1. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Why "said" should remain dead.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Pixiebells, Aug 15, 2015.

    I'm sure we've all come across articles that remind us that "said" is unacceptable to use as one of your main (or only), dialogue tags and I personally agree. "Said", to me, used too often can seem lazy, or like it's missing an opportunity to give your readers a deeper look at what's going on in that moment with your precious characters and their stories we're so excited to tell our readers!

    I'm so committed that if I read an advice article and they say it's all right to use "said" most of the time, I will stop reading the article and never read it again. (I've actually done that--twice.) I even went through my novel when it was one huge document, and replaced "said" each time it was used with something better.

    HOWEVER --just because a book uses "said" often does not make it a bad or poorly written book, or made the author a bad one, either. For example, I'm currently listening to an audiobook of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and Harriet Beecher Stowe uses "said" most of the time, with an adverb attached. Does that make it any less of a brilliant, dramatic story? Of course not! Or a more modern example: In the Harry Potter series, "said" was everywhere. But it was still a fantastic, well-written enjoyable story each time.

    Here are a few examples from my novel. These are a few opportunities which would've been missed, had "said" been used:

    Opportunity #1 A chance to display character: Which one tells you more about the character speaking, Francis?

    a) "Margret, come here and look at this." Francis said to his wife.

    OR...

    b) "Margret, come here and look at this." Francis instructed his wife.

    *What do we now know about Francis?

    Opportunity #2: Helping a character distinguish what they mean:

    a) "I don't hate religion." Will said. "I just find most of it highly questionable."

    OR...

    b) "I don't hate religion." Will clarified. "I just find most of it highly questionable."

    *Do we get a little more insight as to whether or not Will hates religion?

    Opportunity #3: It can pack an emotional punch:

    a) "I know what this is about: me." Francis said. "You're doing this to me."

    OR...

    b) "I know what this is about: me." Francis theorized. "You're doing this to me."

    *Are we hit harder with Francis's emotions/state of mind?

    Opportunity #4: It can describe how the character is talking (and even feeling):

    a) "Like hell you did nothing!" Augustus said, outraged.

    OR...

    b) "Like hell you did nothing!" Augustus barked, outraged.

    *Can we hear Augustus's voice in the second one?

    Opportunity # 5: It just sounds better.

    a) "Do you know why I like Champagne?"

    "Why's that?"

    "The bubbles, because, they make me laugh!" She cutely said in a tipsy giggle.

    OR...

    b) "Do you know why I like Champagne?"

    "Why's that?"

    "The bubbles, because, they make me laugh!" She cutely fluttered, in a tipsy giggle.

    *Doesn't that sound better?

    Feel free to share your own examples where you picked something much more colorful than "said" so we can check it out! If you have any advice, insights or resources on the topic, add in!
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
  2. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    If you're going to use a tag, "said" is best the vast majority of the time. Going with no tag and/or using a beat is better.

    When I see writers trying hard to come up with anything other than "said," it strikes me as amateur writing. Yes, there are times when it makes sense to deviate, but most often when you want a tag going with the practically invisible "said" is the way to go.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
  3. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Ironically, I see a constant use of "said" as amateur writing. (Weird, right?) ;)
     
  4. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I just finished reading the dialog section of the editing book I am reading.

    In all of the dialog discussion in the book, they essentially said if the reader does not get your meaning from the dialog itself, then changing said to something else is forcing the reader to interpret the dialog a certain way, and indicates lack of fitness for purpose in the dialog itself.

    If, however, the dialog already indicates the now changed attribution, it is belaboring the point.

    If I look at the first example:

    The second sentence does exactly what you suggest: it tells you more. It does not show you.

    If I may take a liberty, for effect?

    "Margret, come here and look at this." Francis said.
    "Margret, come here and look at this." Francis demanded.

    Let's assume for reasons of context that the relationship is already clear and we do not need to mention that Margret is Francis' wife.

    The second sentence tells us Francis is demanding something and possibly a demanding husband.

    But if we rewrite it as:

    "Margret! Come here! Look at this," Francis said.

    the demand is obvious. If all his dialog with Margret is thus, I think it more realistically shows that Francis is a demanding person.

    The analogy they provided was this:

    Imagine you are watching a play about Margret and Francis.

    Francis says to Margret, "Margret, come here and look at this". And then the narrator comes out onto stage and says, "See how demanding Francis is? Do you hear his demanding nature?"

