28 November 2010

Said Book-isms

I like Said Book-isms.

So many people will jump up and down about Said Book-isms, tell you to remove everything but said, tell you that it's bad writing to use anything else.  And I shake my head and look through my writing, and about half the dialogue uses 'said', and a third or more no dialogue tag at all (usually accompanied by actions).  But a solid portion of my sentences contain 'replied', or 'ordered' or other variants.  I even use 'extemporised' at least once.  Why?

Because it was the better for the sentence.

'Extemporise' tells the reader that not only is the speaker saying something, but what she is saying is a temporary stopgap, an improvised answer.  It contains within a single word an implication that there will be a more considered answer to follow, or at the least there was a rushed nature to the answer.  Is it really superior to use [she said, searching her mind for a better answer]?  Or just to use said, and leave it to the reader to decide that the answer was rushed?

English is a rich and subtle language.  ["Jenny!" he said.] is different from ["Jenny!" he shouted.].  Dialogue tags are a tool, the nails, if you will, holding the sentences together.  Most sentences can be held together with 'small nails' like 'said' - or even get away with no nails at all - but sometimes a more solid nail is needed, or perhaps even a decorative stud.  Without some variations in your nails, your end result is in danger of being weaker than it could be.  Too many big fancy nails, and all people will see is the nails.  Just as with the 'rules' about adverbs, and show v tell, it's all a question of balance and correct use, of choosing the right words in the right proportions.

So if someone shouts, let them shout.

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