I’ve posted on this one at least a couple of times over the last two years—the enthusiastic over-use of “said” in fiction writing.
It seems common in manuscripts by new(er) writers, so I felt compelled (once again) to review why using “said” with zealous abundance might not be in the writer’s, or reader’s, interest. Literally.
“Yes, sir,” Malcom said with a nod. “I’ll report my findings as soon as possible.”
“You’d better,” she said. “And make sure you share them with Winters too.”
“I’ll do that,” he said.
She sighed and said, “Don’t forget to call after the meeting later; I need to know what’s transpired.”
“Yes, Mary-Anne,” he said and disconnected just as his executive assistant, Lee, entered.
“Looks like it’s gonna be a long day,” Lee said as he placed a folder on Malcolm’s desk.
“You said it,” Malcolm said with a sigh.
I’ve seen a lot of manuscripts that flow like this . . . as flat as flapjacks. There’s no need to always state that a character said something. Dialogue can stand on its own a lot of the time. Readers are pretty smart and can gather who is speaking from the action and details.
This isn’t to say that “said” shouldn’t be used. By all means, utilize it, but with a critical eye, and ear. It serves a [valid] purpose, but it’s not always a terribly exciting word and, sometimes, dialogue needs more, particularly in a tense or action-fraught scene.
Do you think people will have “said” something when a bomb is about to detonate or a giant lizard is about to eat a bunch of tourists? I suspect people would more likely have “declared”, “shouted”, “screamed”, “shrieked”, “commanded”, “cried”, or “bellowed”, to name but a few more thrilling and descriptive words.
Can’t you imagine Bob’s face as he shrieks a command to a fear-frozen coworker, as opposed to says? Shriek, to me, suggests his face would be tense, his brow creased, his lips tight, his throat dry; maybe he’d be gesticulating or taking action as he shrills. Say, to me, evokes an image of an unemotional face, someone who’s non-reactive.
How about we take the previous example and “activate” it a bit?
“Yes, sir,” Malcom promised with a quick nod and roll of the eyes. “I’ll report my findings as soon as possible.”
“You’d better,” she advised with a hint of a threat in the tone. “And make sure you share them with Winters too.”
He swallowed heavily and jabbed the pen into the edge of the desk. “I’ll do that.”
She sighed loudly. “Don’t forget to call after the meeting later; I need to know what’s transpired.”
“Yes, Mary-Anne.” He disconnected just as his executive assistant, Lee, entered.
“Looks like it’s gonna be a long day,” Lee commented with a dry smile as he placed a folder on Malcolm’s desk.
“You said it,” Malcolm muttered, rubbing his temples.
It’s not an exciting scene to begin with, but we can make it a little more interesting or add a little more tension. Always give thought as to how you can create more gripping or dynamic dialogue and scenes. Pull those readers in; don’t make their eyelids droop from fatigue.
It’s difficult getting started on that first story, be it a short one or a novel. There are many things to learn and apply. It all comes with time and practice. And that’s okay. We all have a learning curve.
Churning something out, however, without reviewing, proofing, or editing, is something to avoid. Per a previous post on this blog: there’s no need to be “perfect”, but do aspire to be the best that you can be.
I’m fairly sure, of the many manuscripts I’ve edited thus far, most haven’t read their final drafts aloud. Do so. This may sound daft but, trust me, it’s a worthwhile endeavor and it really doesn’t take that long. You’ll be amazed what you will “hear” and pick up.
Hope what I “said” makes sense.