I was working on a collab story a few months ago, and I was told that when writing, I shouldn’t use any words besides “said” after a person talks because I should be showing rather than saying the way that they behave.  However, my whole life I have always been told to use words other than “said”, so that you can understand the way which the person is speaking.  So today, I wanted to have a discussion about whether you should use the word said, abstain from it, or fall somewhere in between.

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  • It’s easier to write your piece when you don’t have to stop and think about word choice
  • Some people say that using other words is “telling” and once you use said you can further elaborate with descriptions of how the character is behaving.  For example, you could say “I hate you” he said, his face contorting with the strength of the word, eyebrows knitting and eyes widening as the loud sound emitted from his mouth. and that would be way better than just saying “I hate you” he shouted.  Of course, you could use a combination of the two, but that’s besides the point.
  • More room for reader interpretation of your work.

Honestly, I don’t even believe bullet 2, and I am firmly in the Don’t Use Said camp, but that one person got me thinking and so I want to hear more of your opinions on the whole situation.

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  • When you use “said” you don’t know how the person is talking
  • It gets repetitive if you are always using said in places with lots of dialogue
  • “I’m running away” he moped or “I’m running away” he declared and “I’m running away”  he pondered… all have very different connotations and if you just use said how the heck is the reader going to know how the character is behaving.  I personally believe that using these words is showing not telling the personality of the character and the way he is behaving.
  • Descriptive vocab is AHMAZING and I personally adore it.

I’m trying to think of examples of books that I’ve read where the author only uses “said” or never uses it, and I can’t off of the top of my head, which tells me either everyone does the exact same thing, or it doesn’t even really matter.  I’m willing to bet that the large majority of authors do a combination of the two.

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Looking back through my ROUGH, ROUGH draft of the story I’m working on, I noticed that any time I used “said” I nearly always modified it with an adverb immediately afterwards.  I know that there’s a lot of theories on overuse of adverbs, but I feel like you can’t just use such a general word without modifying it for the context of the story.  Once there’s an adverb, it becomes so much more real and alive.  But that’s just me.

Let's Talk

Do you think “said” should be used in writing? Do adverbs make a piece better or worse? What is your opinion on the “show don’t tell” philosophy in relation to dialogue verbs? Did I miss any pros or cons?