Nathan Bransford, Author


Tuesday, May 1, 2007

He Said, She Shouted Loudly

I had a question the other day from an author who was hoping I'd settle a debate that wasn't, believe or not, about sports or television, but actually was a question about writing. I was as stunned as you are.

The question had to do with variations of the word "said" and "asked." To rephrase her question, is it ok to use all those other words out there like "whispered," "shouted," "postulated," or, my personal favorite, "enumerated", instead of the word "said"?

So consider this exchange. Which do you prefer, Option A or B?

Option A:
"You two really are cowboys," Iceman said.
"What's your problem, Kazanski?" Maverick asked.
"You're everyone's problem," Iceman said. "That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."
"That's right! Ice.... man. I am dangerous."

or

Option B:
"You two really are cowboys," Iceman scoffed.
"What's your problem, Kazanski?" Maverick asked confrontationally.
"You're everyone's problem," Iceman asserted. "That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."
"That's right!" Maverick shouted. "Ice.... man," he said quietly. "I am dangerous."

I'm sure there is a lot of debate about this, and please feel free to register your opinion in the comments section, but put me in the Camp of Said (Option A).

Someone I know who went to creative writing school once told me (I'm paraphrasing here) that when you're writing dialogue it seems repetitive to keep writing "said" all the time, and it's tempting to want to change it up, thinking you're going to annoy a reader with all those "saids." But actually, a reading brain doesn't really register the word "said," and readers only need to be reminded who's talking. It should be apparent from the dialogue and context whether someone is "shouting" or "whispering" or, yes, even "enumerating," and using "said" keeps the reader's attention on the dialogue.

I'm sure there are great writers on both sides of the "said" divide, there is definitely a place for the occasional variation, and so please do not toilet paper my house tonight if you're in the non-said camp. Flip through some books to see how your favorite writers handle this one, and I bet you'll be surprised about how many "saids" you'll see. So let me know what you think on this one, and remember, you can be my wingman anytime.






77 comments:

Charles Sheehan-Miles said...

I'll try to avoid the toilet paper throwing. I tend to agree that the first option is best, because "said" is basically invisible.

On some rare occasions I'll make an exception -- that's specifically to set the tone of a particular comment if its unusual. Sometimes people shout. But shouting "loudly" seems redundant.

Len said...

E.B. White, in the Chapter he wrote concerning "Style" in The Elements of Style, came out decidedly in favor of "said." And if "said" is good enough for the creator of Charlotte and Wilbur--which is a book that is about as good as a book can get--it's good enough for me.

original bran fan said...

But you used "asked" when it's a question, right? You don't write, "Can I go home now?" Beatrice said.

Robert Parker does that, refuses to even use "asked" and it drives me nuts.

I vote for an exception for questions.

Nathan Bransford said...

OBF-

"Asked" is the appropriate counterpart to "said" for questions. It's also invisible.

Lauren said...

Actually, I use "asked" sparingly for questions. It has always seemed redundant to me. If the question mark's there, we already know it's a question. For questions, I tack on a "said," or use no dialogue tag at all.

Maybe "asked" jumps out less at other people than it does at me. "Said" is invisible to me, but "asked" is not.

Mary Paddock said...

"A" is somewhat better, but I tend to lean toward letting gestures and dialogue carry the weight whenever possible. Bear with me--my familiarity with the X-men is limited and my boys aren't around to ask.

"You two really are cowboys."Iceman's shield melted back into the atmosphere. He glared at Maverick.

Maverick pulled off his mask and rubbed the ash and soot from his face. His kevlar gleamed in the flames of the burning building behind him. "What's your problem, Kazanski?"

"You're everyone's problem. Everytime you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous." Iceman waved a hand in the direction of the building.

Maverick didn't move. He lowered his voice, his scarred face darkening. "That's right! Ice.... man. I am dangerous."

alson_c said...

Actually, I prefer the option where you attribute dialogue as little as possible--instead of using "said" mid-stream, have the character DO something to make it obvious they are the active person in this paragraph. Also, you don't HAVE to attribute every statement. The reader can follow easily enough if there are only two people on the page, especially if the two characters have been drawn completely and have distinct speech patterns.