    Far better, the authors of the editing book posit, to let the tone and language used in the dialog prove the demanding nature, rather than telling us that he is demanding.

    HTH
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. Different perceptions. Most published novels I read stick to 'said' the majority of the time and make the occasional exception. It may be that in other genres authors deviate more.
     
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  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think you missed the memo. :)
     
  7. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I hope my post does not cause offence. There is no better mechanism for me to learn something than to try and show someone else something I have learnt.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
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  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    sidtvicious and GingerCoffee like this.
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    There are other ways to get around repetitious tags without coming up with creative synonyms for said.
     
  10. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    The exception the editing book authors offered is when the attribution modifies the voice, eg:

    "Margret, do it again," Francis whispered.

    "Yessss," Francis said softly.
     
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  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, better ways. I'm not one to say writers should go with rules or industry standards. If you can make something work, go for it. But I read a heck of a lot of books, and extensive use of dialogue tags other than said is something that always leaps out at me. I just don't see it very often, and I think there's good reason for that. If someone can make a story work with all those varied tags, more power to them, but what they do for a reader like me is yank me right out of the story.
     
  12. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    Only what you have told us. A more direct / abrupt delivery would be more effective for me.

    c) "Margret, come here. Look at this," Francis said.


    Not for me, no. In fact, when people say, "I don't X", they are usually defending a position they hold that appears to the contrary. It would be immensely more effective for me in this dialog to not mention hate at all.

    c) "I find religion's claims highly dubious," said Will.

    I'm not, no. If Francis knows (I know what), he's not theorizing. He's already decided. Here your new attribution confuses me.

    If he's theorizing, he would say something like:

    c) "I think I know what this is about: me." Francis said. "You're doing this to me, aren't you?"

    The double whammy!

    Unfortunately, we have already "heard" Augustus' "voice" by the time we get to the word, "barked", as the dialog precedes the modifier. If you want to use barked and have it modify his dialog, you could write it:

    c) Augustus barked, "Like hell you did nothing!" or Outraged, Augustus barked, "Like hell you did nothing!"

    But doing so shows the use of the word, "barked" to be inconsistent with the dialog that follows (IMO).

    If you want him to bark as an expression of his outrage, you can indicate it in dialog similar to this:

    d) "What? Nothing? You did nothing? Like hell you did nothing!" Augustus said.

    This says barking outrage to me far more believably and naturally.

    In the conversation, it would probably be more realistic like so:


    The private looked up sheepishly from beneath the brim of his hat.

    "I didn't do nothin'," he said.

    "What?" Augustus said. "Nothing? You did nothing? Like hell you did nothing!"


    Neither a) nor b) is something I would write nor leave post-edit. It's deep purple ;) I'd use a beat to indicate tipsiness and add an actual giggle to show she's giggling.
     
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2015
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  13. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Choosing a different tag for each line of dialogue is like choosing a different font for each paragraph. (You think "said" is lazy? Well how about Times New Roman? Talk about a lazy font! I am going to use Comic Sans for humorous paragraphs, Impact for dramatic paragraphs, Courier for apathetic paragraphs, Papyrus for elegant paragraphs...) It just draws the reader's attention away from where you want it to be (the content) and to where you do not want it to be (the format).
     
  14. No-Name Slob
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    I agree with everyone above. I would much rather read "said" and already know how he said it. When I read a bunch of different showy synonyms instead of "said", it makes me immediately think that the author is spending a lot of time in thesaurus, rather than writing in a style of experience. What you're saying is a basic rule, but what I think that rule really means is not to tag over, and over, and over.

    The word "said" is not the real problem there, though. The real problem takes place when a lack of varied sentences cause the writing to feel choppy and shallow. That can happen with synonyms just as easily, except it's almost worse because in addition to a choppy text, I'm also dealing with a text that shows nothing but the writer trying too hard.
     
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  15. No-Name Slob
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    No-Name Slob Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    And yes, no offense as @Aaron DC said. I think that any time staunch, blanket stances are taken, we as artists are very quick in our attempt to prove them wrong. :D
     
  16. Aaron DC
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    Aaron DC Contributing Member

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    I found this interesting given the not too distant conversation with @Jack Asher :

    What’s the first thing acquisitions editors look for when they begin reading a fiction submission? Several editors we know have answered that question the same way: “The first thing I do is find a scene with some dialogue. If the dialogue doesn’t work, the manuscript gets bounced. If it’s good, I start reading.”

