Said is not dead!

Every couple of months or so a slew of posts, infographics, and articles wing their way around the internet claiming that ‘Said is Dead’. Now, I don’t know exactly how many funerals the web-browsing collective have held for the apparently dearly departed but each one has been without a body in the coffin. Said, I’m here to tell you, is alive and well!

So, let’s start at the beginning.

When referring to the term ‘said is dead’, people are claiming that ‘he/she said’ shouldn’t be used as a tag for your dialogue and that instead you should use other more exciting words. These ‘Said is Dead’ers believe that other terms such as exclaimed, commented, answered, replied, etc, will spice up your dialogue and make it more interesting for readers.

NO!

Dialogue tags should not be used to spice up dialogue. If your dialogue needs spicing up with grumbled/reasoned/taunted then your dialogue is not working hard enough. You are propping up your prose on flimsy legs instead of letting it stand and speak for itself.

If you’re writing great dialogue the reader will know whether your character is angry, upset, happy, just by what is between the quotation marks. The tag ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ is unobtrusive, used mostly to say who is speaking, not how they’re saying it.

Let’s take an example here. This is from my upcoming novel, Rack and Ruin.

“You needed me, Olless?”

“Yes, Sir. There is some disagreement over the course of action here on Os-Veruh.”

“Has something happened to change your current situation?”

“No.”

“Yes!”

“Mr. Grystch, what do you believe has changed?”

“The Adveni have been amassing their troops. They’re sending Agrah here if they’re not beyond the borders already. Before long we will be surrounded.”

I have taken out all tags here and yet the meaning behind this conversation is still clear. You can see the coolness of speaker 1 and the polite manner of speaker 2. You can even see the annoyance of speaker 3. The only reason to add dialogue tags here is to keep up with who is speaking.

Let’s see it again with the tags included.

“You needed me, Olless?”

“Yes, Sir. There is some disagreement over the course of action here on Os-Veruh.”

“Has something happened to change your current situation?”

“No.”

“Yes!” Edtroka said as he got to his feet.

He turned to look at Edtroka and clasped his hands before him in the same manner as Olless. His eyes were the palest grey Georgianna had ever seen.

“Mr. Grystch, what do you believe has changed?”

“The Adveni have been amassing their troops. They’re sending Agrah here if they’re not beyond the borders already. Before long we will be surrounded.”

So, I lied a little. There was one tag. Only one tag to indicate that someone else has joined the conversation. The sentence of the character turning to speak to Edtroka indicates that this is who will continue the conversation.

Now, let’s try it one more time with some exciting words.

“You needed me, Olless?” the projection asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Olless replied meekly. “There is some disagreement over the course of action here on Os-Veruh.”

“Has something happened to change your current situation?”

“No,” she admitted.

“Yes!” Edtroka disagreed as he got to his feet.

He turned to look at Edtroka and clasped his hands before him in the same manner as Olless. His eyes were the palest grey Georgianna had ever seen.

“Mr. Grystch, what do you believe has changed?” he pondered.

“The Adveni have been amassing their troops,” Edtroka stated. “They’re sending Agrah here if they’re not beyond the borders already. Before long we will be surrounded.”

As you can see, by adding in these exciting words, we’ve actually drawn the attention away from something that was already perfectly clear in the dialogue. In fact, sometimes these new tags make things downright confusing. Edtroka is disagreeing with Olless over whether things have changed, but Yes is rarely a word we see alongside ‘disagreed’. Instead of spicing up the dialogue, we have made it clunky and have completely covered up the original flavour.

That’s the problem with spicing things up, do it too much and you mask the wonderful flavours that were there already.

Am I saying that you should never use another dialogue tag? No, of course not. But sometimes tags aren’t actually needed at all and 75% of the time, ‘he said’ is more than enough just to keep your reader on track with who is speaking. To be that silent little signpost to lead your reader along without distracting them from what they really want, to follow the story.

For reference, because sometimes a different tag is needed, here is a list of synonyms for the word said, but my advice: use them sparingly.

Don’t believe that said is nowhere near kicking the bucket? I asked some other authors what they think about said being dead…

 

“Unless used sparingly and for particular effect, anything other than ‘said’ sounds amateurish.” – Barbara Scott-Emmett

“I think it’s serving the same purpose it always has as an invisible building block. You don’t necessarily notice when it’s there, but you do notice when someone needlessly breaks their back avoiding it.”Nick Bryan

“Said doesn’t interrupt the reading experience. Lively words draw you into their meaning and away from dialogue, which unnecessarily bloats a good passage. Dialogue should explain enough that lively words aren’t required. I now use said regularly, having been one of those lively word users in the very beginning” – Eliza Green

“‘Said’ is invisible, employed so speech slips sideways into readers’ minds. ‘Ejaculated’, ‘divulged’, ‘spat’ etc signal dull dialogue to me.”Josa Young

“Said is invisible to the reading eye, but in audio books it can get annoying really fast.” – Pauline Baird Jones

“Most effective of all is when you don’t say “said” or “exclaimed” or anything of that sort, but can run your dialogue bare of any such tags – though this approach needs to be handled with care so as not to avoid confusing the reader as to who exactly said what.”Debbie Young

I slung aside a book I was reading recently as it uttered, spluttered, emoted, sighed, expostulated, interjected, pronounced, equivocated, murmured, offered, managed, revealed, observed, prevaricated, interrupted and confessed – in the opening chapter and I took to counting them rather than experiencing the book. On top of this it was adverb heaven – I just couldn’t take it. This was a US trad published book. Long Live “said”!Clare Flynn

” “Keep It Simple, Stupid” fits especially well with dialogue tags. The more convoluted you get, the easier the message is lost.”Samantha Warren

 

And, as always for this month, if you want to read more of Rack and Ruin, you can support my Kickstarter campaign!

 

 

 

Advertisements

About chelecooke

Self-Published author of the Out of Orbit series and the Teeth series. UCL Residence Assistant, obsessive cross stitcher, avid reader and TV show watcher.
This entry was posted in writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Said is not dead!

  1. charnellpeters says:

    Great post! Said is certainly not dead!

  2. C.S. Wilde says:

    Said will never be dead. It is, I dare say, immortal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s