1. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    using other verbs instead of "said"

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by starseed, May 11, 2009.

    One of the first things I ever read about writing was that it was a sign of an amateur to use action words in place of the word "said" such as "laughed" "screamed" "asked". The idea was that the nature of the dialogue should let the reader know how the character is speaking and with what tone, etc.

    I took this advice to heart when I first began my book but now I have decided to use other verbs here and there throughout my story. I feel it makes the story more colorful and interesting.

    What do you think? Do you use other action words instead of sticking with "said"?

    note- I often don't use any of these words, my favorite technique is to mix the dialogue with a bit of narrative such as:

    Nancy picked up her tea cup and thoughtfully looked at it. "I just haven't been the same since we moved here."
     
  2. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think never using "said" is a definite sign of an amateur. Like any word, you use it when you have to, and sometimes, people are just saying things. I don't consciously try to avoid using it, I just write what I need to to make the story good. If someone is laughing something, or screaming something, then I'll write that, but I'm not gonna try to avoid "said" for no reason. And yeah, usually the context is enough but sometimes its necessary to highlight the particular action or emotion so you should use them then. So yeah.
     
  3. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Overusing other words is the sign of an amateur. Sprinkle it around here and there, and you're just adding a bit of variety. Besides, sometimes people really do laugh their words out, or hiss, etc.

    Though I agree with your last point. If you can avoid a dialogue tag without it confusing things, I'd say do so.
     
  4. Pliny
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    Pliny Member

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    Exactly this. It's unrealistic to have a cast of speakers who never just say things, but it's equally unrealistic to have characters who only say things.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The word "said" virtually disappears to the reader. You, the writer, will feel it is overused when in fact it is not.

    However, all the "variety" words you use instead will stand out. Stick mostly to said and asked, and you'll be better off. Also, you can often omit the tag entirely.
     
  6. democat
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    democat Member

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    I went through a little bit of my writing to see what I did - I use verbs a lot less than I thought I did. But probably still to much, I'll most definitely watch myself in the future.

    I'll write things like - 'Who are you?' He yelled - If the dialogue in question is ambiguous and could be either spoken or with a raised voice. Something I've noticed I do it give a facial movement or something straight after dialogue. If there's no tone or character ambiguity I generally write nothing.

    What about 'responded' or 'answered'? I often use these to tag a character answering a question.
     
  7. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I would say, 9 out of 10 times I'll use "said."

    I may use "lied," if I want to reveal to the reader that the speaker is lying with a single word. (A specific use of "lied" that stands out in my mind as a well-placed "non-said" verb, is the opening chapter of the Da Vinci Code, when the curator of the Louvre was speaking to his murderer.)

    Another I sometimes use is "repeated." Though the reader usually knows it's a repeat, having read it the first time, it seems that it's sometimes appropriate, depending on the context.

    I think the occasional use of a non-said verb is okay, as long as it's occasional and appropriate. The amateur, I think, will go out of his way to avoid "said" because he thinks other verbs sound fancier.

    Cognito is absolutely correct on the reason to prefer "said," but I wouldn't call it a steadfast rule that one must never use another verb to indicate conversation.

    One use of said I don't like (but have seen) is when "said" is used in reference to a question. I prefer "asked" after a question. "Said" just doesn't seem right to me in that instance, though, as I said, I've seen it done.

    I received one piece of constructive criticism about my writing, that I use too many adverbs, and have since strived to avoid that error. One can use adverbs to qualify "said" as follows:

    "Get over here!" he yelled.

    "Get over here!" he said loudly.

    But too many adverbs is not good either, and often, you can tell he's yelling from the context. Better to show than tell.

    "Get over here," he said, red-faced, a blue vein popping from his forehead.

    Charlie
     
  8. Dcoin
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    Dcoin Contributing Member

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    I have also read the golden rule about 'said', but I wonder out loud if this rule applies to all genre and age groups.

    A quick look at Harry Potter demonstrates ample usage of verbs to describe dialogue?

    Personally I have never understood the rule. I have always like adding verbs. Then again I am an amateur so....?
     
  9. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What Cogito said is the route to take. Sure, using other variations on occasion isn't a problem and may improve a piece, but the major point of the dialogue tag is to help the reader keep straight who is speaking.

    Terry
     
  10. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have you ever tried using these 'other' verbs to produce words?

    I like to practice the line of dialogue to see if it's possible to shout (whatever the line is). E.g "Why don't you just fasten the line to the end of the boat?" is pretty much impossible to shout comfortably unless you have the lungs of an opera singer, but: "Fasten the line to the end!" is okay to shout or yell.

    I'm able to whisper words, but nothing recognisible comes out at all when I 'hiss'. When I 'laugh/giggle' words I pause when the words are comng out, so really I'm just saying them. Same with 'sob/hiccup'.

    'Pleading/imploring' is better left for the reader to deduce from the words said. Same for 'enquire/interrogate/request', really, although it seems to be useful on the odd occasion to indicate pomposity or something. I think it's reasonable to use 'ask' when the character is asking a plain question, but not strictly necessary, since the question mark is there, isn't it?

    And I certainly do find anything but a very subtle amount of tags obtrusive--and I don't care much for Harry Potter as far as writing style goes although it's not bad. It's the story that I admire.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Complete agreement. These are mechanical words, they carry no real weight of meaning in the story except to link other parts together. They are as invisible as and/to/the/but etc.

