“Said” is alive and well

My eighth-grade English teacher had us all chanting “Said is dead.”*

It’s a good thing that was at a Christian school, where I learned resurrection is possible.

I remember reading Stephen King’s On Writing yonks ago. The one piece of advice that stuck with me is that “said” is the best of dialog tags.

On Joanna Bourne’s blog today, she dissects ‘saidims’ – those sometimes annoying and often intrusive dialog tags that try to improve on a simple word. And usually fail. As you’d expect from her blog, it’s a very detailed and interesting look at the different reasons for using dialog tags, and how to get around using them at all.

Elmore Leonard’s third rule for writing fiction (as reported in yesterday’s Guardian) is this:

Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

In case you’re as lazy as I am, here it is:

asseverate – to assert or declare emphatically or solemnly

*Sorry, Mrs Ellis. I’m sure it was just an exercise in vocab building.

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