So, I guess my choice is "none of the above." In my mind, less is more.

Scott said...

Count me in Mary's paddock. (Sorry. Couldn't resist.) A is definitely better than B, but using some kind of action is even better (although that, too, can be overdone).

What drives me nuts is something like this:

"No," Bob said, shaking his head.

Better:

"No." Bob shook his head.

Once in my writers group, somebody in the too-many-saids camp was really getting carried away. We finally had to draw the line when he did something like this:

"Stop saying said," John ejaculated.

It wasn't THAT kind of story.

Brandi. said...

I was a cherub in Northwestern's journalism school when the professors gave us the "said" warning:

A budding J-student did a feature story about Capt. Seamen of the U.S. Navy. This student found all sorts of different synonyms for "said," so proud that he had not once used the term. The article ended with a great quote (now lost to history) due to this replacement: "Seaman ejaculated."

That said it all. Unless you're really trying to say something, "said" is the way to go.

Anne-Marie said...

I like using "said" and "asked" with actions between dialogue to show the confrontational tone, etc... The second example looks awkward and doesn't actually flow well.

leatherdykeuk said...

Option 'A' for the same reason as your 'someone I know.'

sylvia said...

I'm sure there are great writers on both sides of the "said" divide

I'd like to see an example of a great (or even good ... settle for published?) author that writes in the style of your second example. I was firmly of the belief that it was a standard beginners issue.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

As for variants of "said" and descriptive adverbs in tags:

Dialogue should speak for itself.

It should be obvious whether a line of dialogue is whispered or shouted or muttered. I also use choreography, internal dialogue, gestures, and expressions as tags--I aim for about 50%.

Dan Leo said...

Sure, there are writers on the "B" side of the debate.

"Bad writers," he harrumphed, scoffingly.

Christopher M. Park said...

I'm definitely in camp A, but I think that there are times when you need to pull one from camp B. For instance, when people are literally whispering because they are trying to be quiet, or shouting because they are trying to be heard, or whatever--then that's the time to just say "he whispered" or "he shouted." There are probably a few other cases that I can think of that might be appropriate, but not very many.

And when it comes to tacking a random adverb to "said," I'm definitely with camp A. Sometimes it's tempting to add in those little adverbs, but they should generally be edited out after the first draft in favor of just letting the dialogue speak for itself (hopefully it already does), or adding in action cues/descriptors.

Whether or not using "saidisms" is always inexcusable is perhaps somewhat debatable, but I think that every writing professional would probably agree that having a large number of them is definitely the mark of an amateur.

Chris

Christopher M. Park said...

Oh, by the way, I got a laugh from Mary thinking that Nathan was quoting X-men. This is from Top Gun!

Anonymous said...

I would just like to add that Val Kilmer was the absolute best part of that movie.

IMHO :D

POD Critic said...

The second example would actually be considered too scholarly, which is a turn off. I go with A. in this case. But to add a point, any good writer wouldn’t be limited to the use of “said” when the situation calls for other signs of speech. For instance, dialogue isn’t always set up along the lines of the conversations used in the examples. One could write:

Her speech dropped to a whisper now. “And Calvin didn’t even care to hear about the missing report.”

There are many variations on dialogue delivery, but in the examples used in the post, A. is the accepted form.

Scott Marlowe said...

I'm firmly in camp A. "Said" is enough; any other information should be conveyed via character action or choice of dialog.

Annalisa said...

Sylvia, as to whether any published authors are on the other side of the said debate, I would say J.K. Rowling is. I don't have a book of hers handy for research, but I seem to recall a lot of non-said dialogue attributions and a good smattering of adverbs as well. You might argue about how legitimate she is in terms of literature, but you can't argue that her writing is worthless.

Personally, I'm somewhere between A and B... or maybe that makes me B. I really, really do not experience "said" as neutral. There are arguments against it, and I totally agree that some authors overdo it with the synonyms (to the point where it jumps out at me and really irritates me), but to me "said" is not invisible. Just to me though. I acknowledge that many people (as evidenced here) feel otherwise.

Mary Paddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tori Scott said...

I'm with Mary. I try to use action rather than "said" if I can. I thought both A and B were hard to read.