    From: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print
     
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  17. Sifunkle
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    I stopped reading the OP here, as I felt insulted before I'd said a single thing. 'If you express an opinion different to mine, I won't even consider the merit of anything else you have to say.' Apologies if I've paraphrased out of context, but that's all I'm getting, and it doesn't invite discussion. From the responses, I think everyone's covered my take on things anyway.
     
  18. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Unfortunately "working" is a treacherously ephemeral criteria.
     
  19. Pixiebells
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    Pixiebells Member

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    Well, this backfired!! :oops: I'd like to thank you all for not being too judge-y, just giving honest constrictive, mature answers/opinions/observations. I do think that some good points have been made. For example, punctuation is an important way to express how the character is speaking. And yes, it's critical to 'show not tell'. it's just that copious 'saids' in a text are like nails on a chalkboard for me. To each thine own. (I'd like to think I make it work) ;)
     
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  20. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I've never seen an article saying 'said' is unacceptable but I've seen plenty of articles say the opposite. I agree with them. If a writer can't get across their characters' thoughts, personalities and tone in the dialogue they need to work on their dialogue, not the tags.
     
  21. Mckk
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    "said" is often encouraged because it communicates the action clearly without being intrusive, whereas colourful dialogue tags are often seen as "distracting". However, I'm actually with you on this one - I don't see why so many insist on using and only using "said".

    "said" is a good word - and the truth is unless a more appropriate dialogue tag jumps to mind, "said" is often best precisely because it is simple. Eg. there's no need to try too hard.

    However, where "whispered" tells me the character is indeed whispering, I don't see why I should favour "said" just because. I'm a believer of simply using the most appropriate verb to describe what I want to describe. I'm not a subscriber to using the word "said" near exclusively.

    Again, as with most things in writing, never say never. It's really just all about finding the right balance, and finding the right moment to use the word you want to use. (it's a similar principle with adverbs, to be honest) There'll be moments where "said" is far better, and moments where a different tag is better. Personally, however, I tend to favour either no tag or a little body language.

    Anyway, thought I'd mention - you should end your direct speech with a comma if there's a tag following it, like this:

    "I'm going out," Jack said.

    A full stop should only be used if the tag precedes the direct speech or if there's no tag following the direct speech. Like this:

    Jack said, "I'm going out."

    OR

    "I'm going out." Jack picked up his bag.
    Sorry to be a grammar nazi about this. It just bugged me a little :crazy:
     
  22. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    If I write something other than said, I always pause and ask myself why. Is it because it's something that can't really be conveyed in the dialogue itself (like whispering) or because I'm beginning to tell, not show? It's nearly always the latter, which is why I nearly always use said.
     
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  23. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    "Well, this backfired!!" Mary chortled.
    "I'd like to thank you all for not being too judge-y, just giving honest constrictive, mature answers/opinions/observations," Marge insisted.
    "I do think that some good points have been made," George added.
    "For example, punctuation is an important way to express how the character is speaking," Mary continued.
    "And yes, it's critical to 'show not tell'," John interjected.
    "It's just that copious 'saids' in a text are like nails on a chalkboard for me," Barbara whined.
    "To each thine own," Larry whispered.
    "I'd like to think I make it work," I asserted.

    "Well, this backfired!!" Mary said.
    "I'd like to thank you all for not being too judge-y, just giving honest constrictive, mature answers/opinions/observations," Marge said.
    "I do think that some good points have been made," George said.
    "For example, punctuation is an important way to express how the character is speaking," Mary said.
    "And yes, it's critical to 'show not tell'," John said.
    "It's just that copious 'saids' in a text are like nails on a chalkboard for me," Barbara said.
    "To each thine own," Larry said.
    "I'd like to think I make it work," I said.
    Which of those is better?
    Neither, they're both awful. Copious saids may not be the problem. Try looking at the whole dialogue picture. Is it dull because of the dialogue tags or regardless of them?
     
  24. matwoolf
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    The first one is more fun, and it would be entertaining to compete on this front - where dialogue tags must always be provided, but 'said' is strictly off limits. Most of us, I think you will find, might 'ejaculate' after say the twelfth clause.
     
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  25. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    "The thirteenth clause is impossible to tag," Matwoolf ejaculated.

    (To prove @Mckk 's point, that's very different from "The thirteenth clause is impossible to tag." Matwoolf ejaculated.)
     
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