Is “said” really dead?

When I went about getting really serious about improving my writing I ate up all the advice I could find. I pinned hundreds of articles and read all of them. I started to apply this to my work and I saw the quality of my writing increase for it.

But as it turns out, not all advice is good advice.

While cutting out passive voice and verbs cleaned up my work, relying on synonyms of “said” cluttered it up in a new way. There are many articles and lists on more action oriented ways to tag your dialogue, and I, being a writer who relies heavily on dialogue, used these replacements liberally.

Then one evening in my writing crit group, someone commented that “said” is nearly invisible to a reader, while “shouted” “cried” “snickered” “demanded” can start to disrupt an otherwise fluid set of dialogue.

Here is an example.

“I can’t do it!” Laura huffed.

“You can!” Marcus shouted.

“No! It’s too hard!” she whined.

“There is no other way! You have to!” Marcus insisted.

Now, while Laura might be huffing and whining and Marcus might be shouting and insisting, adding these descriptive verbs as dialoge tags starts to feel bogged down and redundant.

Read instead.

“I can’t do it!” Laura said.

“You have to!” Marcus replied.

“No! It’s too hard!”

“There is no other way! You have to!”

Consider that even without the descriptive tags, the dialogue itself conveys the urgency of the situation and allows the reader to follow the scene with ease. Once you establish who is talking, you only need to take the speaker once unless the dialogue goes on for more than a few lines.

Is there a place for “chortled” “inquired” “belted” and “marveled”? Absolutely! But they should be used with discretion and only when serious emphasis is needed.



3 thoughts on “Is “said” really dead?

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