You know that moment. Your character has just spoken, and it’s time to add that little identifier after the dialog line.
But “he said” or “she said” is so boring.
Why not have your character intone? Articulate? Mutter, gasp, croak, chant, mumble, growl, snap, snarl? So many interesting verbs are waiting for your use. What’s wrong with them?
A Passing Fad
Say hello to “saidisms,” the countless words that can replace “said” in your narrative.
They used to be very popular. How popular? Beginning writers were often given a cheat sheet of “said” synonyms and urged to refer to it whenever their characters opened their mouths. The word “said” used to reflect poorly on your vocabulary.
But that’s all changed, and saidisms have fallen from grace.
Back to the Source
Nowadays, “said” is all the rage again. True, it’s boring. But it’s also almost invisible for the reader. The reader’s mind barely pauses on it, whereas words like “enunciated” or “declaimed” make it go, whoa! What was that? After a while, excessive use of saidisms stands out so much it becomes a farce.
In other words, “said” is small, unobtrusive, and does the work just fine. Whenever you need your character to say something, consider “said” as a strong candidate.
Let The Dialog Carry Your Meaning
“Snarled” may seem richer than “said,” because it adds emotion to the action. But if a character constantly snarls, the reader would suggest taking it to the vet. How to keep that dimension of emotion, if we’re to use the plain old “said”?
The answer lies in the dialog itself.
Consider the following:
“I don’t want to see you again,” he snarled.
“Get out of my sight!”
The snarl adds value to the first sentence because the dialog itself is pale and ambivalent. It could be said in various intonations with various nuances.
The second sentence stands on its own. It doesn’t even need a “said,” let alone a “snarled.” The emotion is all there in the phrasing.
Let Action Indicate Your Tone
Another way to work around saidisms is by using action to attribute speech. It looks like this:
“I’m the one speaking,” he said.
His friend clapped him on the shoulder. “Now I’m the one speaking. And I didn’t even need a ‘said’ to make it happen.”
By twining action and dialog, it’s obvious who’s speaking even if you don’t name him explicitly. It’s a powerful tool, because action conveys emotion and state of mind better than any saidism.
Look at the following:
“I don’t know,” Lucy stammered fearfully. “Maybe it was.”
“I–I don’t know.” Lucy clenched her trembling fingers. “Maybe it was.”
Both sentences convey her discomfort. Which gave you a clearer, richer image?
Summing It Up
Whenever you can, let the dialog do the work for you, or use a combination of dialog and action. Need a “said” word? Use “said” itself ninety-nine percent of the time. Your readers will thank you.
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