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Is “Said” Dead?

20 May

One of the pieces of writing “advice” that I’ve gotten over the years is “said is dead,” meaning don’t use said as a dialogue tag.

Instead, use descriptive words as the tag to describe how the person said their line. Try words like commanded, stuttered, or whispered. Each of those words evokes a different meaning or imagery than a simple “said.”

Yet, shouldn’t the dialogue itself be able to evoke the same emotion? Aren’t there vocabulary choices that can allow a reader to hear the character speak with an angry roar or a nervous tremble? Aren’t the fancy dialogue tags just another way to tell, rather than show, how a person speaks?

Perhaps said is used too much. Maybe switch it up with tags like stated or remarked. On the other hand, would you run the risk of sounding like you write with a thesaurus right next to you?

There is merit in using the word said. It’s used so often it’s become invisible, allowing the reading to skim it over and just absorb the words that are more important to the story, such as the key words in a character’s dialogue that show, rather than tell, just how he or she is speaking.

What do you think? Is said dead?

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9 Comments

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Home

 

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9 responses to “Is “Said” Dead?

  1. Dave S. Koster

    May 20, 2016 at 11:07 pm

    I am ardently against the discarding of dialogue tags. I once read a blog that advised ditching them altogether. Bull**** I say. Pick up any book. I dare you, any one with any amount of dialog at all and you’ll find XXX said. I think you should avoid when in a long string, if possible, leaning on action beats if you can, and rarely use things other than ‘said’. By the word becoming invisible it allows you, as the writer, to communicate the identity of the speaker, without interrupting flow. From that perspective, by all means use said! It’s not evil.

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Kris P.

      May 22, 2016 at 8:08 am

      I don’t think it’s evil at all, and it’s great seeing the comments of people sharing their opinions. It was just always one of those pieces of “advice” that gets passed around, most notably to younger writer (at least, in my experience). Even when I see posts on pinterest/tumblr/what-have-you regarding it, the post seems to be brightly colored and geared toward much younger writers. Perhaps “said is dead” originally came about due to teachers attempting to get their students to broaden their vocabulary and action words? Regardless, thank you for commenting! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  2. Amyclae

    May 21, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Said is nice and invisible at this point, its criticisms not withstanding

    “I really like the word,” I said.

    But my teacher commanded, “do not use that word! The word is the worst of all worlds.”

    My friend, mouth agape, stuttered “Bu- bu- but why?”

    “Because I am right and you are wrong,” he roared.

    “I am so sorry,” she whispered. She turned to me and said “But don’t the other words take away? If something fits better, use it, but otherwise it is distracting.”

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Kris P.

      May 22, 2016 at 8:05 am

      Great advice (and a great way to show it)!

      Like

       
  3. tahenryauthoress

    May 21, 2016 at 11:37 am

    Aren’t the fancy dialogue tags just another way to tell, rather than show, how a person speaks?
    Yes.

    Liked by 1 person

     
  4. Skye Hegyes

    May 22, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    I don’t think “said” is dead. I personally use a mixture of both, and I tend to attempt showing other symbols in place of other dialogue tags. Like “he roared” might be replaced with “His face grew red with his rage and he threw his fisted hands in the air as if to punch something she could not see.”

    Liked by 1 person

     
    • Kris P.

      May 23, 2016 at 6:12 pm

      Many people are saying that said is alive and well! Showing action seems to be a favorable way of taking a break from the word said. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

       
  5. Nicola Brett

    April 23, 2018 at 6:36 pm

    On stumble upon the is a page with 200 other words to use instead of said! I think is entirely up to the writer. In my book I wrote “cause” too much and the literary agent did say that is what distracts the reader.

    Liked by 1 person

     

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