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?
“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.”
“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.