It’s not often you’ll find me writing about writing, but I just read another article dissing authors who use words other than ‘said’ in their stories. And it annoys the snot out of me when I see that. Especially when the authors of articles such as this one suggest that writers who use the other words use them because their dialog is weak.
To that I say…baloney!
The very first day in my very first writing class the teacher had all of the students, one at a time, walk to the board and write an alternate word for….said. And we couldn’t stop until we reached one hundred of them.
Long story short, being extremely offended again at the insinuation that writers who use those other words are lazy or not talented, I headed off to Project Gutenberg and looked through a couple of classics. Great Expectations (Charles Dickens) and Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte) to be exact. I skimmed the first 10 pages of each book.
This part might be a little boring but I’m going to list every alternate word (and phrase) they used for said.
Mr. Dickens wrote:
cried (twice), pleaded, timidly explained, muttered, exclaimed (three times), faltered, and repeated. This was in addition to using said so many times my jaw dropped…and there was no dialog at all on the tenth page.
Ms. Bronte was a whole lot more creative in this area and used:
interrupted (twice), demanded, soliloquized, growled, shouted (twice), asked, muttered (twice), remarked (twice), repeated, exclaimed, gasped, replied, observed, growled, continued (twice), hemmed, snapped, demanded, answered, began, ejaculated mentally, hallooed responsively, commenced again, observed scornfully, hastened to reply, was the answer to, was my reply, was the reflection suggested by this compound order, and finally, I could not help exclaiming.
Just a hair off the subject here, both of these authors used the dreaded words ending in ly. Heaven forbid a modern writer pen ‘timidly explained,’ or ‘hallooed responsively’? And all of these no-no’s were in the first ten pages of these classics.
So I ask you, anyone who has managed to make it to this point in my case for alternate words for said…
If the greatest authors throughout history used them – in books that have been read for more than a century…why is it NOT okay for today’s writers to use them?
My theory? Actually I have two.
First, publishers love rules (and formulas for the perfect novel…only x+y+z=a good book). Second, it’s just easier for them to impose those rules on anyone hoping to see their work in print.
Everything has to be like the drive-thru at your local fast food joint. You might be getting a food-like substance, and it will satisfy your hunger, but you’re not going to get the nutrition and enjoyment you would from a home-cooked meal. So by shoving all of their rules down our throats, we’ll certainly write decent stories…but we can probably kiss goodbye any dreams of writing classics that will still be on ‘to be read’ lists a hundred years from now.
I decided two examples wasn’t enough, so I looked through a few more books, just the first couple of pages…or at approximately two pages worth of dialog since some didn’t start until further in.
The Count of Monte Cristo: cried, replied (2 times), inquired (2 times), asked, shouted
War and Peace: replied (twice), added, continued, asked
Around the World in 80 Days: asked (2 times), responded, returned (2 times), muttered, replied
Sense and Sensibility: replied (3 times), added
All considered classics, written by respected writers. I wonder where these novels would be today if they’d had to follow current cookie-cutter, fast food rules.
Little Women: grumbled, sighed, cried (2 times), advised, returned