August 20, 2010

He Said, She Said

"...for I have just had it from Mrs. Long!"

A lot of writing guidebooks will advise you never to append any verb other than "said" to a section of dialogue, probably to avoid a stilted feel. In addition, they discourage the use of any adverbs to describe how the character is speaking. But the problem with these hard-and-fast rules is pretty easy to find - it's boring. Not just boring for the writer (quite a few things seem boring to the writer that truly are necessary), but boring for the reader, too. Constant "he said, she said, said Tom, said Jane's" in literature rarely convey the feeling behind the words, and tend to weigh down the dialogue.

Granted, it is unwise to throw out "said's" altogether, or even to major in other verbs. It's a good, old-fashioned, frank word, and it carries a lot of meeting when properly used. But sometimes it's not suited to how the character is speaking, and there is a better word to use that carries more weight and gets the point across. Of course, many times no verb is needed at all, especially when the reader knows who is speaking; then there is little call to tack on an idle "he said."

The same is true for adverbs. While it is true that being told in every scrap of dialogue that John intoned every word smartly and Isabel warbled gleefully is annoying, this is no call for throwing out all verbs and adverbs. It merely means that writers have to be careful that they do not abuse these things, but use them to the best advantage in their prose. It's very difficult, and even a little silly, to make any set, immovable laws about writing technique, because there are always exceptions and variations to every rule.


  1. Great post! I completely agree with you.

  2. This is what I have trouble with. It was Elecktrum who first pointed this to me. Before that I fear, everybody "said" this and "said" that. =(

  3. It takes practice, Lilly. I was the other way around: I had to realize that using "said" wasn't a bad thing! Now I use it a good bit, and intersperse other verbs.


meet the authoress
I am a writer of historical fiction and fantasy, scribbling from my home in the United States. More importantly, I am a Christian, which flavors everything I write. My debut novel, "The Soldier's Cross," was published by Ambassador Intl. in 2010.
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published writings

The Soldier's Cross: Set in the early 15th Century, this is the story of an English girl's journey to find her brother's cross pendant, lost at the Battle of Agincourt, and of her search for peace in the chaotic world of the Middle Ages.
finished writings

Tempus Regina:Hurled back in time and caught in the worlds of ages past, a Victorian woman finds herself called out with the title of the time queen. The death of one legend and the birth of another rest on her shoulders - but far weightier than both is her duty to the brother she left alone in her own era. Querying.
currently writing

Wordcrafter: "One man in a thousand, Solomon says / will stick more close than a brother. / And it's worthwhile seeking him half your days / if you find him before the other." Justin King unwittingly plunges into one such friendship the day he lets a stranger come in from the cold. Wordcount: 124,000 words

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