Monday, 19 August 2013

What's wrong with using "said" in composition and creative writing?


Let's be clear: it is not incorrect to write 'he said' or 'she said.'

In fact, it may be advantageous to let the dialogue do the work and to leave the specific manner or tone of speech to the reader's imagination. The reader often has an intuitive grasp of the flow of emotions.

Close examination shows that there are many options if you want to replace the word 'said', but sometimes you don't need to use it at all.

The word 'said' also preserves a potential ambiguity. Again this can be helpful in creative writing if you do not want to direct the reader to a specific interpretation. Why not trust the reader to unmask irony and double-meanings in the speech? Often, the writer who lacks confidence wants to fill in all the gaps. Sometimes it is better to be less busy, and to leave some space for the reader to work on the prose. Writing presupposes a partnership; it is not a dictatorship.

The word 'said' can also be complemented by an action, or by a descriptive phrase:

He said, slipping the gold coin into his greasy pocket

Returning the frightened mouse to its cage, she said

This technique helps to develop character or to reveal a new aspect of a situation that contributes to plot development. Remember that readers enjoy hints; they enjoy being taken into confidence and they enjoy moments of revelation. What readers dislike is a unwieldy smack in the face.

Another advantage of the word 'said' is that it is unobtrusive. It does not draw attention to itself. Words such as beseeched or chortled tend to stand out, and they may also sound rather stilted and old-fashioned unless you're writing sensational fiction or romance.

In many cases it is possible to present dialogue without pointing to who the speaker and signifying how they spoke. By repeatedly inserting 'he said' or 'she said'  the flow of speech is interrupted, and the effect may become mechanical and monotonous. Effective dialogue requires pace: too much commentary from the writer is intrusive and tiresome. An irritated reader stops reading.

Excessive use of words other than said also runs the risk of starting to sound ridiculous. Writing should not sound like a regurgitated thesaurus! Sometimes writers try too hard to improve their writing and fall into a new category of error.

Try reading your work aloud if you are unsure about appropriate usage. By listening to your work you will move slowly from the craft of composition to the art of writing.

But if you do want to gain a sense of the rich opportunities for variation afforded by the English language there are more than 107 Ways to Avoid the word "said"

  1. Acknowledged 
  2. Added
  3. Admitted
  4. Affirmed
  5. Agreed
  6. Alleged
  7. Announced
  8. Answered
  9. Appealed
  10. Asked
  11. Asserted
  12. Barked
  13. Bawled
  14. Beckoned
  15. Begged
  16. Bellowed
  17. Beseeched
  18. Blubbered
  19. Blurted out
  20. Carped
  21. Cautioned
  22. Chortled
  23. Chuckled
  24. Claim
  25. Conceded
  26. Concurred
  27. Confessed
  28. Confided
  29. Confirmed
  30. Contended
  31. Continued
  32. Cried
  33. Croaked
  34. Declared
  35. Entreated
  36. Exclaimed
  37. Explained
  38. Fumed
  39. Giggled
  40. Grinned
  41. Groaned
  42. Growled
  43. Grumbled
  44. Hesitated
  45. Hinted
  46. Hissed
  47. Howled
  48. Implied
  49. Implored
  50. Indicated
  51. Informed
  52. Inquired
  53. Insisted
  54. Jabbered
  55. Joked
  56. Lamented
  57. Laughed
  58. Lilted
  59. Maintained
  60. Moaned
  61. Mocked
  62. Murmured
  63. Mused
  64. Noted
  65. Observed
  66. Offered
  67. Ordered
  68. Pleaded
  69. Preached
  70. Proclaimed
  71. Promised
  72. Proposed
  73. Protested
  74. Queried
  75. Quipped
  76. Ranted
  77. Remarked
  78. Remonstrated
  79. Repeated
  80. Replied
  81. Requested
  82. Retorted
  83. Roared
  84. Scoffed
  85. Scolded
  86. Shouted
  87. Shrieked
  88. Snarled
  89. Sobbed
  90. Specified
  91. Spluttered
  92. Stammered
  93. Stated
  94. Stuttered
  95. Stressed
  96. Suggested
  97. Swore
  98. Taunted
  99. Teased
  100. Testified
  101. Thundered
  102. Wailed
  103. Warned
  104. Whimpered
  105. Whined
  106. Whispered
  107. Yelled
  108.  
Dr Ian McCormick is the author of

The Art of Connection: the Social Life of Sentences (Quibble Academic 2013) 

Also available on Kindle, or to download.

Dr Ian McCormick served
until recently as Professor in the Arts at the University of Northampton. He works as a teaching adviser in educational creativity and participatory methodology. He has recently written a book on Shakespearean Tragedy.

1 comment:

  1. "Never use a verb other than ''said'' to carry dialogue" ---- Elmore Leonard.

    ReplyDelete