“Said is Dead!” a Pinterest post screams at me. Another one. And Another. And again. Oooo! This one did it with an infographic, so it must be true.
I remember in a writer’s conference (the only one I’ve ever been able to get to) back in 2008 when several writers and even editors rolled their eyes at that comment. They went on to ridicule the many ways an author tries to get around “said” with a never-ending thesaurus.
Breathed – barked – babbled – whispered- sighed – shouted – whined – trilled – tittered- sang – suggested – posed- postulated – murmured – agreed – answered – screamed – shrieked – yelled – mumbled – called – exploded – exclaimed – explained – snickered – sneered – leered – and on and on and on.
They all said you could tell it was a newbie writer by how often they replaced the word ‘said’ with another. They all agreed writing dialogue is more like composing music – identifiers are needed and should be used to enhance the writer’s voice, not show off your literary education.
“Everyone agrees that it’s boring to see ‘said’ on every line,” Mary said.
“Of course,” Bob said. “It’s very boring.”
“And it yanks you out of the story, seeing it on every line,” Greg said.
“But a lot of people don’t even notice the ‘said,”’ Regina said.
“That’s true, too,” Bob said. “It’s a bit like a period – you don’t notice it until it isn’t there.”
“And it is helpful to have an identifier of some kind so your readers know who said what,” Mary pointed out.
“Definitely,” Greg agreed.
“No identifier makes understanding a multi-character discussion very difficult, kind of like Regina’s train of thought at three in the morning.”
“Who said that?” Regina demanded. “How would any of you know what I sound like at three in the morning?”
Mary cleared her throat. “The key is to not use ‘said’ or any other replacement on every line, but to also identify the speaking character some other way, but only if you need to in order to clarify the text.”
Bob scratched his nose. “Describing a simple action is a pretty good way to define the speaking character.”
“And you can still use the word ‘said’ every so often, like a beat in music,” Greg said.
“An acting teacher told me something similar in college.” Regina stretched and twisted around in her chair, first one way and then the other, her back popping in response. “Instead of performing an audition monologue by simply standing and gesturing with your arms, he had us do things like drag out a chair and put on our shoes while we monologued to make it more interesting.”
“Is that why you’re trying to learn how to juggle goslings?” Mark asked.
“That is a completely different and unrelated hobby with deep roots in fandom culture,” Regina replied loftily.
“And hilarious when they take a dump on you while you toss them about.”
“Who said that?” Regina demanded again.
Did any of that make sense as to why ‘said’ is not dead?