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Opinion on 'said'

Hello again

I know most of us swear to the use of said when writing dialogue.
For instance:
"Oh what a fine day!" Peter said.
"I feel terrible. My dog died last night." Lucy said.

In these two cases, I agree that the use of said is in order. There's no reason to overstate the fact that Peter is in a great mood and Lucy is not.

But what about this example?
“By the Gods! What do we do!” Larry said.

I'm tempted to use the word 'cried', simply because it sounds better. Of course the use of 'cried' is overstating because of the exclamation marks. However, the exclamation marks do not state the sense of panic and despair that Larry is feeling. But what's your thoughts on this? Should we be allowed to sin using other dialogue attributions?


I don't know if I'd go so far as to call it a sin. If it works for the writing, it works. Readers will have differing opinions on if they like or notice that writing choice.

For my money, if I want to draw attention to an exclamation, I'd prefer the use of an action tag. Some description of movement or internal reaction (if a POV) that emphasizes the spoken words.


Myth Weaver
Personally, I'd prefer that you used a beat that showed us how he felt.

Larry sank to his knees. "By the gods! What do we do?"

The concept that I try to follow to the greatest extent possible is that the speech tag is there only to inform the reader of who is talking. If you can use a beat to convey emotion and action, that's far superior to a tag.

Obviously, sometimes using a tag is the right call, and I think "said" is your best bet in most cases.

For your example above, if you want to keep the tag, I think "cried" in addition to the exclamation points is overexplaining. Trust your writing to convey the depth of the emotion.


Also, don't hesitate to skip the "said" in a scene when you've established a consistent back and forth conversation between two characters, or when a paragraph has all ready established the speaker. Both situations are also dependent on consistent "saying;" if someone's tone changes, the speaking word should reflect that. Like any other word, "said" is fine in moderation but becomes annoying when it's repeated too often.
I usually just go on gut feeling. "Said" works most of the time, though I may sometimes alter the order to change the rythm:

"By the way, Lucy," Peter said, "your dog died last night."
"Well, at least it's a fine day," said Lucy.

On the other hand, if the character actually cries something out, then of course you use the word "cried." Saying something isn't the same thing as crying it. That's the point of having different words.

Even with something like “By the Gods! What do we do!”*, those exclamation points do not necessarily mean Larry is yelling. He might just be saying it with a lot of emotional emphasis. Heck, he might be whispering for all we know.

*You forgot the question mark, by the way.
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Myth Weaver
"By the way, Lucy," Peter said, "your dog died last night."
"Well, at least it's a fine day," said Lucy.

This is generally considered to be a bad idea. Most things I've read tell you to keep the order of the tag consistent.

Sheriff Woody

There's a time and a place for 'said', as well as its many replacements.

For instance, if Peter was across a field, you wouldn't write: "Peter, what are you doing?", his mother said. Given the circumstance of Peter being far away from his mother, she would logically be shouting or calling loud enough for Peter to hear. Using 'said' in that situation would make no sense.

I never had a problem with 'cried', 'yelled', etc. in place of 'said' as long as the context of the situation calls for it. I'm of the belief that you use whatever word best fits the context and most accurately describes what is going on. Most of the time, that word is 'said', but it doesn't always have to be.
"Said" is generally considered an "invisible word," meaning that when readers see "said" on the page they slide over it without so much as thinking about it. Use of other words in place of said do stick out, so the conventional advice is to use them sparingly.

In my experience I've found that "said" generally is invisible, and that in most cases the conventional advice is true. The more you deviate from "said" the more you start writing Tom Swifties (Google it--they're fun). BUT... using other words like "cried" (in the example above) can work very well if you choose them deliberately and use them sparingly. It gives them extra punch.

Also, I have come to believe that the POV and tense you write in affects exactly how invisible "said" is. In first person past, "said" is so invisible that you have to be veeeeerrry careful about using anything else. Generally in 1st person you're conveying subtext in other ways, and sticking to "said" and "asked," using other words very sparingly, seems to be a good tactic. Third person past is similar, but you have more play for experimentation.

Third person present, you don't use "said," you use "says" -- and "says" is a lot less invisible. It could just be because 3rd/present isn't as common (it's actually becoming semi-common in a lot of YA books, but I don't read a lot of YA). This can make it a lot more challenging to figure out how to represent dialog.

