Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Write Right: 5 Reasons Why Said is Best

Beginning writers often overlook the power of 'said' because they feel it is boring. But said is actually a very important tool for a writer!

Here are some of the reasons why you should use said.

Reason #1: Said is Invisible

I know that as a beginning writer you want to vary the words you use. That's good writing, right? Yes, but when it comes to speech tags, said is best.

"But said is boring! It's too repetitive if I use it all the time!" The writers doth protest!

But you see, the wondrous thing about said is that it is invisible. Think about it. When you read a book, do you notice every time the author uses said and think, "Gee, this is getting really repetitive, I wish she'd toss out some more colorful words instead."

Of course you don't! Now think about this: When you're reading a book, do you notice when the author uses a word other than said--barked, queried, interjected, snapped, smirked, growled, scoffed?

These probably jump out at you a little more. They call attention to themselves, and distract from the dialogue and the story. As a writer, you never want to do something that will shatter the illusion you're trying to create and pull your reader out of their fictional dream.

Reason #2: Said Doesn't Shatter the Fictional Dream

It is far better to use an invisible word like said that won't call attention to itself than a more colorful speech tag like barked, sneered, grunted, etc. Some speech tags that I come across while reading actually make me cringe. The top worst offenders are: intoned, implored, speculated, surmised, and queried.

Please, I beg of you, do not use these in your writing! Use said or asked instead. Using words like these won't make you sound smart--they just jar the reader with their weirdness and make you look like you're trying too hard.  

When a writer uses words other than said it makes me feel like the writer is calling attention to herself, waving her arms and shouting, "Look at me!"

Writers, take note: You never want to call attention to yourself in your writing. You want to remain invisible. You want to impress your readers with your story, not your writing.

Reason #3: Said Avoids Redundancy

If you think about it, most speech tags are unnecessary and redundant. Consider these:

"Be careful," he cautioned.
"I don't know why he hasn't called," she fretted.
"You shouldn't tease her," she chided.
"I told you to do that ages ago," he nagged.

Now let's take away the descriptive speech tags and replaced them with said:

"Be careful," he said.
"I don't know why he hasn't called," she said.
"You shouldn't tease her," she said.
"I told you to do that ages ago," he said.

Notice how you can still tell that these people are cautioning,  fretting, chiding, and nagging by their words alone without the speech tags. The reader doesn't need the descriptive speech tag to tell him/her what the character is doing. Your character's words should be explanation enough.

The character's actions will also clue the reader in to what the character is doing/feeling. For example:

She paced the room, wringing her dress. "I don't know why he hasn't called," she said.

It's clear from the character's actions and words that she is worried. The speech tag 'fretted' is not only unnecessary, but it is redundant--it's telling us something we already know.

Remember the rule "show don't tell?" This applies to speech tags, too. Don't tell us that your character is chiding, nagging, etc. Show us.

I suppose one could argue that said is redundant as well, (isn't it obvious that the characters are speaking?), but you have to use some form of speech tag to let the readers know who is saying what.

And the speech tag you are going to use is said, right? ;]

Reason #4: People Say Things

If you think about it, using some of those more descriptive speech tags doesn't even make sense (and sounds kind of silly). Can you actually physically gulp, sigh, bark, snarl, or sneer out your words?

People (and your characters) say things. They don't snarl them, sob them, or laugh them.

My rule I go by in my writing is that I don't use any speech tag that isn't physically possible. Besides said and ask, the only other speech tags I use are: whispered, mumbled, muttered, grumbled, shouted, yelled, and screamed.

These are the words I use that I have found aren't too redundant, are harder to imply through words/actions, are simple, and are physically possible. (And honestly, it makes it a lot simpler using these rather than wasting time hunting for a 'perfect' unnecessarily descriptive speech tag).

Reason #5: Using Said Makes You Look More Professional

If none of the above reasons have convinced you why you should use said, then maybe this one will. Using said makes your writing look cleaner and more professional. No writer wants to look like an amateur. And every writer wants their writing to be at its best when they send their story out to a publisher!

Getting published is tough--don't give a publisher another reason to toss your story into the 'reject' pile.

That's What She Said

Alright, so there you have it--5 very good reasons why you should use said in your writing. That's all I have to say about said, so go put it to practice! Start replacing all those descriptive speech tags with said and you'll realize just how power such a small, simple word can be. And like me, you'll probably fall in love with said.

Happy Writing!

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