Said. That simple but dangerous word… It used to be said that you should look for more creative words than ‘said’…(haha, see what I did there? 😉 but then we were taught no, always use ‘said’ instead of things like ‘interject’ ‘or, well, just look at the picture above. People can’t ‘snort’ or ‘chuckle’ words, they say. And it can be quite confusing.
So…is ‘said’ a good word, or not?
Frankly, it’s not that simple. But I can give you a few good and bad examples, and you can draw your own conclusions. I will say this, though: don’t idolize ‘said’, but don’t completely rule it out, either.
Okay, first, let’s look at what happens if you just use ‘said’ in a sentence:
“It’s a nice day,” he said.
*Yawn* Oh, was I falling asleep? Sorry, I just don’t care much for the weather. And your voice is rather flat and boring.
Now, let’s see what happens if we change the word ‘said’ for two different choices:
“It’s a nice day,” he said sarcastically.
“It’s a nice day,” he mused.
Better? Hmm…is it? The first example could definitely be stronger, as could the second. Maybe there is a hint more detail, but it’s not much more interesting. Let’s try something different…
He rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, it’s a nice day.”
“Oh yes, it’s a nice day,” he chuckled.
Do you see what I did? Rather than telling you he spoke ‘sarcastically’, I showed it by his actions: rolling his eyes. Now, for the second example, I don’t know for certain whether the whole ‘he can’t chuckle words!’ applies or whether that’s just silly, but personally, I prefer to put any form of inflection before the dialogue rather than after it. That way, you don’t read the dialogue, then see it was supposed to have a certain inflection and go reread it. (At least, that’s what I do. :p ) To kill two birds with one stone, though:
He chuckled. “Oh yes, it’s a nice day.”
*Grins* No awkward phrasing, and the dialogue takes on a much more pleasant tone with the tag to identify the tone of it.
The thing with ‘said’, to me, is it’s a very invisible word. It slips by very sneakily, but never really holds much weight. So…should we just avoid it altogether, then? Throw it on the pile with all the ‘bad writing’ words like ‘very’, ‘just’, and other common words?
Not so fast. For you see, there is a time when ‘said’ is good. Observe:
“Oh yes, it’s a nice day,” said John. “I certainly hope it doesn’t rain.”
Remember how I mentioned last week that sometimes using adverbs is better than not using them, despite what you’ll hear most writers say? Well, the same sort of thing applies to ‘said’, or other words like ‘said’. Sometimes, they are a better choice to clearly convey the emotion. For example, imagine this sentence was in the middle of a piece of dialogue between three or so characters (two makes this a little irrelevant**), and keeping track of everyone is not extremely easy. I discovered one day, while reading a favorite book of mine, that any time I passed the words, “*name* said”, the ‘said’ slipped right past, but the name stuck in my mind, and when necessary, helped me remember who was talking.
(**two characters means the reader is clever enough to know that every other piece of dialogue is the same character, so very little ‘said’ is needed 😉
Of course, I’m not saying that you absolutely should use ‘said’ in these cases, but it does work. In my opinion, it’s all rather a matter of style, and perhaps skill. I’ve seen writers who rarely use said, but slip their character-identifying clues into the dialogue and actions of the characters. I’ve seen others who use ‘said’ quite frequently, but it works well. It’s all about how you use it, and making sure you don’t try to fit ‘said’ into a little box of only one opinion about its use.
Out of curiosity, I went and searched all of The Dragon Within for how many times I used ‘said’. Excluding anything in dialogue (i.e “What? But he said…”), there were only about 5-10 times I used ‘said’ as a dialogue tag in 362 pages, which is kind of surprising. However, I do tend to use more of the visual cues and dialogue nuances to show which character is which, so it makes sense. It seems that using ‘said’ seems to be quicker, but perhaps unnecessary at times, while using dialogue tags/beats may be longer, but more descriptive. Again, it’s a matter of style. I guess I prefer beats/tags, but I’ve also considered using a little more ‘said’ in my dialogue.
What do you think? What’s your opinion about ‘said’, and how often do you use it in your own work?