These are just my own experiences, and you shouldn't take them as gospel.
I don't know about "cried" for your word choice, but I generally stick to the advice that advice is boring.

The "conventional" rules are more guidelines than anything. Style trumps every rule pretty much. Go your own way.


Sometimes a more expressive word is more effective, or, sometimes it's more appropriate. Imagine, your MC is chasing the villain of the day in an epic battle, fires are blazing, shields come crashing down (but it is not this day!) Your MC finds his mark on the battle field, 'stop! Your evil ends here!' said John.

Using said in that instance takes some of the impact from the moment. You can show, instead of tell, that is more than acceptable. You can use another word, shouted, cried, roared etc. Again, this is also acceptable.

The question you should ask when considering replacing "said" is, 'does this fit with my voice?' Are you writing in the way you see fit, or are you writing to fit to the rules which don't return the courtesy? Like Zero said, it's better to view the rules as guidelines, rather than the ten commandments.

Yes, 'said' is an invisible word. However, 'said' is becoming the ditch word when word count needs to be bumped up and action needs to be applied. 'Said' is turning out to be the pepper word to give your work spice nowadays.

Nothing else is acceptable. Actions will always trump 'shout', 'cried', 'whispered' when done well because as a reader, I already know this is what they are doing when they are far apart, frustrated with tears dripping from their cheeks, or lips close to the ear (unless your character is a d*ck, then that's messed up).
Or to sum it all up:

“Of course the best way to tag dialog is with ‘said,’” said Mr. Said.

“But it doesn’t tell you anything!” yelled the Shouter. “There are more exciting tags than that!”

Mr. Said said “Isn’t the dialog itself supposed to do that? Besides, ‘said’ never tries to upstage anything, when the other tags are a lot easier to overuse. After all, the whole shape of dialog paragraphs draws the eye to how many times overdone tags are in there.”

“But–” the Shouter spluttered.

“That ‘said’ is so boring…” he moaned sadly.

“How could real tags ever be too much…” he whined. And at last: “Okay, I guess after using a couple you could look like you’re putting more work into the tags than the dialog. After all, we want to Show, Not Tell.”

“Exactly,” said Mr. Said.

“Unless… unless the speech isn’t giving the whole picture of how it’s said. Got you!” whispered the Shouter.

“Oh,” said Mr. Said.

Just then Visitor spoke up. “But how long do you keep using tags at all? Each time a couple of people settle in to talking, everyone assumes just those two will keep going for a while. If nobody else speaks up to break that pattern, all tags start looking redundant–whether they’re ‘said’ or not.”

The others looked at the floor, embarrassed.

“But remember, Visitor: a paragraph with no dialog breaks patterns too. After that, you have to start tagging again or nobody will know who’s speaking.”

“Why use tags at all?” And Active grinned from ear to ear. “People don’t stop doing things when they talk; besides, those Walk-And-Talk combinations are half the fun. Putting in an ‘extra action’ is more natural than making the tag do the work, and a lot more powerful too, without having to keep using the same Said all day.” He looked at each of the others, waiting to see who blinked.

“But writing all that would be WORK!” the Shouter burst out.

“And sometimes it’s too much emphasis,” said Mr. Said. “Not every statement needs it.”

Active sighed, and was silent.

“Oh, one more thing. No matter how interesting a paragraph is, or especially if it’s a really exciting thing, take a look at how the paragraphs are alternating. And unless it’s obvious from the start who’s saying what, don’t let that paragraph go over a line or two without a tag or an Extra Action. You want to keep the reader enjoyin each word as they come to it, not going crazy waiting to see who’s actually saying it,” put in the armadillo.

(From my Toolbox collection, May 2012)
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I always liked the use of the word "ejaculated" for real impact.

In fact, Google even has this example in their definition:
“Indeed?” ejaculated the stranger​


Felis amatus
I always liked the use of the word "ejaculated" for real impact.

In fact, Google even has this example in their definition:
“Indeed?” ejaculated the stranger​

Yeah, I think the rule should be default to 'said,' and if you have to use something else use either ejaculated, expostulated, or approbated.