Mary Paddock said...

Oh, by the way, I got a laugh from Mary thinking that Nathan was quoting X-men. This is from Top Gun!

Well, that figures. And I actually looked up whether Iceman had weapons or not.

whitemouse said...

I'm in Mary's paddock too; that's how I try to write. And when I need a dialogue tag, I use "said".

Even for questions. Sorry, OBF.

Speaking of invisible things, here's a cool demonstration.

Count how many times the letter "F" appears in the following. When you read the correct answer, you'll likely be very surprised.

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE
SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTI
FIC STUDY COMBINED WITH
THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS...


The correct answer is six.

If you actually counted six "F"s, that's very rare; most people only get three. If you didn't get six, go back and try again.

Did you still not get six? Okay; here's the ginormous, shocking, scandalous answer: the word "OF" has an "F" in it.

"OF" is invisible; your brain doesn't process it.

Simon Haynes said...

I don't like using 'asked', and generally work my way around it. If there's a question mark it's obviously been asked, so stating it again is pointless.

While you're at it, scratch 'replied X'

My preferred course of action is to provide the absolute minimum in terms of stage directions while still making it clear who's actually speaking, and to whom.

Nathan Bransford said...

whitemouse-

I'm so glad you posted that brain teaser, because I was thinking of that as well. Some people have been saying that Option A doesn't read well, but that's only because you're looking for the "said"s. If it were in the middle of the book, I don't think you'd blink.

Well, other than wondering why there is Top Gun dialogue in the middle of a book.

reality said...

I am in the said camp. Sometimes I use other variations when emphasis or clarification is required.

Still said is the way to go.

That F comment was fun.

Anonymous said...

This reads like a movie dialogue. It's not very interesting either way. Option A is dry and awkward. Option B is overblown and has too many adverbs that weaken the prose. I like option B a little better, but only trimmed down like this:

Option B:

"You two really are cowboys," Iceman scoffed.

"What's your problem, Kazanski?" Maverick asked.

"You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."

"That's right!" Maverick leaned over, his eyes glittering. "Ice.... man," he said quietly. "I am dangerous."

Bernita said...

I'm with the "A" team - except when I'm on Mary's.

Mary Paddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz said...

The A camp gets my vote. When I need to clarify who is speaking, I'd rather use an action tag.

Heather Janes said...

I use said most often, though occasionally I will use something simple like whispered. I do prefer actions when at all possible; I think Mary's solution is best. Said, when used repeatedly, gets annoying too.

Gerri said...

I don't like either one, tbh. The first doesn't reveal depth of scorn, and the second is just plain awkward.


****
"You two really are cowboys," Iceman scoffed.
"What's your problem, Kazanski?" Maverick demanded.
"You're everyone's problem," Iceman said. "That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe." He glared at Maverick. "I don't like you because you're dangerous."
"That's right!" Maverick leaned in towards Kazanski. "Ice....man. I am dangerous.
****

Some times said is appropriate. But using the wrong non-said dialogue tag with a vague adverb does no writing any good, like asked confrontationally.

The first doesn't carry as much emotional weight with the saids. There's no visualization there. The second has better visual simply because the dialogue tags, as inappropriate as many are, give us that kind of emotional weight.

"You two really are cowboys," Iceman said.

"You two really are cowboys," Iceman scoffed.

With the first, we have no idea if the guy is sarcastic, about to clap their hands in joy or wonder, or, really any other emotions. The second, scoffed, instantly lets the reader know exactly what's going on in tone of voice. That's quite a layer of meaning on one word, something that doesn't happen with "said".

Using non-said dialogue tags is hard. Learning to mingle action and dialogue tags takes time and dedication. But in the end, the writing becomes richer in meaning.

Jennifer McK said...

I prefer the second BUT (you knew that was coming)I've been taught to add action, action, action.
"Show don't tell".
I'm TERRIBLE at dialog tags. I get them cut by my cps all the time.
Instead of "Maverick shouted" I would have put the actual action which would be "Maverick stepped closer until he was toe to toe with the taller man," That's raw, but that's an action I'd put in there.

eric said...

