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"He said" ..."She said" over and over

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Miskatonic, Oct 5, 2015.

  1. Zara

    Zara Dreamer

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    I find using said it better. Because when you use things like 'he barked' 'he snapped' she said softly. You're starting to tell rather than show. And I just don't like using words to describe how a character spoke unless it's important because most of the time the dialogue says it for you. Like:
    "I don't care!" he shouted. (do we really need to be told he spoke loudly when we already have an exclamation mark that says this all ready?

    You don't always need to say anything about who said what if it's only two characters talking. Example:
    "I hate cake," Mary said.
    "Why?" asked Mike.
    "Well, I don't hate it. I just prefer something less sweet."
    "try a cheese cake"
    So you don't have to keep putting said at the end of everything.

    I did a writing exercise once where we have to tell a story and give sense of characters without using any 'said' tags. Like a screen play. You could play around with that?
     
  2. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    Heh, save that for "I agree with BW completely." Will it happen??

    Not sure if I saw that, and Chester kind of ninja'd me. I think the point about emotional meaning matters to me, though.
     
  3. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    Croaking, from GRRM

    Three examples from GRRM's A Feast For Crows.

    “Begone,” she told the girls, in a croaking whisper.
    “We came for a foretelling,” young Cersei told her.
    “Begone,” croaked the old woman, a second time.
    “We heard that you can see into the morrow,” said Melara. “We just want to know what men we’re going to marry.”
    “Begone,” croaked Maggy, a third time.
    Listen to her, the queen would have cried if she had her tongue. You still have time to flee. Run, you little fools!
    The girl with the golden curls put her hands upon her hips.
    “Give us our foretelling, or I’ll go to my lord father and have you whipped for insolence.”
    “Please,” begged Melara. “Just tell us our futures, then we’ll go.”
    “Some are here who have no futures,” Maggy muttered in her terrible deep voice.​

    *​

    “Do you fear death?”
    She bit her lip. “No.”
    “Let us see.” The priest lowered his cowl. Beneath he had no face; only a yellowed skull with a few scraps of skin still clinging to the cheeks, and a white worm wriggling from one empty eye socket. “Kiss me, child,” he croaked, in a voice as dry and husky as a death rattle.​

    *​

    There was a long silence. Then Lady Stoneheart spoke again. This time Brienne understood her words. There were only two. "Hang them," she croaked.​
     
  4. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    Nimue,

    "I agree completely with BWFoster," said no MS forum member ever. I'll take what I can get :)

    Back to the topic - four sentences: which works better?

    1. "Stop that," he said.
    2. "Stop that!" he said.
    3. "Stop that," he shouted.
    4. "Stop that!" he shouted.

    My thoughts:

    1. Very unemphatic statement. Does the character really care one way or the other if the action is stopped?
    2. More emphatic. The character obviously does care.
    3. The lack of an exclamation point combined with "shouted" seems incongruous to me.
    4. Most emphatic of the examples.
     
  5. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    I agree completely with BW. In the matter of interpreting those four examples. Feel free to take out of context :p

    I'd add that the "shouting" provides a dramatic shift in volume. Obviously. The '"Stop that!" he said' implies to me a moderate but emphasized tone, like scolding or objecting at a conversational level. '"Stop that!" he shouted' is loud, confrontational, and probably angry.
     
  6. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Some writers, Steve Berry included, go a step further and even try to avoid terms like "shouted" and virtually all explanation marks as he sees them as a sign of failure.

    His belief is that if you cannot tell from the context the volume and excited nature of the utterance (unless it comes as a complete surprise) that you have failed to set the table properly.

    I don't know if I would go quite that far, but it is something to consider.
     
  7. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    I can see that point of view, but I'm just not there - maybe some day I will be.

    Like my example above, "Stop that," is a perfectly valid response to a situation. Should I spend hours trying to find a better phrase that will convey what I want without the addition of punctuation or a speech tag, or should I just throw an exclamation point in and move on?

    It seems like it would be hard to make any headway in terms of a career if I spent all my time worrying about such things.
     
  8. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    It really is different strokes for different folks.

    But by way of career, Steve does multiple edits at a very detailed level, including one full edit where he only reviews every verb in his manuscript to see if it is as good as it can be or can be upgraded in some way.

    His career is doing okay :)

    But to be fair, he is operating on a different model then you are.
     
  9. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    I checked the last conversation I wrote.

    There are 25 lines (stuff people have to say), and I use "said" to identify a speaker twice.
    The remaining lines are all beats.
    There is no line that doesn't have an identifier.
    The full conversation, including beats, is just over 1,100 words (or about two pages in Word).

    This is how I currently write. It works for me, but it may not necessarily be the same for anyone else.

    ---

    Most of the story takes place during conversations between characters, which is why I'm putting in a lot of effort in using beats effectively. There has to be something going on beside the talking or it will eventually grow dull to just read the lines without seeing the character who says them.

    Usually when I use "said" it's to mix things up a little and change the pace of the conversation for a line or two.

    I occassionaly skip identifiers complete, and then usually for a quick snappy exchange between two characters.
     
  10. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

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    This confuses me because tone and volume add information to a conversation. In writing and real life. Does he simply use emphatic language and gestures and assume that tone and volume follow? What's the harm of noting these things, in moderation?
     
