Friday, October 21, 2011

He said, She said

I got into an interesting discussion on the WD forum recently.  I had mentioned my utter disgust with the word "said" in my own writing.  Now let me be clear about one thing, I CAN read it in other people's work, usually I don't even notice it.  (I usually skip over the "said" though I know it's there).  In my own work?  I can't stand it.  I will write dialogue and then reach the end where "he said" would go and I just stop and shudder when I consider putting "said" in there.

Again, there's nothing wrong with using Joe said, or whoever said in your writing.  I came to the realization that I disliked the word when I was younger and writing a lot of dialogue.  I realized that I was using it every few lines and frankly I already have problems with repetition in words...  I decided to stop using it along with "replied" and "asked".

The first problem I ran into when I stopped using he said, she said was clarity.  I was no longer using any tags at all to indicate who was speaking.  When dialogue is really strong and there's only two characters chatting it's easy enough to write it without using "said".  The reader can assume that the characters are going back and forth in their discussion and realistically quotation marks are already telling the reader that the characters are talking, so why reiterate that with said?  However I did find that when my character's voices weren't very strong it got confusing very, very quickly.  So how did I fix it?

I began to add actions.  What are the characters doing?  What is their expression like?  What are they observing?  It's easy to add too many descriptions, if the dialogue is going well and it's firing back and forth and easy to follow then it's probably not the right place to add an action unless it enhances or directly affects the dialogue.  That's the key I try to follow.  I add action descriptions for two reasons, one to denote who is speaking when there's more than two people and two to further the scene, the story and the dialogue.  I will always believe that adding something like this is more useful than saying "Joe said" after your speech unless absolutely necessary.  It's become a pet peeve of mine in my own writing and I do think I'm very much in the minority on this, but that's okay.  Everyone's got their own style and this just happens to be a part of mine that I see no reason to change.  I'm sure a "he said" will pop in my writing somewhere eventually, but for the moment I've got too much of a block toward that particular phrasing.