1. Slade Lucas

    Slade Lucas Member

    Apr 21, 2014
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    Said - Too Much?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Slade Lucas, Apr 21, 2014.

    I always remember at school when I was a kid when teachers always teach you to use said as little as possible. However, I have realised since that this is a load of rubbish. Sometimes you just want the reader to focus on WHAT is said not HOW it is said.

    But is there a point when you can use said too many times? It isn't just said - sometimes I use the word ask and I think "Should I use another word?" but only query and question come to mind and, honestly, it doesn't really sound right to use them. Anyone got any advice?
  2. outsider

    outsider Contributor Contributor

    Feb 4, 2012
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    Glasgow, Scotland
    I try to use any dialogue tags sparingly. If there is dialogue between two characters for a short spell, often it's not necessary to have them at all after the sequence has been established.
    Using particular character traits and nuances in dialogue also helps the reader establish who is speaking once they've become familiarised with them.
    minstrel and Slade Lucas like this.
  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

    Mar 9, 2010
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    Your teachers were wrong, yep. The only explanation that I can think of for this advice is that the teacher is trying to expand your vocabulary. Alternatives to "said", aside from the occasional nice plain "asked" and the like, are usually a bad idea.

    Usually, if you have too many 'saids', you eliminate the dialog tag rather than substituting a fancier word. Beats instead of tags, or eliminating tags altogether from many statements, are a better solution.

    Example, because lately I can't seem to post without an example:

    Henry settled into the bench. "So. Fed any pigeons?"
    Emily frowned. "Just because it's a park doesn't mean that it has pigeons."
    "All parks have pigeons. It's a cosmic law."
    "What about parks in regions where pigeons can't survive?"
    "They import them."
    She glanced at him. "They import pigeons?"
    "Because their statues are too clean?"
    Henry nodded, contentedly. "Exactly. You're very clever to figure that out."
  4. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Jul 11, 2010
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    Near Sedro Woolley, Washington
    "So then the pigeons make nests and lay eggs?"
    I've got him, Emily thought. "So why don't we ever see any baby pigeons?"
    Henry cocked an eyebrow at her and smiled. "They export them to other parks."
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  5. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

    Mar 7, 2013
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    Yeah, as usual, @ChickenFreak said what I would like to say.

    Rather than always tagging dialogue with 'said' or some other equivalent, it's very useful to designate the speaker by what the speaker is doing during the conversation. This not only keeps the speaker straight in the reader's head , but gives you the opportunity to do some scene-setting as well. Painlessly.

    While I'm not fond of the over-use of dialogue tags, I am far less fond of getting confused as to who says what during a section of dialogue. Anything over three changes of speaker in a two-person conversation, and I think you need to tag a few of the speeches. That's where these indirect tags come in very useful. The kind ChickenFreak (and Minstrel) just demonstrated.

    Of course there are also instances where more than two people are having a conversation. Tags are pretty much a necessity then —and it's so much more elegant to employ an action tag than a 'said' (or variant.)

    Bottom line. Never confuse the reader about who is speaking. They should never need to break off, backtrack and start counting up. Or breeze happily on, assuming one person said something that was actually said by somebody else.
    Slade Lucas likes this.
  6. MLM

    MLM Banned for trolling

    Nov 30, 2013
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    Kansas City
    If you are having a lot of trouble with this you could switch to a script format. No ambiguities there.
    Slade Lucas likes this.
  7. EllBeEss

    EllBeEss Senior Member

    Aug 24, 2013
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    I use script format on occasion in my WIP so I can get the dialogue down quickly with no ambiguity but it wouldn't work to just switch it to script format whenever characters speak to avoid overuse of dialogue tags.
    Slade Lucas likes this.

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