I'll play Lucifer's lawyer.

Catch-22. Joseph Heller. Random opening to pages 180-181: surmised, laughed, countered, agreed, inquired, conjectured, admitted, lamented, confessed, gloated, continued (twice), told, replied. Said--once.

The "rules", they can be broken. Pile on, I offer.

Anonymous said...

Option C:
Iceman's like, "You two really are cowboys."
Maverick's all, "What's your problem, Kazanski?"
"You're everyone's problem," Iceman goes. "That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."
"That's right! Ice.... man. I am dangerous."

Anonymous said...

Okay, the dialogue does suck, which makes all the options read poorly. That aside, however, Option A is the best.

Mary Paddock: the idea of sometimes using actions as a way to attribute dialogue is good, but I think in the example you wrote it's over-used. If you write like this all the time, it takes the reader forever to get through a small snippet of speech, which can be annoying.

"Everything in moderation." Anonymous stopped typing.

Mary Paddock said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mary Paddock said...

Dear anonymous,
Mary Paddock: the idea of sometimes using actions as a way to attribute dialogue is good, but I think in the example you wrote it's over-used. If you write like this all the time, it takes the reader forever to get through a small snippet of speech, which can be annoying.

I agree. I would have spent a lot more time sweating it if it wasn't just an example :) . I over-played my hand because I thought it was X-Men and I got caught up in the untold story and was trying not to stray from the Nathan's dialogue.

Personally, I'm happiest when my dialogue is moving so quickly and the voices are so distinctive that gestures and speech tags are barely needed.

"I'm pointing a gun at your back."

"And that's suppose to mean what to me?"

"That I can shoot you anytime I want."

"Yeah. Did you happen to make sure it was still loaded?"

Pause. "Damn."

"Told you I was fast."

Conduit said...

Here's something to muddy water. Should it be:

"A statement," Character said.

Or...

"A statement," said Character.

I picked a random selection of books off my shelf and they all used the latter, as do I, normally. It's only lately I've become aware of people using the former, including our host in his example.

Anonymous said...

Conduit, the first way is more modern and hence usually preferred nowadays. The second is seen a lot in older books. Maybe it's also used more in fantasy or some other genre (just guessing here) where it's more 'done' to use slightly archaic language.

Zen of Writing said...

I'm in the "said" camp, but the occasional "shouted" works for me. Not too often, I must insist.

Peter R said...

I’m with Mary and Alson_C on this one – action or description, and distinctive voices, are better than either options A or B, though when I find this impossible to achieve I opt for said. Establishing a regular patter of ‘said’ means that when you do drop in the odd descriptor it has a much greater impact.

The thing I can’t stand is when an author switches at random between ‘he said’ and ‘said he’ because suddenly ‘said’ looses it’s invisibility – Rowling goes this an the Potter books, not often, but it’s glaringly obvious when she does.. Whatever you do, make sure you do it consistently, and only break your own rules when you want to create an additional effect.

mkcbunny said...

Re:anonymous on "Character said" vs. "said Character"

the first way is more modern and hence usually preferred nowadays. The second is seen a lot in older books.

Is the use of the latter seen as a negative, or is it a matter of contemporary writing trends? I'll have to go look at my bookshelf. I hadn't noticed this. And I'm partial to the "old" way.

Anonymous said...

Mkcbunny,
I do think many people view "said Character" as a no-no these days. However, I also don't believe myself in cleaving to rules when it comes to writing fiction. I would do as you prefer, but then run it by your writing group or some astute readers, and if they don't like it, consider changing it. But then again that's just my opinion, and I'm some anonymous on the Internet.

John B said...

Throw me in the said shed, too, for the most part, but, obviously, sometimes you don't need even said at all and sometimes you need more.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie asked.

but maybe this doesn't convey the correct tone for this specific statement, so sometimes...

"What the hell are you doing here," Vinnie whispered.

maybe even...

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie whispered loudly.

because a loud whisper is a distinct type of whisper, a silly one, but distinct...

so probably not...

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie whispered quietly.

because this is a standard issue whisper.

Robert Barr rbarr4348@sbcglobal.net said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ruth said...

Is the above post... serious?

