Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Wordy Wednesday - Reflections from the Editor's Desk: In which no one said anything…

All my authors can attest to the fact I get a little delete happy when I see the word ‘said.’
I also go a little delete crazy when I see scoffed, asked, whispered, yelled or any other one word-add-name kind of tag. I don’t do it every time…
Just most of the time.
“I don’t want to go,” she said.
Seems like a perfectly good sentence, right? Why would I delete the said in that one?
Well, it shows me nothing of the scene. In a perfect world, when we’re storytelling, the reader gets this lovely movie going in their heads. They can get lost in that world to the point of getting annoyed at an interruption.
To keep the movie vivid, and leave the reader unable to put the book down, action tags can be substituted a majority of the times you would type the word ‘said.’
“I don’t want to go.” Daphne stomped her foot, her lip protruding in an obvious pout.
Her mother glanced at her watch. “We’re going. She’s your grandmother. If she says make an appearance at dinner, we go.” She tied up the loose ends of the garbage bag and hefted it.
“She’s old. Who cares what she thinks?”
The quaver in Daphne’s voice gave away more than her dramatics. Her mother stroked her hair before carrying the garbage to the back door. “You do. Shoes, now.”
Using action tags instead of said allows a storyteller to bring life to the setting, to the characters. You can show tells and/or important tidbits about the characters through the use of this peek into the world.
So, the next time you type the word ‘said’…hit delete four times and think about your scene, your characters.
Can you breathe more life into them by telling a story where no one said a thing?

Virginia Nelson
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  1. Great post! And so true. In fact, I'm in the habit now of catching those little tags and saying, "what am I hiding?" When you take the time to stop and figure that out, then the real story starts happening!

  2. Great post, Virg. I have a list of words that I overuse or don't want to use. "Said" is one of them in the don't want to use category. As a reader and writer, I prefer action tags that advance the story. Rita

  3. Also, I'll say a great post. I also believe that if it's a conversation between only two people, a 'she said', or a corresponding action/reaction might not even be needed. Then there is the voice of the speaker. Sometimes that eliminates in need of an identifier. It all depends on how it reads to the reader (Not the author - grinning)

  4. I've always been told that "said" is invisible. Not so much, I see now. lol. I do use it in my writing, but will be watching to be sure it's not excessive use. I am a believer in action tags, but even those can get over-used, I think. You've really given me things to think about. Thank you. :)

  5. "Said" is invisible only in contrast to more elaborate tags like opined, yelled, pleaded. I once read a short story in which "said" was replaced by high-falutin' synonyms. It was awful. Even worse is the use of false synonyms like smiled, wept, or sneezed, that don't actually refer to a means of verbal expression.

    "Said" can be useful in conversations among more than two people, but even there it should be limited.

  6. And there's always that caveat: every rule has exceptions. We don't just cut it all out, but by trimming it away where possible, a manuscript comes so much more alive. A garden full of dandelions is ugly, but if you leave a few, here and there, they make a pretty complement.