Thursday, August 12, 2010


So today I am also at Burrowers, Books & Balderdash, reviewing some dozen or so books I've never read (as it's Delusional Thursday and all), so I'd love you to come by THERE for some reading recommendations!

But for HERE...

So there is a point of confusion I have, and I thought maybe we should talk about it. We ALL know Adverbs are evil, ne? We carefully perform an Adverbectomy on our very first rewrite... adverbs are TELL, not SHOW. Got it. That isn't the part that confuses me.

What confuses me is MANY agents and publishers say that for dialog tags, they ONLY use said or asked. I've read several blogs to this effect—I swear I'm not making it up. And I want to know


I thought maybe I'd review a list of synonyms of 'said' and we could talk about what the heck is so wrong with them, because I don't get it.

Synonyms when I looked it up: Added, continued, stated, announced, asserted, commented, declared, observed, remarked, reported.

Okay, I take it back. For THESE, I get why we stick to said. These mostly seem like they are trying too hard, but what about:

Whispered: This is a word that gives an indication of mood, tone... it is a pretty darned descriptive verb.

Shouted: I suppose in some situations, I suppose an exclamation point will suffice, but when a name needs to be paired, the 'said' is just STUPID when shouting is meant.

Muttered (I have characters in EVERY book who want to mutter!) What the heck is WRONG with muttering! It is a personality indicator!

*cough* Okay. I'm calm now...

Oh, now HERE is a nice list... from a CLASSROOM, no less! Teachers teach kids to VARY their words. Why the heck are writers not supposed to?

And NOW, A Delusional Thursday twist, because, THAT is what I do... Some dialog with my FAVORITE of the verbs on the list.

The Colonization of Spankmenow

For the uninitiated, Planet Spankmenow is a rather pleasant place, filled with Cabana boys, fruity rum drinks, and lots and lots of laughter (founded by the spaz, to be introduced soon). One arrives there by traversing the portal, otherwise known as 'the veil at the dais, in the Deathroom in the Ministry of Magic—this is a Harry Potter reference, people. And YES, you heard me. Sirius Black LIVES. And we have him in handcuffs. But I digress.

So a Queen, A Tart, A Cat, A Spaz, and Giraffe, go through a veil...

“Tail!” The cat hissed.

“Couldn't help myself,” the Spaz teased.

“You're old enough to be my mother!” the cat spat.

“Who isn't?” the Tart quipped.

“I'm not,” the Giraffe dared.

“Me neither,” the Queen sassed.

“You catching this?” the Spaz telepathically transmitted.

The Tart nodded and the two speculated the punishments of the wee ones non-verbally.

“Spare the Queen; she made our lovely outfits,” the Spaz pleaded.

“Yes, but her years of leadership ought to have taught her better!” the tart insisted. The Tart waved her wand and the lot of them were turned to newts.

“Sorry,” the Cat-Newt whimpered.

“Did you know we can climb walls like this!?” the Giraffe-Newt marveled.

“I have some really juicy gossip on the Tart if you change me back, Spaz,” the Queen tempted.

“Well...” speculated the Spaz.

“Okay, Sketchie,” the Tart reasoned with the Spaz, “Do you REMEMBER a certain Cowboy, Rockets lost weekend circa 2006?”

“Nup. Not bargaining!” the Spaz admitted.

But then the Tart, being a benevolent dominatrix, returned all to their original forms.

“Next time, kitty, Ix-nay on the other-may with your oddesses-gay... erm... or something like that...” the Tart angled-may.

So there you have it. Did you MISS 'said'? Can't it be more fun without?


Ted Cross said...

They say that about 'said' but I see many of my favorite authors ignoring that advice. Now, I do tend to go with 'said' for the most part in my book, but I do use other words if I feel it is needed in that particular moment.

Natasha said...

Yup, I never quite got that. I am not particularly fond of using said and asked exclusively (and that is a particular problem for me, because so much of what I write is dialogue). In my kid-lit I was particularly good about editing out the whispered, shouted and muttered - then found those words in almost all the books the kids read (or have read to). If kids can handle words other than said and asked, why not adults?

