Using SAID in Writing

One topic which can fascinate writers and readers is how the word SAID is used in writing. Some people feel it is the only word which should ever be used if a person is speaking - whether they are happy, sad, crying, or screaming.

This is a discussion Iíve had several times in the past as Iíve done book reviews for others. I'm written over 2,500 reviews on Amazon so that's a frequent activity for me. I got into the discussion fairly seriously with the screenwriter who writes the "Monk" TV series books. His brother teaches English. He was a strong proponent of the "said" camp. I felt it made his works weak at best and quite silly at worst. There was one scene where Monkís nurse / assistant was furious at someone else, over something extremely personally important. And then the book presented something like this -

"You are bad," he said.

"You are worse," she said.

"You make me sick," he said.

"I wish you would leave," she said.

"Oh yeah your husband's death was your fault," he said.

"How dare you say that about my beloved husband, you are the ultimate of evil, and I hate you with all my guts!!" she said.

She said???

First, the stream of saids wore me down, but to cap it off with her emotionally charged shout being reduced to a "said" completely ruined the mood of the scene for me.

If anything, I feel if someone is going to say said said said every single line that they should go the Spenser for Hire route which is to completely avoid anything at all. Robert B. Parker would notoriously write dialogue that went along the lines of

Spenser turned to Hawk.

"Howís it going?"

"Fine, you?"

"Fine."

"Sox doing well."

"Yup."

"Hmmmmm."

So the reader gets caught up in it the scene without anything else at all. So that is certainly a style, although too sparse for me.

It could be a genre thing. When I submitted to Harlequin they said they loved my writing style in general. So they liked the way I wrote dialogue.

In regards to one pro-SAID webpage, many of their "never use" phrases are used frequently in fantasy books I love. For example, JRR Tolkien has lines such as

"Quite right, Sam," laughed Bilbo. "You can trot off and tell Gandalf that he has gone to bed."

Or

"Escaped?" cried Aragorn. "That is ill news indeed."

One pro-SAID webpage rails against "sneered", but when I popped open Dune one of the first lines I saw was:

"Room to maneuver," Piter sneered. "Already you have the Emperorís eyes on you, Baron."

Plus of course other verbs -

"Now Harkonnen shall kill Harkonnen," Paul whispered.

Lord of the Rings and Dune are my two favorite books, and the style I adore, so thatís what I tend to write.

To me, it's like watching a movie. I watch a lot of foreign films. Let's say that I can watch the films solely by reading subtitles (no voice or facial cues) or I can watch the movies while listening to the language (for example I can speak and understand Spanish). When I listen to the language I get far more meaning because there is the inflection and strength of voice and so on. The subtitles are "flat". Similarly, with SAID, on a black-and-white piece of paper, all inflection is lost. The reader has to guess at how something is being said. They're missing an entire dimension of what the author is attempting to convey. With other more descriptive verbs, that inflection is smoothly part of the stream and the extra dimension of nuance is brought to life.

Let me know if you have any feedback or thoughts on dialogue! I'm always curious how people enjoy different styles!

Lisa Shea Author Facebook Fan Page

Lisa Shea Medieval Novels - main page