What you should have said

One of easy mistakes people make when they’re first starting off writing, is to try to replace the word “said” with something more colorful. This is a mistake. In fact, it’s such an obvious mistake that I don’t know how anybody could ever do it. But a quick google search returns hundreds of pages telling you to substitute other dialog tags, and usually include a list of synonyms you could use. The fact is, the word “said” just disappears into the page, and you don’t notice it. Synonyms stand out, which is exactly why they should be used sparingly.

Pull any book off your book shelf and take a look at what tags they use in the dialog. For the most part, you’re going to see a lot of “said”s on the page. So why do people try to eliminate said? I’m guessing it comes from over-thinking things; after you’ve read your manuscript for the thousandth time and it’s still not selling, you just have to find the *one*magical*thing* that will fix it and make it publishable. You’re just in your head too much at that point (and an unpublishable story probably can’t be fixed up anyway, without starting over).

Anyway, the reason I’m thinking about this is because I started reading Pollyanna with Evie the other day. If there was ever a better example of the “you should have used ‘said'” principal, I don’t know it. Holy cow. Every sentence ends with a synonym for said, and it is so awful I can hardly read it. Absolutely painful.

You know things are getting bad, when someone “ejaculates” every other page or so. “You are the most extraordinary girl!” ejaculated Aunt Polly. Come on, ejaculated?? Do you know how hard it is to read that with a straight face? ::shudder:: No, some words should not be used in children’s literature.

So if you feel the need to substitute for the word said, just read a couple of pages of Pollyanna. If that doesn’t snap you out of it, nothing will!


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