You know what they say: if you can’t say anything nice, then you’d better shut up.
And in writing, if you can’t say anything but “say,” then you should listen to what we have to tell you.
That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.
I cringe every time I see dialogue written by lesser writers. It’s like “he said, she said” in the worst kind of way. Say, said, says, saying, like there’s nothing more to be said about SAID. But when I try to write without using “say,” it gets more difficult as it goes on. There’s got to be a better way to change it up without sounding redundant or intentionally constrained.
—Torey Lewis, Irvine, Calif.
I’ll break protocol and begin by quoting Oxford intellectual Right Said Fred’s glorious exposition on the subject:
“I’m too sexy to continue employing ‘said’ as an indication of the conveyance of communication. With viable options manifestly promulgated, one should deign to refrain. Replied. Uttered. Responded. Insisted. Noted. Mentioned. ‘Say’ no more.”
Well put, Mr. Said Fred.
You’re missing the point if you feel your dialogue has to be adulterated and fornicated by such verbal markers. Any verbal markers. Regardless of how cleverly you vary them; that’s still making the same mistake, but with style. Sure, you want to differentiate who speaks what, but a writer worth his silt will ensure that he’s not writing himself into a snare like that. Take, for instance, this gem of a barf-trigger:
“I’m pregnant,” he said. “And I’m the father.”
“How is that possible?” said Jill.
“I couldn’t tell you,” Jack said, “It must have happened after those hCG injections, I can’t explain it.”
“But I trusted you,” she said.
Aaaaand, we’re done. You can put away that airsick bag. “Said” is not your cowbell. You do not need more of it.
If you’re going to use any markers at all, make them count.
“All your base are belong to us,” he affirmed.
“i think halo is a pretty cool guy. eh kills aleins and DOESN’T AFRAID OF ANYTHING,” she declared.
“Has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do look more like?” he inquired.
“No buts, cuts, coconuts, Mass, or Eucharist,” he interdicted.
The dialogue should grip your eyeballs and brand into them the patterns, the sensible ebb and flow, the cadences of well-tuned conversation. Make it good enough to stand on its own. And if you resort to using a marker, don’t prop—accentuate. Slap one of them down to slap your reader senseless with goodness, nothing less.
Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com), followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong), and recited within your daily Cantata Incantatis.