Robert Barr, I suggest you check out Mr Bransford's FAQs or agency's website. I also suggest you up your ms from 37k words. Submitting your query via blog comment is...

well.

Anyway, just wanted to comment that I'm in the "said" camp as well, although I do occasionally use other words.

It irritated me in a writing paper at university when our lecturer did a similar thing, with said and non-said examples, and asked which we preferred. I preferred the "said" version, but apparently he was trying to convince us the other route! He said it was much more interesting that way. I think it just reads as a much clunkier text.

I tend to be in Mary Paddock's camp - I often use gestures to illustrate how they're talking, if it's a scene that can be safely slowed down.

Ink Johnson said...

Here's how I like attributions:
70% 'said' and 'asked'
5% 'said' with an adverb. (The adverb is usually 'sarcastically' because there's some times when a comment could be taken straight or sarcastically.)
20% stage directions or no attribution.
5% non-said, non-asked attributions. I'm picky about which ones I use, though--only whispered, shouted, replied, and continued are allowed.

These are ballpark figures, but I think those percentages would work because you can throw in the occasional, judicial 'sadism' when necessary without fearing the wrath of the Gods of Literary Judgment.

KayKayBe said...

Wow. I'm glad I'm not an agent today. I like my inbox to have just a few emails in it, all from people I already know, and none of them more than a few hundred words. Unless my sister is going to tell me why she HAS to break up with her boyfriend, and my mom is upset, because she never even met him...you get the point. Things that are interesting.

Jenna said...

can that long-ass submission comment be deleted? Seriously, I had to scroll for almost two minutes to get to real comments again.

Nathan Bransford said...

jenna-

I would, except that I feel it's a fairly educational look into an agent's inbox. More like a cautionary tale, but educational all the same.

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

Oh hey. 2 years later and people are still leaving comments for this post. It's like what Stephen King said in his book On Writing. Writing is actually telepathy. You transcend time and space, you weave an image and people you've never seen will see it. Nathan, you should be proud of yourself. You're a telepath!

So, anyway. I used to hate using 'said' all the time. I felt it repetitive. I went creative with all the substitutes.

Then I started reading books on writing, and all of them encourage the 'A' Camp. 'Said' is used to identify who the speaker is. Use the dialogue itself to convey your tone, your message. Show, don't tell. Also, use actions to create breaks in the dialogue so it doesn't feel like ethereal beings are conversing, but not in every line that it stalls the flow of the dialogue.

That being said, the books also state that rules are meant to be broken, if you know them in the first place.

Now, I either don't use ["..." (Character) said] at all, or I use [said]. And when needed, I use something like [whispered]. And I find that my storytelling has improved, partly because of this.

__________________________________

I say, Mary is a telepath as well. I almost got a cardio laughing at her interpretation of Nathan's Top Gun snippet as an X-Men conversation.

Iceman doesn't use a shield, by the way. Not usually. He builds an ice wall to fend off attacks. But this move gets nullified with characters like Pyro.

__________________________________

Quoted from John B:

Throw me in the said shed, too, for the most part, but, obviously, sometimes you don't need even said at all and sometimes you need more.

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie asked.

but maybe this doesn't convey the correct tone for this specific statement, so sometimes...

"What the hell are you doing here," Vinnie whispered.

maybe even...

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie whispered loudly.

because a loud whisper is a distinct type of whisper, a silly one, but distinct...

so probably not...

"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie whispered quietly.

because this is a standard issue whisper.

Methinks, instead of all that, why not this:
"What the hell are you doing here?" Vinnie hissed.

People would register the act 'hissing' as a loud whisper, probably with an angry and/or surprised note, and it also conveys the mood.

In Strunk and White, as well as in other books, the authors always say that every word counts. Choose the ones that best convey your message.

That being said, I now follow the 'said' camp, but not strictly. I love breaking rules, after all.

And Nathan, I thank all the monkeys that yanked my cardboard-colored paper camera off my hands when I was in Primary School for leading me to your blog.

Oh. I thank you as well for writing this blog.

Y(>.<)Y

Cheers!

Fadz.

Fadz said...

Oh. Sorry for the deleted comments.

