Should I avoid using ‘said’?

I’ve found that some new writers try to avoid using said (or says), perhaps worrying that it’s boring or repetitive. Instead they opt for more descriptive attribution, (attribution shows who’s saying what). But believe it or not, said is almost an invisible word.

Compare:

‘What about next Wednesday?’ I said.

‘Good idea’, said Jade, ‘we’ll do it then.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Zac said, ‘I won’t be able to come.’

 

With:

‘What about next Wednesday?’ I suggested.

‘Good idea’, Jade agreed, ‘we’ll do it then.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Zac complained, ‘I won’t be able to come.’

Does the second example seem a bit heavy-handed? This is because it’s ‘showing then telling’. The dialogue shows that Jade’s agreed and Zac’s complained, then the attribution tells us the same thing. This doesn’t leave space for the reader to ‘hear’ the dialogue, it’s telling them what to think.

The first example uses said three times, but it doesn’t feel repetitive because said slips into the background, letting the dialogue stand out.

Having said that (!) if the conversation kept going, you’d probably want to find some alternative ways to mark attribution, to break the pattern of saids. Action can be a useful alternative.

‘What about next Wednesday?’ I said.

Jade zipped up her bag, ‘Good idea, ‘we’ll do it then.’

‘That’s not fair,’ said Zac, ‘I won’t be able to come.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said, ‘we’ll take notes’.

He smiled. ‘Thanks.’

So don’t be afraid to use said. It’s less obtrusive than you might think. And when you need to find an alternative, be careful not to double up on information.

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