  11. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    That is why I said I don't quite go as far as he is.

    But an example he used in one discussion is that he if has two characters running down a path in a gunfight being chased by a helicopter the reader should know that they are excited and yelling. I can ask him what the harm is next time I see him, or go back and listen to that CD again. IIRC he thought it just distracts from the flow and takes away from the dialogue proper.
     
  12. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I read a similar thing as what Chesterama noted earlier, but on GRRM. I can't remember now where I read it, but the article was speaking about how GRRM learned from screenwriting how much actors hate to have nothing in their hands, especially when giving dialogue.

    Actors need to be doing something besides just talking, be it twirling their hair, spinning a pen, lifting a glass to their lips, fondling their sword etc. He used this strategy to great extent in his novels because he was so used to doing it as a screenwriter. It certainly does help to keep the motion going during a scene to have the characters be doing something, instead of just talking. I'm reading Dune right now and I'm finding there are pages and pages of dialogue with no speech tags and no action tags. I end up skimming most of it because I want to see someone doing something.
     
  13. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

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    Those alternatives to said are often referred to as 'said-bookisms'. You can google lots of opinions on them. But generally speaking they're frowned upon, because often there are better ways to express those things. Now, never-say-never on anything in writing, but using 'said-bookisms' too often will grate on the reader. Dropping one in from time to time when deemed appropriate won't matter unless its totally absurd.

    Apparently this is a quote from a Harry Potter book.

    "We're not going to use magic?" Ron ejaculated loudly.

    Personally, I like using action tags. If I find myself having to use 'said' or any of it's variations too much, I take it to be a sign that I might have designed my scene poorly, especially if it's only a two person scene. IMHO there could/should be enough for the character's to do in the scene or there should be enough going on around them to make it possible for me to write the whole scene without using one said.
     
  14. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    I disagree with this idea. "How dare you take God's name in vain. I should remove you from this plane so you can see if you can still do the same in hell." is useful in conveying a different character type than "How dare you take God's name in vain! I should remove you from this plane so you can see if you can still do the same in hell!"

    Ie. the former is probably a cold stoic church knight while the latter is more likely a hotheaded zealot.
     
  15. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    Most professional writers and editors would disagree with you on the use of exclamation points.
     
  16. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    Who are these 'most' professional writers and editors? Maybe I don't read enough traditional novels but I know that exclamation points are common and accepted in many mediums with text such as manga, comics, video games, subtitled movies, and even in journalism when somebody says something emphatically, they will often be quoted with exclamation points.

    I find the convention you champion, if it is indeed a convention, not suited to my bare bones style since it seems to rely on heavy amounts of narration and description to convey any change in a speaker's mood/tone in lieu of a simple exclamation point. Exclamation points are efficient, they convey a different feeling with the change of one character and a 'rule' against them seems to be sacrificing efficiency in many cases in favor of using more words to make the writing seem more artsy.

    It definitely shows a clear difference in attitude if one character speaks in exclamation points while another speaks without them in a similar tense situation eg. being chased by a helicopter shooting at them.

    I feel this (likely elitist) convention is stifling and overrated. It appears to go against common sense and only serve to make writing more complicated and/or distinguish 'literary' writing from 'lesser' forms of it.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2015
  17. Russ

    Russ Istar

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    I was not referring to comics, video games or manga. I was referring to novels and short stories. I have no idea of the conventions of those media. Although I confess remembering seeing a lot of exclamation points in comics.

    Which authors and editors? Would you like a list of the ones of I have spoken to writing who have mentioned it, or should I include those who I have heard say it in courses or who wrote it in books on the subject of writing? Is there some reason I should invest the time to make a list for you? However in conversation within this calendar year I have heard it said to me directly by Steve Berry, Grant Blackwood and Jaime Levine, at least. Good enough?

    You need to read more broadly. For instance both Grant and Steve are lean writers, their books do not rely on heavy narration or description, but they also avoid exclamation points.

    I don't champion the convention, I have adopted it. Many editors find the use of exclamation points amateurish, and find them over used. Since I hope to sell to those people one day I listen to them. You are perfectly free to ignore the convention that exclamation points are overused and should in general be avoided unless there is no better alternative.

    Take a few minutes and search the internet. See what authors, and editors have to say about exclamation points. You will find that they suggest minimizing exclamation points and other artificial means of emphasis. I agree with them. You are free not to.


    I am sorry you feel stifled. The good news, I suspect, is that there is no one standing behind you as you type forcing you not to use exclamation points. You are free to write as you chose.
     
  18. BWFoster78

    BWFoster78 Myth Weaver

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    There are a lot of conventions advocated by professional writers and editors that have the reasoning, "Because there is a better way to do it."

    It's a lot easier to throw in an exclamation mark than to choose better words. For my writing, I'm fine with that at the moment. I'd rather concentrate on things that I consider more important than things like eliminating exclamation marks.

    If you don't feel like taking the time and effort to write better, that's your choice (as I've chosen to do). Railing against the convention in the manner you did above, however ...
     
  19. glutton

    glutton Inkling

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    If the exclamation point exists in language, how is it actually more 'artificial' than any other means of emphasis?

    Ok then.
     
  20. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

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    All right, you guys, let's not make this personal. Surely the substantive discussion can move forward without that.
     
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