Thursday, June 11, 2015

A little more writing advice...

There's a post going around Tumblr right now with several writing "cheat sheets". One of these proclaims that "said is dead" and suggests a variety of other words to use instead of 'said'. Words like "laughed", "giggled", "hissed", "smirked" and "pondered".
I hammered out a reply that I hoped would catch fire and zoom around Tumblr. Of course it did no such thing.
So I'm going stick it here as well, because two or three readers would be two or three times more than it has had so far! Yes, I can math! 

This is pretty basic writing advice, kids, so listen closely.

Your high school English teacher got it wrong. Said is NOT dead. It will never be dead. Said is the best possible word you can use when characters are talking. There are three main reasons why:

One. A lot of the words people try to substitute for “said” are kind of rubbish if you really picture a scene. A person might have said it with a hint of a giggle in their voice, or they might have tried to say it while choking on laughter, but a character does not ‘laugh’ or ‘smirk’ or ‘beam’ words.

Unless they are an alien spaceship, in which case they might beam words every now and then.

Two. These are crutch words. And yes, sometimes it’s better to use them. All rules are made to be broken, especially in art. A new character who happens to be an army sergeant might boom or shout to establish what he’s all about as quickly as possible.

But it is much more effective to describe the way the floor shakes when he really gets going, or the vein popping out of his forehead when a new recruit pisses him off. 
This gives the reader a much richer variety of information, telling them more about the narrator, or the setting, or the reactions of the other characters, as well giving them the information that a man is yelling.

Three. Once you’ve established that someone is yelling, or happy or sad, there’s no need to keep finding new and unique ways of reminding the reader.

“Said” is invisible. It helps the reader to know who is making words with their mouths (or their minds if you are writing about telepaths) and that’s about it. And that’s a good thing.

Basically you want to describe the scene well, and you don’t want to say the same thing twice. Describing a yelling man, and then repeating that he is yelling, is saying the same thing twice.

TL;DR: Long live 'said'.

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