Fantastic story that.

February Grace said...

You're preaching to the choir, sister.

I am one of those people for whom endless pages of 'saids' alone actually keeps me from processing the dialog in my head. I see every tag and after awhile my mind starts wanting to count them. Then I lose track of the story. Then, I don't care s much. After awhile I don't care at all.

I feel that removing the emotions from tags (which is really pretty much what substituting 'said' instead of 'whispered' or 'shouted' or even 'cried' does) sucks the life out of a story quicker than a Dyson on deep pile. I know a lot of people feel strongly about this and yeah, I know, it can be overdone.

But I agree with you- varied is better. I've tried it the other way and it bored me to freakin' tears.


M.J. Nicholls said...

Hahahahaha! Excellent. I certainly guffawed chortled chuckled and spazzed.

I once wrote a story replacing each said with a more creative alternative. I was publicly spanked, in accordance with the spankmenow act of 1972.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

I chuckled throughout your post.

You must go with your instinct. Your style is what makes you a writer not a hack.

I try to see if I can do without even "said" for a few exchanges to give the illusion of a real conversation. Not for very long as that tends to confuse the reader.

But read aloud a dialogue where the responses are short, and the continual he said, she said will drive you to distraction. At least it does me.

Have a great end of week, Roland

Cruella Collett said...

Nope, I'm with you. Said gets boring. I would hate to be deprived of the opportunity to marvel at wall-climbing. So I say, uhm, DECLARE that we should be allowed to use other dialogue verbs!

Dawn Embers said...

I also had issues with this concept and still do for the most part. However, I do think that overdoing the different words can be a problem. If the dialogue is littered with "saidisms" then it gives a feeling of too much. And I think part of the reason for using said is the fact that most readers glance over that part. It's a part that isn't really noticed by the reader and so it's simpler ot keep it with said than have the forest of variety. Maybe.

Not Hannah said...

I'm going to disagree with you, WT. (Although you know we will always share a love of Nathan Fillion's butt.) My feeling is that if your dialogue and scene description is strong enough, you shouldn't have to have words like murmured, exclaimed, shrieked, whimpered, etc. I hesitate to use this phrase, because it makes me want to puke, but maybe it's a show versus tell kind of thing? All I know is that when I'm trying to wade through an RA Salvatore novel and everybody is quavering or thundering or elucidating, I want to scream. (Although he's a published author, so perhaps I should learn a thing or two.)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I use far more words than said. Everyone's right - it's really boring and repetitive.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I've gotten so I leave out dialogue tags *altogether* instead of worrying about them. So I'll have a bunch of lines like this:
"dlkfjdlfkdfldjf dlkfjdlfk."

You should see all the dialogue attributions that my editors put in! :)

Anonymous said...

I agree with what everyone else said....

Have a good day, Boonsong

Hart Johnson said...

Ted-I wonder if you have to the become a favorite author before they let you use other words...

Natasha-NO FAIR! Why should kids get better vocabulary than adults!

Bru *snort* LOVE that image... counting the 'saids' instead of reading the darned book. That is an argument to stow away.

Mark- A SPANKING, A SPANKING! *and there was much rejoicing*

Roland-I skip a lot of them when there are only two characters, too. And if there is ANY other action, I try to use THAT instead, but I'm writing a book with lots of parties, and so there need to be tags...

Mari--I just loved that image of you being content climbing walls instead of put out at being a newt... *snicker*

Dawn-yeah... I do see that... it isn't the word you should substitute other words when SAID is really what you MEAN... but when you mean something much more specific...

NH- Nathan's butt it is! Agree to disagree... The Salvatore examples you give would probably bug me, too, but I feel like the shrieking and murmering give good character hints... people with different personalities talk different ways, and the verb can SHOW us that--or so I see it.

Alex--and you're in press! HA! Did your publisher edit any of it out?

Elizabeth--Excellent! Forcing editors to misattribute is definitely a worthy goal!

Boonsong... but they didn't all agree with each other...

Unknown said...

Wonderful post!

