Thursday, 22 October 2015

Confession: I Don't Like "Said"

I know I'm in the minority here, but I don't like using "said" for dialogue tags.

I'll give everyone a moment for the collective gasp of horror to subside.

Conventional wisdom says "said" is invisible.  The readers' eyes skip over it and thus it avoids interrupting the action.  Writers are encouraged to simply use "__ said" when we want the dialogue to flow quickly without getting confused.

If a writer wants to use something more descriptive, we are told to use actions rather than adjectives.  I agree with that part, but it does slow down the pacing. 

I prefer to use a descriptive verb rather than "said" if I need something quick.  I am aware that it can get frustrating and jarring for readers so I try to keep it in check, but I as a reader get annoyed with a sea of endless "__ said" tags.  I guess I'm one of the few people who notice it.

"Did you get the car fixed?" he said.
"No, the garage was closed," she said.
"Closed?  It's a Thursday!" he said.
"Maybe it had something to do with the police investigation," she said.

It bothered me even to write that as an example.  This is what I would do if I was trying to make this dialogue flow quickly:

"Did you get the car fixed?" he asked.
"No, the garage was closed," she drawled.
"Closed?  It's a Thursday!"  He blinked in shock.
"Maybe it had something to do with the police investigation," she suggested.

To me, it's much more evocative and still does the assigned work of making it clear who said what.  Said is good when you need something basic but I believe we should aspire beyond basics.  Ideally, I would include more description of what was happening to paint the scene, assuming it doesn't impact the pacing.

"Did you get the car fixed?" His voice echoed in the cabinet as he searched for the peanut butter.
"No, the garage was closed," she drawled, trying to keep a smile off her face.
"Closed?  It's a Thursday!"  His head whipped around, his nose nearly clipping the door.
She got up, sauntering to the door as he stared at her in shock.  "Maybe it had something to do with the police investigation."

I know it's not how most people look at it.  But it's how my brain works.

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