Said Isn’t Dead
There, I said it.
Now, hear me out before you gather your torches and pitchforks and march on my apartment.
First, some backstory and why I’m putting this piece out today:
Last Sunday, I was trolling through my Pinterest, re-pinning some prompts to my Writing Prompts board, when I got a notification that someone commented on a pin I re-pinned about ‘said’ being dead.
The commenter, a professional editor and critic (and therefore probably knows what they’re talking about), says that, “Using every word except for “said” results in clunky prose that distracts the reader from the dialogue.”
Now, I re-pinned the “Said is Dead” pin, so I don’t have a problem with the concept as a whole, when it’s used the right way. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using alternatives in your text, and if there’s one thing Pinterest is great for, it’s for supplying you with alternatives.
But I ALSO have no problem with the comment.
In fact, I probably agree with it more, solely due to the fact that if you don’t know how to use the “Said is Dead” concept the write way, then your writing is going to have some problems.
Because here’s the thing: if you focus on tagging your dialogue with words that aren’t ‘said’, then you’re not focusing enough on the important part—the story.
“But wait!” You may have said as you stare at Google and look at the thousands of results about ‘Said is Dead’, like the article about a school in Kentucky that had a funeral for ‘said’ and other words they deemed worn out. “Does that mean that the Fake Redhead has gone off the deep end and is steering us wrong?”
Put down the pitchforks, I’m not steering you wrong, I promise.
While it IS important to teach kids in school about synonyms and that there are other words to use instead of said—it’s important because it expands their vocabularies and is a step toward making them into semi-articulate adults.
But with writing, it’s a double-edged sword, because yes, there are times where other words are better than ‘said’, and good writing is also important.
So this piece is going to sound a LOT like last week’s post on not stressing and just using your character’s dang name.
But I’m writing it anyway, because that’s how I roll.
Click the Continue Reading button for my number one reason why this whole ‘Said is Dead’ thing is bull.
Because Not Using ‘Said’ WILL Make Your Writing Worse
Sure, ‘said’ isn’t a great word.
It’s one-dimensional, and it’s not something that can appropriately convey what you’re looking to put forth in your dialogue and in your writing as a whole.
But there’s STILL nothing wrong with using it.
Here’s another but: but you have to use it the right way.
First, let’s start with an example of a piece of dialogue that explains WHY the campaign against that poor, four-letter word* came about in the first place:
“I am in no way adult enough to handle this,” Raven said.
“You’re older than I am,” Talya said. “And you don’t have a choice. You’re the only one who can help me.”
“Ryan is going to kill you if he ever finds out,” Raven said.
“Don’t die, and he’ll never have to know,” Talya said.
“You make it sounds so easy,” Raven said.
Yes, that dialogue was bad. It physically pained my to write it. World, you’re welcome for my noble sacrifice.
It should go without saying that the reason that this piece of dialogue from the #WhoIsTalyaNightingale universe is bad is because the word ‘said’ appears five times in seven very short sentences.
Also, it doesn’t help that Raven and Talya’s names are used so many times when I have already established that they are the ones having this conversation, and we talked about how not to do that last week.
But I’m trying to make a point here, so enjoy the hyperbole.
Now, let’s apply some concepts from the “Said is Dead” movement to quote-unquote make it better.
“I am in no way adult enough to handle this,” Raven grumbles.
“You’re older than I am,” Talya reasoned. “And you don’t have a choice.You’re the only one who can help me.”
“Ryan is going to kill you if he ever finds out,” Raven reminds.
“Don’t die, and he’ll never have to know,” Talya suggests.
“You make it sounds so easy,” Raven mutters.
That’s not better, right?
Anyone have a guess as to why?
(Oh wait, I’m sitting in my apartment watching Flashpoint for the millionth time as I write this (aka bad background noise. For better background noise, CLICK HERE) and there aren’t other people around.)
So anyway, the reason why not using ‘said’ didn’t help that conversation dig itself out of the mediocre conversation hole that it’s lying in, is because those dialogue tags are still VERY noticeable.
Dialogue tags SHOULD NOT be noticeable.
Remember how the clothing company Hanes launched their campaign for tag-less clothing with that commercial featuring Michael Jordan and the sentient clothing tag at the movie theater?
I’m too lazy to Google it because my coffee maker was on the fritz this morning and that’s the LAST thing I need out of my week, but Hanes has a point.
While tags in clothing provide useful information about where it was made and washing instructions (for those of you who don’t just throw all your dirty clothes in the wash and hope for the best like I do**), they’re not something you want to notice, because they’re itchy and uncomfortable.
And while dialogue tags don’t make you itch physically, that little itch you feel in the back of your brain when you read clunky dialogue is basically the same thing.
Now let’s go back to that conversation between Raven and Talya and apply both the concepts of not stressing about “Said is Dead” and last week’s advice about names:
Raven rakes both hands through her hair, sending colorful strands in all directions, “I am in no way adult enough to handle this.”
“You’re older than I am.”
That’s probably an accurate statement.
Talya winks in a poor attempt to make Raven feel better, which is completely at odds with what she says when she goes on, “And you don’t have a choice. You’re the only one who can help me.”
With a huff, she crosses her arms over her chest, “Ryan is going to kill you if he ever finds out.”
“Don’t die and he’ll never have to know.”
“You make it sound so easy,” Raven glowers and grits the words through clenched teeth.
What is did is I used action to advance the conversation instead of unnecessary names and tags.
Obviously this conversation only featured two people, and when writing a conversation with three or more people, you would have to be a little more overt about which character said what. But you STILL don’t need ‘said’ or too many extraneous dialogue tags in order to get your point across.
On that note, a short post on dialogue with three or more participants is in your future. Whenever I write it. Eventually.
As you can also see, the three examples of that dialogue build upon one another and get better as the rewrites progress. You don’t have to have the perfect piece when you start.
When I’m writing early drafts, or just noting out conversations on my phone, they’re nowhere near perfect, ‘said’ is used a LOT, names are everywhere as a reminder for when I go back to it, and there are times when there are no dialogue tags to speak of.
Don’t stress about it.
Get your story out there, and go back and edit it when you’re done.
Still want to stab me with a pitchfork and set me on fire for claiming that ‘said’ isn’t dead?
Didn’t think so.
*Fun fact about The Fake Redhead: my favorite four-letter word starts with the letter ‘F’.
**Another fun fact about The Fake Redhead: I am not what one would call a “completely functioning adult’. It’s fine. Being an adult is overrated.
Like what you read? Want to see more?
-Kathryn, the Fake Redhead