I'm now so used to type -> read -> edit -> preview -> edit -> post -> edit -> read -> edit -> repost -> FUHGEDDABOUDIT!

A bad habit, I know. But at least I love editing and rewriting. That counts for something, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Rowling is firmly in camp B. Depends on the class of fiction . . . and how many books you want to sell I suppose ;-).

Anonymous said...

As a reader, I have to disagree with Camp A, and firmly say that Camp B is the better way to go. While it often is apparent, I find it excruciatingly annoying to see words repeated often. A perfect example: a friend recently recommended I read the book Graceling. She raved about the book, claiming an amazing plot is amazing, stellar character development, with the only downfall being some repetitive dialog. If I had finished the book, I'd probably agree. I really tried, but after counting over 100 instances of said by roughly chapter 5 (I can't recall now), I just couldn't finish the book. Readers aren't idiots (because idiots don't read). Readers don't need to reminded with repetitive instances of said. Leave repetition to marketing and advertising.

Heather said...

A! A! A!

But once in awhile if things are really heating up it's nice to use a word like "hissed" or my personal favorite "grated." Also a "whispered" every now and then; the reader can't always tell that.

Buttonman88 said...

The headings of all the comments here is _______ SAID!!!!

Has no one enumerated this thusfar?

Keren David said...

My son is 9 and I'm interested to see that creative writing as taught according to the British national curriculum encourages the kids to use as many different words instead of said as possible...shouted, exclaimed, murmured, whispered the works, plus tons of adverbs and adventurous punctuation.
I'm not sure when they teach them to take it all out, but he's always getting homework where he has to replace all the 'saids' in dialogue with 'more interesting words'.

Anyway, I prefer 'said' or nothing at all, but I'm quite fond of adverbs. The occasional 'grimly' or 'morosely' is fine I think.

Keren David said...

Oh, and I loved the God query. You should definitely represent him, Nathan - she said,sarcastically.

Sandy Ladignon said...

Points for Buttonman88,for giving a great proof of the invisibility of the word "said" (I never noticed them even when I was following the responses/multiple posts).

I feel people can get away with B as long as it's backed by great writing. And very few writers are/were in the level of greatness.

For now, I personally would be sticking with the A style.

Thanks for the very informative comments.

Anonymous said...

What about Stephenie Meyer? She's a prime example of someone who uses just about every expression except 'said' in her Twilight saga. I vote for Option A myself, but I just wonder why Option B works so well for others? <- rhetorical question btw.

Daniel Allen said...

I know I'm a little late to comment on this, but found it in a link on your latest post and just had to join in the discussion!

I prefer to use "said" (or any variation) when it's necessary to clarify who's speaking and there's no action or movement going on. Usually, if there's only two people speaking, I'll clarify who's talking first then alternate quotes assuming that the reader will know who's saying what. I'll add a bit of action from the person speaking to help paint the picture of the dialog and keep the reader certain of who's speaking. Using your example:

"You two really are cowboys," Iceman spat at him.
"What's your problem, Kazanski?"
"You're everyone's problem. That's because every time you go up in the air, you're unsafe. I don't like you because you're dangerous."
"That's right! Ice.... man." Maverick leaned close to Iceman, whispering for added effect. "I am dangerous."

...that's just me, though.

KareFree Kennels said...

From a review of The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum

The New York Times, March 11, 1990

…Aside from penning such panting prose, Mr. Ludlum has other peculiarities. For example, he hates the ''he said'' locution and avoids it as much as possible. Characters in ''The Bourne Ultimatum'' seldom ''say'' anything. Instead, they cry, interject, interrupt, muse, state, counter, conclude, mumble, whisper (Mr. Ludlum is great on whispers), intone, roar, exclaim, fume, explode, mutter. There is one especially unforgettable tautology: '' 'I repeat,' repeated Alex.''

The book may sell in the billions, but it's still junk.”

I prefer said, or body language, or nothing at all for the punchier passages of dialogue (I know, I know...all dialogue should be punchy.)

Cheers,
Sheryl

Anonymous said...

Four years later, people are still commenting on this.

