Back in the late 40’s, hopeful writers could purchase a small book called “The Said Book” by JJ Rodale, whose sole purpose was to offer alternatives to the word “said,” which Rodale deemed too repetitive and boring. It’s not clear what his authority on this matter was that he could make such a proclamation, but he took it upon himself to publish his book filled with suitably spicy said substitutes.
The implication was that “said” was common and that real writers used more sophisticated dialog tags (you know, like “chortled,” “hissed,” and “bellowed.”) These said-wannabe words became known as said-bookisms because that’s where they could be found- in The Said Book.
Of course, most published authors embrace the word “said” because it’s practically invisible to the reader, and it doesn’t rip them out of a scene like a hammer to the head. Alternative dialog tags are used sparingly when their use carries significance, but nothing screams amateur writer louder than a character who mumbles, snickers, jeers, and grunts, all within one page of action.
I thought this was pretty well-known amongst writers. It’s certainly one of the first things I learned when I started reading books about writing. Yet today I found this gem while browsing through Pinterest. Behold! The 21st Century Said Book- now condensed into a ready-to-go-viral, eye-appealing, color-coded poster.
From the website:
When writing dialogue, students can easily fall into the “‘said’ trap”—repeating this word throughout their composition because they may not be aware of alternative terms. Help your students avoid the “‘said’ trap” with this free downloadable mini-poster—100 Colorful Words to Use in Place of “Said.” This resource will come in handy when writing their narrative about what they did this summer, or any other project that involves dialogue.
Your students will quickly realize that—instead of “said”—words like “cheered,” “jeered,” and “sneered” engage their readers and really make their writing come alive!
Ack! What is this? Rodale’s ghost come back from the dead? There is no such thing as a “said trap.” And sprinkling a generous dose of these alternative terms into their writing will do nothing more than hinder a student’s ability to publish later in life. Why teach them to avoid “said” when the rest of the literary world begs them to use it?
But I will leave the last words to people smarter than me:
“…while to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” –Stephen King
“Use “said” as a dialogue tag whenever possible.” –Writing Fiction, by Burroway, Stuckey-French and Stuckey-French (2011)
“The only thing any of this does, though, is draw attention to the unconventional verb, which reminds the reader that there is an author, who is struggling mightily to avoid the word “said.” –How NOT to Write a Novel, by Mittelmark and Newman (2008)