so much help was the "how to novel guides." The concepts are sound but go against my natural grain. Sometimes I run into the "said" confusions that make me scratch my head.

    The time you spent on this feedback is extremely useful. It is appreciated more than you know. Still working on the grammar but it is improving. I just need to go over those books about a dozen more times. I have a thick skull.

    Dave
     

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