I was told it's because our eyes gloss over "said" and readers are able to continue to focus on the action and dialog. They say it should be clear he's mutterer or shouting through the words he utters rather then have to state it. Or add action to secure it rather than telling the reader.

For example: "Shut up, you bloody cow!" We assume he's yelling that, he's not whispering it.

Another example:

"Do whatever you want, you always do."

"I didn't hear that, Doug. Doug? Don't walk away. Don't walk away from me, Doug! Fine. I'll do what I want."


Old Kitty said...

"Telephatically transmitted".

That's just made my day - says I! :-)

Take care

ViolaNut said...

I was actually given an assignment in 5th grade to write a piece consisting of 20 lines of dialogue and not a single use of the word "said". In fact, the assignment title was "Replacing said". I wrote about my cat (she was only a year old), so I got to stick "meowed" in there, but clearly this assignment made an impression on me. ;-)

I tend to go with 'said' when I want the tag but no attention, but yeah, there's a fair bit of muttering, shouting, etc. I get bored, so why wouldn't a reader?

Hart Johnson said...

Clarissa, there could be something to that glossing thing... unless the 'said' is SO present that it's annoying. I guess one of my things though, is I like characters that don't follow rules. Let's say our teen wants to call somebody a butthead.

"Butthead." whispered, muttered, said, or shouted say very different things about the teen SAYING it.

Great examples of dialog that doesn't need a how, though if the NAME had to be attached so it had to have a tag, would 'said' really work for those?

Jenny *gigglesnort* I aim to please! (and if you knew Stacy, you'd know we can do that... we channel each other fairly often)

Leanne--I think I had an assignment like that at some point too, now that you mention it... And yes... bored writers lead to bored readers!

Sugar said...

I believe I dislike "said" as well.. At least overusing it. It makes for a boring dialogue.
But I tend to be wordy and maybe too discriptive, as you know.
Loved the convo though..

Southpaw said...

I understand why they say only to use said - I do, but I like to see it change up a few times in a book.

Erica Mitchell said...

I understand why they have put it out there that they only want "said and asked". Granted I've heard different reasons as to why but both made sense in thier own way.
1. The brain is trained to look past said when you just need to clarify who is speaking in more than a two person dialogue (to me though I see it and if it's over used I get pissy, my brain see's the word said it doesn't skim it)
2. The characters should be developed well enough that the dialogue will translate if the scene is set properly for the conversation. The use of verbs will indicate the mood if done properly and so on. Physical beats, naked dialogue and so forth. If it can't be shown then the best word is said and to use it sparingly.
I have started to master this but it hasn't at all been easy in anyway. I rely on the action and mood in the scene to convey what a person is saying and when it comes to more than two people speaking I do the same.
I don't agree with only using the word said and asked at all I like getting a variety because I get annoyed by
"Blurp," said.
action "Bleep," said. Seriously I go nuts when I see that and have put books back on the shelf when I read it. I understand it in theory but don't agree with it and have done dialogue work so that I can avoid this problem as MUCH as possible. And if I see a "?" I hate when I see the word 'asked' in a two person setting. Annoyed. When it comes down to it, it's just another way of saying show us don't tell us. But the variation is nice and I 100% agree with that and I read book after book that breaks all the rules on cliche's, adverbage and other modifications, weak verbs, and the variations of said...oh and these !!!!!!!!!! so...there ya go. My two cents ;)

Hart Johnson said...

Sugar- Thanks, hon! And I think wordy is FINE for a first draft. It is easier to pare than fill in order to reach the optimum outcome.

Holly-Exactly! Switch it up!

Erica-so how do you REALLY feel about it? *snort* You are too cute! I think I am getting to master it, too--In group conversations, one trick I use is to have the NEXT person respond to the last speaker by name--voila, no tag needed. And if they are doing anything besides talking, that totally helps. But I totally agree that if it is ONLY said, I definitely notice. I get annoyed quickly by it.

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. You're strange. Definitively so. If I hadn't already known that, your little dialogue-age would've sealed the deal for me.

But hey! Y'know what happens to strange people? They get awarded strange things, right? So guess what: you get the Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits award. On my blog. Today. Check it.

