Before my most influential college writing class, I LOVED to end dialogue with words like questioned, grumbled, or stammered. I thought I was being original and unique. I thought I was making my novel stand out from all those writers who stuck to said and asked.
Or sometimes I would add an adverb to describe the way the character was speaking. I thought I was spicing up my writing. Making it fresh and new. Said menacingly was so much better than boring old said, wasn’t it?
Then I took a creative writing class that changed my perspective. I would turn in drafts of my work and my teacher would wield her mighty red pen against any dialogue tag that was anything more than the word said.
I was confused about why adding an adverb or spicing up the verb was such a grievous error, so I finally asked my professor.
Her explanation was simple, but it made a lot of sense.
3 Simple Reasons Why Said Is Not Dead
Said is Less Wordy
Adding an adverb makes the dialogue tag two words. Said keeps the dialogue tag at one word. Fancier verbs that denote speaking are also longer in length. When every word counts, it’s best to keep dialogue tags as simple as possible. Save your words so you can more creatively express elements of your novel such as the setting or character development.
Readers are Accustomed to Said
Readers are so used to dialogue tags ending with said that anything else will slow them down. As a reader, when I see a bunch of dialogue and I know who is speaking, I rarely bother to read the dialogue tag. I want the words. I want the action. As a writer, if readers aren’t going to read the dialogue tag, it can be a waste of time and energy to think of another word other than said.
Changing Said is Not as Powerful as Changing the Dialogue
Rather than focusing creative efforts on creating the perfect dialogue tag, it is more powerful to capture the tone or emotion of the words in the actual dialogue. Compare the following two sentences:
“I tried to tell you. But you sent me to my room.” I stammered.
“I tried…I tried to tell you. But you…you sent me…you sent me to my room.” I said.
In the first sentence, a reader wouldn’t know the character is stammering until they’d read the whole sentence. By then it’s too late to fully comprehend how the character is speaking. Some readers might even go back to read the sentence again, pretending to stammer.
In the second sentence, readers can see and feel the character stammering. And since they are so accustomed to the word said they can gloss over it and have one less word to read. This helps them focus on the story being told.
This is a debated topic for many writers. But I’m not the only one who believes that said is not dead. Learn more.
Said is not dead. Do you agree?