Sunday, July 6, 2014

Musing on "Said"

Just a random post about the word "said." The current trend in writer advice is to use the fuck out of "said" and avoid other words for it.

Readers hate that.

Seriously, one of the biggest complaints I see from readers when perusing book reviews is: "It's all he-said, she-said -- they don't vary it."

So why the hell are writers and editors advising new writers to stick to it? I have no idea, and I've read several articles on why. I've read examples where 'said' was used compared to the exact same snippet written with alternatives. The whole point was to show that said was great and should be used.

The 'said' paragraph was flat and boring. I didn't care about it. Once the alternatives were substituted, I felt drawn in and a part of the story. It was an utter failure to defend the word 'said.'

So, I'm sorry, but while 'said' should be used, and used often (and all tags to that effect should also be dropped where possible, such as when an action immediately follows that can identify the speaker), you should also replace it whenever another word better describes how something was said.

From The Huffington Post, this was offered up in an otherwise great article on self-editing:

'A character can't "laugh" something. They can't "snip" "spit" "snarl" "grouse" words.'

Oh, yes they can. While I try to avoid mixing action with expression, you damn well can snarl something (in fact, someone is more likely to snarl a word than make the sound) and grouse. Grouse is a synonym for 'grumble' and indicates the tone with which something is spoken.

Snip? I'll give them snip. You can be snippy, but you can't snip a word... that's for scissors. If you've never had words spat at you, that's great, but it happens. As for laughing, you can laugh words, but I agree that it should be separated if they didn't actually simultaneously speak and laugh (which I do often when I'm amused enough).

'Said' can become invisible, sure. But a book written with nothing but 'said' for a speaking tag is like a coloring book that hasn't been used. A book that relies entirely on synonyms for said is tiring and tedious, too. There has to be a balance. I'm not pretending to have it perfected. As if.

But I felt this needed to be said as a reader of books, as a lover of books, and as a writer of books.

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