Writing tip: He said she said

In my classroom whenever I assign writing I see “said” used a lot and some poor writing habits that I may spend some time addressing in this blog. But I’ve made them all when I was growing as a writer so no worries. Plus, I am not a best selling author so take my advice or leave it. I’m just a teacher and a man passionate about writing.

One of the things I noticed when I was going through The Sureshot is that I used “said” far too much in my early writing. Nowadays I’ve outgrown that problem and even make it a point to never use the word “said” so that I don’t fall into a pattern of using it all the time. Back over ten years ago I was still doing it.

Be aware when you’re writing to avoid it if at all possible. It’s boring. It really is only stating the obvious. If you’re using quotations, we already understand that a character is talking so help the reader out and use a different verb so that we can see how the character is talking.

One verb I use a bit is “began.” It is still pretty much lame, but if there is going to be a lengthy dialogue then “began” is a good one to use, well, first. Like this:

“Son, I have something to share with you,” father began.

It’s smooth and even gives the reader the idea that there is going to be a bit of a conversation.

I use “replied” a lot as well. Again it is an easy and versatile verb to use that isn’t “said.” Like this:

“Son, I have something to share with you,” father began.

“Sure dad, what is it?” he replied.

Both are natural and yet not as boring as “he said she said.”

Beyond that I like to use verbs to help the reader sense what sort of mood the speaker is in. “Yelled, shouted, boomed” to show someone is angry our animated. “Whispered, mumbled, groaned, moaned,” can show a character is timid or uneasy. There are tons of verbs that help the reader know far more than the fact that the character is speaking.

Another trick is to describe the speakers voice rather then use a verb. We still know they are speaking, but now we get a sense of their feeling while they are speaking. In this case it is appropriate to use “said” though I don’t always include it. Like this:

“I might be going to prison,” he said, voice shaky.

Here’s what it can look like. Note that I won’t use “said” and hopefully the words I use help you get far more from the scene than the mere words they are using.

“Son, I have something to share with you,” father began.

“Sure dad, what is it?” he replied.

“Something has happened,” the older man stammered. “Something bad. I don’t know what the consequences are going to be but I want you to be prepared.”

The boy gasped, “What are you talking about?”

“I mean,” his father searched for the proper words but none were suitable, “the police might come by soon. They may take me away.”

“I don’t understand!” the boy blurted, “Why would they take you away?”

The scene was building in tension and hopefully you could feel the characters’ emotions though I didn’t say what they were nor did I describe them in any way. Anyways, you get the point. Don’t use “said.” Use dialogue as an opportunity to build a scene and help the reader understand how the characters feel.

Happy writing!

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