My memory of this phenomenon is from reading Hardy Boys books. For some reason, Chet Morton - who is a little on the chubby side - always "chortles," rather than speaks. "You guys are so lame," Chet chortled. Cheezy and alliterative at the same time, it bothered me even at a young age.

By the way, kudos to Nathan for posting a topic that can still be commented on 2.5 years in. I wish I had that knack with my own blog...

Anonymous said...

Maybe I am in the unenlightened class of writers but here is another variation I would like add.

Character said, "Some space monkey."

As opposed to

"Some space monkey." Character said.

Right, wrong, less preferred?

Stephanie Barr said...

I'm way behind on this this, but I have to speak up anyway. I grew up on classic novels and the creative "saidisms" of Georgette Heyer and her ilk.

Guess what, I love them. I've laughed out loud as often over those as anything else. Scenes with people and expressions were painted for me when the dialog itself didn't manage it.

Like [The Talisman Ring] when Sarah "shrieked artistically" when attacked. We know she's playing a part and this clues in Sir Tristram that she's pulling one over on the Bow Street Runners. The only folks not in the know are the Runners themselves.

I have read the book more than a dozen times and I still laugh when I read it.

I guess my point is dialog is only part of what goes on in a scene. Nothing but words and an endless series of dialog seems an awful lot like watching a play the actors come out an read the lines in monotone. Even the greatest dialog is lost.

Also, I read "XX said" which might be part of my viewpoint. I live and hear good dialog and, yeah, that includes the extra bits that help me know how something's said.

Or maybe it's that my favorite type of humor is sarcasm - which can fall flat unless someone (at least the reader) is in the know.

Teralyn Pilgrim said...

When I read your Option A, I didn't really know what was going on (granted, some context would have helped), but when I read Option B, the text came alive. I agree it could have been toned down a bit, but I felt like I was really in the character's heads, really in the scene. Readers tune out the word "said" because it's boring. They certainly listen to the word "enumerated".

Teralyn said...

When I read your Option A, I didn't really know what was going on (granted, some context would have helped), but when I read Option B, the text came alive. I agree it could have been toned down a bit, but I felt like I was really in the character's heads, really in the scene. Readers tune out the word "said" because it's boring. They certainly listen to the word "enumerated".

Nathan Bransford said...

teralyn-

What happens when writers start using lots of abnormal dialogue tags is that the reader starts noticing the writing and it distracts them. You want readers to tune out dialogue tags so they're focusing instead on the characters and actions.

Anonymous said...

Did Robert Barr really say...an entire book?

I cannot stop laughing at his comment. I am seriously going to be returning to this post over and over again just to read what he said.

"Hysterious!" Nine C. said.

Anonymous said...

Hello. I only started visiting your page recently. Thank you so much for all the wonderful info. And I LOVE your sense of humor ;)

In reading the above, I had to wonder about a possible option C.

"How do you feel about adding descriptive details to the word said?" She asked curiously.

"I'm not sure I like it" he said coldly.

"I think it adds emotion" she said hopefully.

"But it could be too wordy" he said slowly.

"Oh, but I love words" she said excitedly.

?? too much?

Anonymous said...

"Wow, here we are many years later and still the debate continues." Jane wondered just how far reaching the subject could get.

"This little package might not ever get a bow around it." Knowing the propensity humans have for a good debate, Kim decided just to laugh and move on.

"We'll just have to watch and read." Said Charlie.

Farooq said...

Even though said is invisible, I would suggest to have 75% of 'said' and the rest for option B. I am not sure whether this is the right way. Pls comment

Anonymous said...

I am firmly in category B.
When people are speaking, all they have is tone, they don't spell out everything, and as a reader one of your most important senses is cut off; your hearing. I think it's more important that you know HOW it was said and directly. I have been into a really good book, and then suddenly I'm jolted out of it, because I am confused by what I just read, and then I have to reread the paragraph a few times to interpret the meaning. I want to know what the character means immediately so that I can keep reading. I think under-describing is more jarring than having too many adverbs. Sorry to disagree.

Nathan Bransford said...

anon-

I think it's more important to convey the tone of the dialogue through the dialogue itself, not the tags that describe how things are said. It should be apparent how someone is saying something through their words.

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