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Said bookisms

I've heard this writer's tip before, and recently hit a term for the sin: "said bookisms." That is, using verbs like shouted, whined, mumbled, etc. instead of the humble "said." The theory seems to be that "said" disappears from readers' attention like "the," and it's the mark of an amateur writer to try and fluff up weak dialogue by using stronger verbs.

I resist. I resist with grouchy mistrust. I like conveying tone of voice, volume, mood and so on through my verb choices. I am a poet before I am a writer, much like Tolkien, and sound matters to me as much as content.

That said, I've felt rather hacklike lately. It's partly just a dry spell; looking back at my writing last spring I see more original technique in all areas. Nevertheless, I am a devotee of "said bookisms," and I'm wondering whether it's a habit people find irritating.

In a similar vein, I stumbled across a web page collecting bad habits of SF writers which is probably worth a read by everyone.



( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 13th, 2006 02:18 am (UTC)
Personally, there are some "said bookisms" I use a lot (asked, answered, replied, responded, demanded, ordered, explained, exclaimed, instructed, shouted, whispered, hissed), simply because...One does not *say* "What are you doing?"; rather, one *asks* it. There is, however, a limit to my creativity. If I don't think of it while I'm writing as the word for the way the character is speaking, then it doesn't belong.

My personal addendum to Chekhov's laws: If you show three guns on the stage in Act I, you do not have to fire all of them by Act III, but at least one must be fired. (AKA: Red herrings are allowed, but among them must be one genuine plot element.)

I love that list.
Nov. 13th, 2006 02:34 am (UTC)
That link is terrific, thank you.

I'm sure I'm guilty of all manner of these, including said bookisms and adverbs. Like you, I don't think said bookisms are a bad thing when it's not a crutch for bad dialogue. There are even places where it's silly to simply use said.

"Over here!" He shouted.


"Over here!" He said in a loud voice that could be heard over a long distance.


I often prefer not to use *any* "said" verb fairly often, though.
Nov. 13th, 2006 02:36 am (UTC)
And I often don't read my comments before posting them, fairly often. Oftenly, ofteness.
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:16 am (UTC)
Maybe you and I can join a twelve-step program against overuse of adverbs. I keep trying to excise "softly" from my vocabulary, but it keeps sneaking back.
Nov. 13th, 2006 03:45 am (UTC)
I understand both sides of the story. I usually use said, or omit dialogue tags all together and give an accompanying action, with the assumption that readers will understand who said what from the context. And that through the actions, context and dialogue the reader will be able to tell how things are spoken.

For example, if Wakka is on the other side of the beach from Tidus and says, "Over here!" while waving his arms over his head. I'd be likely to assume that the 'yell' is already encoded in there.

As for other people, it depends on how they're used. It's one thing to make the tags more precise to make the story richer and prune unnecessary words, it's another to use an extreme amount of synonyms because one is afraid to repeat said. The first does make the story sound better, but the second would actually interrupt the flow in a discordant way.
Nov. 13th, 2006 04:06 am (UTC)
I use them. I think as long as you don't overdo it (I know several writers who will go to great lengths to avoid using the word "said" and eventually it just starts looking awkward) and they are appropriate to the moment there's no problem with them. But I also agree with the idea that dialogue tags should be avoided entirely as much as possible.

That's a great link.
Nov. 13th, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC)
I agree, I think using the various verbs where said can go allows one to describe dialogue more accurately. I read a book by Stephen King called On Writing where he gives advice on how to become a great writer. He said to avoid using adjectives in dialogue. For example:

"I hate you!" said Jenna hatefully.

He said leave the "ly" words out. But then I'm stuck with Jenna saying "I hate you." but did she yell it? Did she scream it? whisper? cry? *shrug* I know we could probably use description in the next tidbits but I don't think that is always necessary.
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:55 pm (UTC)
my suggestion for this would be to fill in with action.

Jenna yanked her arm out of his grasp. "I hate you," she said.

or leave off the said.

Jenna yanked her arm out of his grasp. "I hate you."

probably obvious, but well. :)
Nov. 13th, 2006 06:54 pm (UTC)
I did notice that you do this a lot, but it's one of those things. Your writing has a tumbling sweeping quality that lets you get away with it, imho. If I was editing you I'd probably force you to cut two thirds of them out, but I am wicked like that!

My opinion of the matter is basically the party line: don't use them, or if you absolutely must, keep it in reserve for two or three punches like a blackjack to the jaw.

My opinion of your writing is that the action and inner monologue make the story. I'm not saying your dialogue is weak. I mean that...it's hard to say... that when people say things in your stories, they're really NOT saying things, or they're otherwise dancing around the issue. Dialogue in your stories tends to be the superficial part of what is going on. It's the lines which we're meant to read between. The shimmer on the water, if you will, while the rest of the story seethes and roils beneath it. Given that.... "said" is all you really need, because you say so much with everything else.
Nov. 13th, 2006 10:09 pm (UTC)
Heh. Well, it's not like Auron would ever say what he's really thinking anyway, but you may be right: I love double meanings and leaving the meat of the scene simmering just beneath the surface.

Now, of course, I'm going to be extra self-conscious about all my "booksaidisms". We'll see how much I change and how much I stick with my "tumbling sweeping" style.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
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