Friday, November 27, 2015

Writing and the Word "Said" Part 1

"Should I use `replied' in my novel?" she said, not asked.

I've read several books on how to write fiction, and been to many writing conferences, and there is one piece of advice that seems to be unquestioningly believed and repeated:

Don't use any word for "said" other than "said." That means never use questioned, replied, exclaimed and so on.

The belief is that using these other words is distracting, pretentious, and a sign of amateur writing.

At the same conferences, and sometimes in the same talk, people will advise to use unusual ways of describing people. Use a less familiar word, like "grimy" rather than just "dirty" all the time.

These two pieces of advice are, at least at first glance, contradictory. Why is it okay to use unusual ways of describing in one context but not another?

It's further complicated by the fact that there is no empirical evidence that I've ever been able to find that they are right.

In the meantime, I just read reviews of the audio version of Scalzi's Redshirts and it's almost hilarious how many people complain that--I'm not kidding-- he uses "said" too much! Take a look for yourself; it's pretty striking.

Interestingly, the reviews for the print and kindle editions don't complain about this as much (though some do.)

Is "exclaimed" really that bad?

I have an ambition to run a study to find out. I'm just waiting for an interested student (when that study is done I'll post Part 2).

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