Welcome to Fiction Tip Friday, where I give you a quick-as-possible breakdown on the “Why?” behind some of the most common pieces of writing advice.
“It’s really very simple,” Tom explained. “You see–“
Stop right there, Tom. Do you think I’m stupid or something?
“Well…n-no!” Tom stuttered. “I-I, I mean–“
See, Tom? You’re doing it again. You’re telling me that you’re stuttering, when I can s-s-see you doing it, right there in the dialogue. Why are you doubling down, telling me what you’re already showing me?
“Now see here!” Tom exclaimed–
Ah-ah, Tom. I know you exclaimed, because you used an exclamation mark. See how easy this is?
…all right guys, I had to send Tom for a lie-down and cup of hot tea, but don’t worry, he’ll be fine. Hopefully, he’s served his purpose: you’re starting to see why words other than “said” are, most of the time, completely unecessary–and at worst, patronizing to the reader.
I can SEE whether a character is explaining, exclaiming, repeating, clarifying, bemoaning, insinuating, or suggesting by observing the content and the context of the dialogue.
“But Shannon,” you say, “said is BORING!”
Yeah. It’s supposed to be.
“Huh?? My dialogue is supposed to be BORING?”
No. Your dialogue should sparkle–but said isn’t part of the dialogue, is it? All it’s there for is to tell me who’s talking. And you know what? I’d rather focus on your sparkling, witty dialogue than the mechanics around that dialogue. Stop distracting me from your awesome conversation with words I don’t need! Stick to said–because it’s invisible to the reader. It lets me know who’s talking and it lets me move on, as quickly and smoothly as possible.
And that, folks, is why we stick to “said.”