    If you feel like you need a change, try not tagging a bit of dialogue with a he said/she said when the speaker is obvious. Instead, go to an action from the same person that accompanies the dialogue.

    "I really don't care," said Matthew as he lit a cigarette in frustration.

    can also be...

    "I really don't care." Matthew lit a cigarette in frustration.
     
  12. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with the above. If I can't think of a word and don't want to use said, though, I say what that character did:

     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The portion in blue is known as a beat. It breaks the dialogue up a bit by interspersing small actions, and can also make a tag unnecessary.
     
  14. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    Yes, I do this, as well.

    But you must remember the context of the dialogue must fit with the actual tags or the action words being replaced with said, you understand? So to use the example another board member used here:

    This is great. The "yelled" makes sense with the exclaimation mark and the context of the sentence.

    This is horrible. The action drags and does not flow with the dialogue. It reads choppy.

    This makes no sense whatsoever. If he's just "saying" and talking regularly, why would his face be red and a blue vein pop? In this case, I'd replace said with "bawled" or "bellow" and replace that comma with two exclaimation mark.
     
  15. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    EyezForYou, I disagree with your last example and kinda with your first.

    "Get over here!" he yelled.

    That's kind of redundant, though it is possible to have an exclamation mark at the end of a whispered sentence, so I can see how you might benefit from adding "yelled."

    "Get over here," he said, red-faced, a blue vein popping from his forehead.

    That makes perfect sense. You can be so angry that your heart's about to burst, and yet speak in an inside voice. I, for one, never yell when I'm angry, no matter how angry I get. Also, if you're planning to go professional, never use two punctuation marks.
     
  16. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Does that make me a beatnik, 'cause that's pretty much what I do whenever possible. :cool:

    [​IMG]
     
  17. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    What? Why do you think it's whispered?
    I took those examples as is. Not including the context. Do you consider King a professional or an amateur? Do you know how many exclaimation marks he used in "The Body"? Around twenty. So does that make him unprofessional like? Really, does this make sense? That if you use over one exclaimation mark you're an unprofessional?

    For the last sentence, I would've used "growled" or "grimaced," instead, if we take in your account, that he's whispering or trying to control his rage. Not "said." Said is bland in this situation. Or... even better:

    "Get over here," he snarled.

    If we were really to go your way, I'd use the word, "beckon." Cause "said" just doesn't make sense in the context of the situation.


    "Get over here." Maltese beckoned, unbuckling his belt. His daughter huddled in the corner, sobbing.
     
  18. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    I think you misunderstood everything I just said. >_<

    I don't think the first thing is whispered, I said it's possible to have an exclamation point at the end of a whispered sentence. Say you're a soldier infiltrating an enemy camp. One of your buddies does something reckless, like trying to pick a sleeping enemy's pocket for money. You say "Stop that!" but you're not yelling, because you don't want the guy to wake up. In this case, the exclamation mark is more an indication of your tone, not your volume.

    I would also use "snarled" or somesuch in the other example. I was just saying that it's not wrong by any means to use "said," as your description of the vein popping and all that was quite enough to get across that he's angry.

    As for the exclamation mark bit, I meant don't use more than one punctuation mark at a time, not in total through the whole story.

    Hopefully that's a little clearer than mud this time. :rolleyes:
     
  19. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    [​IMG]
     
  20. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    Not so much. We're still half-talking about using said or other verbs. :cool:

    I kind of want to know how that train's master managed that, though...
     
  21. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    Yes, this is my favorite way to do it, and the way I prefer to read it as well.

    I kind of agree on that. The calmly spoken words followed by a vein popping out of his head would just make me think the guy was having a sudden stroke or something. lol :)

    True. I guess it's just the way I read it. Maybe if it were worded slightly different, perhaps with the description in front, that way the reader gets the image of him red faced and angry before hearing what he says, like:

    His face was flushed and a vein was popping out of his forehead.

    "Get over here."


    I also agree that you can exclaim a whisper.

    What are you guys referring to, I missed that somehow. Do you mean using two marks like: WHAT?!
     
  22. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I would not recommend doing this. Using one or the other is better IMO.

    "Get over here," he yelled. << No need for the exclamation point because yelled does the job.

    Sam shook his fist. "Get over here!" << even then the exclamation point is really not needed.

    Sam chased after her.
    "I'm leaving," Jamie said.
    "Get back here!"

    The context there makes it clear that Sam is the one yelling.

    Anyway, I try to not use tags unless it is not clear who is talking without one. And even then I prefer beats. I try to never have a big chunk of dialog without breaking it up with narration of some type, unless the dialog is so engaging that to break it up would weaken it.
     
  23. DRLynn
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    DRLynn New Member

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    I think that you need a good mix of verbs concerning dialogue and it helps the reader to know how someone is saying something. Sometimes, no matter how you write the sentence, the meaning isn't clear without a little clarification and mix it up with verbs can add some style to the story, too. :)
     
  24. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    If it is not clear how they are saying something then add context, action, rather than other said verbs.

    If you post an example where you had to used another said verb, I could show you how to make it clear how he said it without using that other said verb.
     
  25. starseed
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    starseed Contributing Member

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    I disagree about the exclamation marks. I think it looks really weird without them personally, especially if you know by the context that the person is yelling.
     

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