Said: Not As Evil As You Think It Is

There’s lots of bad advice on the internet, especially for writers. One of the pieces of advice often found when wandering the internet is to avoid the word “said” at all cost.

And, well… this just isn’t good advice.

Using said too much does have a negative affect on your writing, but drinking too much water can also be dangerous. The key to anything is moderation. Take this following hypothetical conversation for instance:

“That’s a pretty lamp,” Haley said.

“Thanks,” Justin said. “So, do you want anything to drink.”

“Water would be nice,” Haley said.

A little repetitive, right?

Writers will often try to avoid this by going the opposite direction, and never use the word said. But this doesn’t work either.

Never using said often causes writers to use bulky, hard-to-read replacements. The point of the dialogue tags is, basically, to show who is speaking without breaking the flow. Chunky words break the flow, but when avoiding the word said, writers are often left with no other choice.

For example:

“That’s a pretty lamp,” Haley muttered.

“Thanks,” Justin responded. “So, would you like a drink?”

“Water would be nice,” Haley declared.

It’s a poor example, because I don’t know any big, chunky words, but you get the idea.

The key to the word said is moderation. In general, I try to use any individual dialogue tag only once every couple lines. So, for instance, I might write the above example like:

“That’s a pretty lamp,” Haley said.

“Thanks,” Justin replied. “So, would you like something to drink?”

“Water would be nice,” Haley answered.

Also, dialogue tags should be avoided when possible. I sometimes use an action by the speaker before the dialogue to show who is talking, and in a conversation between two people dialogue tags aren’t necessary every line. For example,

“That’s a pretty lamp,” Haley muttered.

Justin shifted in his seat. “Thanks… so, would you like something to drink?”

Haley forced herself to smile. “Water would be nice.”

The above example is not only the most fluid, but it gives the most information as well.

In a nutshell, said can and should be used as any other dialogue tag.

There are 5 comments

  1. Aeryn Rudel

    I tend to follow Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Good Writing for dialog. Rule #3 states “said” is the ONLY dialog tag you should use. I generally agree with that, but the occasional asked or replied may slip into my prose. I agree that said can be repetitive, and, as you’ve shown, you don’t always need a tag to identify a speaker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. K

      I usually use replied, said, asked… never anything fancy unless it adds description, like muttered or questioned (vs asked) might. But not always using a tag helps a lot to avoid repetition because it also changes up the sentence and adds action
      I’ve never heard of Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Good Writing for Dialogue before, I’ll have to look that up

      Liked by 1 person

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