He Said/She Sighed (HYSRT!)

There will be people, my dear writers, who will tell you that “said” is the old, new, and only black – the final word in dialogue tags.

You may cry (or, according to Them, you may absolutely not cry, nor exclaim, demand, or wonder), “Says who?”

He Said, She Sighed

Not Catherine Austen, that’s who!

In her blog post trilogy “He Said/She Sighed”, Austen has her say on “said”, to which I – speaking as one who’s been jarred aplenty by the overuse of the so-called invisible word, who’ll take colorful and creative variation over bland repetition any day of the week, and who just plain doesn’t like being told which pieces of perfectly proper English I should and shouldn’t use in the stories of my creation – say, shout, and cheer, “Hear, hear!”

Parts one, two, and three give full and humorous vent to Austen’s thoughts on the matter, perhaps flying in the face of advice you’ve had hammered into you from sources innumerable. My advice to you, fellow writers? Hey, You Should Read This! Particularly this summary of the posts’ shining spirit:

It is silly to think there are words denied to writers, that there are entire classes of words off limits to good writing. That is just crazy. Lists of writing tips are shallow by nature – they will never tell anyone how to write well. We must dig deeper for that. Don’t get sidetracked checking off boxes for a paint-by-number book that follows tips like “don’t use adverbs” or “use said as your only dialogue verb.” You don’t have to do that. What you have to do is much, much harder. – Catherine Austen

Any thoughts on “said”, or similar writing advice, you’d like to share? Say on in the comments – here and/or over at Catherine Austen’s blog.

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6 thoughts on “He Said/She Sighed (HYSRT!)

  1. Sounds right on! I have heard arguments against some of the more metaphorical dialogue tags that I can buy. For instance, “he growled,” particularly if you’re in a fantasy setting where someone could *really* be growling, could trip up a reader. I guess. With stuff this specific it really is all about how the author, handles it, though.

    *trips on over to Miss Austen’s blog*

    *wishes wild wishes that JANE Austen had a blog*

    *but I’m sure Catharine is wonderful too*

    Oooh so I looked at the posts and I love how she uses examples from real (and stylistically renowned) books.

    • Indeed! I very much enjoyed how Catherine presented her arguments.

      I tend to pretty much play my dialogue tags by ear, but mostly because I’m picky about word choice in any case, wanting to relay my characters’ actions as accurately as I’m able. If I heard him/her growl, that’s the word I’ll use, simply because it’s what they did! Don’t shoot the messenger, right?

  2. I would totally be bored writing “said” all the time. On top of that, if there’s a word that describes exactly how something was uttered, why wouldn’t we use it? That’s what words are for. On the flip side of the coin, if you are littering your dialogue with strong verbs just for the sake of using strong verbs, that would be annoying. They need to fit what you are trying to get across. Funny story: my son’s writing lesson today was about finding better words for “said,” “went,” and “saw.”

    • Heh, and I suspect it’s trying to strike that balance between efficient verbs and lack of aural/visual distraction that makes some say, “Y’know what? Forget it. Just use ‘said’ all the time and have done!”

    • You’re welcome! Probably for the best that it’s no official pet peeve of yours; lack of true vitriol leaves room for good humor — in the presentation of, I maintain, a quite good point. ^_^

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