Also, I agree with you. "Said" is good for most things, but occasionally my characters grumble or grate their dialogue. Or scream. Or something. Huh. I just formulated a theory of dialogue tags about which I should blog. Thanks for that! Stay tuned for moar! AAAHHH!


I'm done now.

Erin said...

I like 'said' and 'asked' on occasion, but every single time is just grueling. On the other end of the spectrum, people like Stephenie Meyer does not use either of those more than five times in a single book. Right in the middle is the best.

Erin said...

Oops. Grammar mistake. do* instead of does.

Lola Sharp said...

He he...or should I say e-hay, e-hay! Uckle-chay!! *Ort-snay*

I enjoyed this post, as always.

I won't get into my views on tags in general, but I will say that you should write your style, be the you that we love and...see what your future editors have to say.

That SAID, I still must warn against too much variety. A 'whispered' here and a 'mumbled' there is not a deal breaker. But a lot of variety and I'm pulled out of the story.

lisahgolden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lisahgolden said...

"Sirius Black in handcuffs?" she asked.

Is it like all things - moderation is best?

Hart Johnson said...

Simon *snarfle* I take that as a compliment! It's nice to know there are other odd birds out there besides me. SQUEEEEEEEEEEE! I get to be a man! But can I change the suit for a dress? I LOVE being a woman dressed as a man dressed as a woman!!!! Oh yeah... drag queen... that's me. *snort*

Erin- GREAT rule! Said and ask, five times in the middle! Perfect! *snicker* (yeah... Meyer's writing is mostly distracting.)

Lola... HEY... your name in Pig Latin is Ola-Lay... I bet you got a lot of jokes there! *cough* *snickers* And yeah... not an obvious ATTEMPT at variety. My view in reality is limit tags AT ALL, but use the right word when you use them. My characters snort a lot.

Lisa-nothing moderate about Sirius. And you know all he has to do to get out of them is turn into a dog, but he LIKES the cuffs.

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I didn’t miss said one little bit! I also have characters who insist on whispering, shouting and muttering, so therefore, I sometimes ignore the “only use said’ rule.

Cheeseboy said...

I love this pure insanity writing. Thumbs up to any post that includes a character named "Spaz".

Hart Johnson said...

Jane--and characters can be so pushy, can't they?

Cheeseboy-Spaz is a real person...erm... penguin... well, she's real anyway...

RosieC said...

I agree with you, Tart, but to a point. Mostly I try to leave off the dialogue tags, just as Elizabeth/Riley said. If Hemingway can write an entire short story without using one dialogue tag, why can't I skip them over three or four lines--as long as only 2 people are talking. Otherwise, I try to indicate who's speaking by other body-language tags (she closed her eyes/he massaged his... jaw).

I use the more descriptive tags only when I feel the action of speaking needs the extra description. To be honest, in your dialogue, I got caught up in the tags more than the dialogue itself.

But, then again, you're published and I'm not, so I'm going to zip my lip (she telepathically transmitted, the zipper already being stuck).

Deb and Barbara said...

Did NOT miss "said". Bravo.

TreeX said...

Snape sneered.

Hart Johnson said...

Rosie-in real life, I am actually TOTALLY with you on 'leave 'em off where you can'. My little illustration hoped to show they could be PART of the amusement instead of needing to blend. But yeah... I'd NEVER tag every line, and try to use other, non-speaking actions where possible.

Barbara-THANK YOU! *hugs*

Joris-see, this is one of those things that doesn't need saying because when does Snape NOT sneer? You would be giving far greater news if Snape STOPPED sneering, ne?

Roseanne Schmidt said...

When you have a sentence like... (going through my first draft WIPs):

“silly humans.” She said quietly to herself, attempting a whisper in a middle of a fit of giggles.
“silly stupid humans.” Jason added, laughing.

It most certainly sounds better when revised as:

“Silly Humans.” She laughed.
Jason smirked, and laughed along with her. “Yeah, silly stupid humans,”

... It looses the small details, but gains much in movement and action.

All in moderation, people... All in Mod-Er-A-Tion!!!