PDA

View Full Version : More descriptive words than that boring old "said"



Barb D
10-08-2008, 01:27 AM
Ack! My third grader just came home with the following worksheet completed:

"To make dialogue more interesting, writers use other verbs instead of said. Look in your book for synonyms for said and write them in the speech balloons. Add any other synonyms you can think of, and look in a thesaurus for even more."

shouted
whispered
screamed
shrugged
laughed
offered
complained
ordered

"Nooooooooooo!" I said. "Just use 'said'!"

What are they teaching our children these days?

Vent over...back to your regularly scheduled AW.

Bubastes
10-08-2008, 01:28 AM
:e2smack:

Mr Flibble
10-08-2008, 01:31 AM
My hubby had to restrain me at parents evening when the English teacher told me how they'd not only taught them millions of saidisms, they'd been teaching the kids to use 'lots and lots of adjectives'. As a result of which my son's prose is now so purple I may rename him Prince. Or Squiggle or whatever he's acalled these days.

She slightly redeemed herself by telling me they had all been learning about using the right strong verb rather than the wrong weak one with an adverb. Still, I did have to bite my lip a little.

Sassee
10-08-2008, 01:31 AM
I remember those lessons in school. That isn't a new thing. And it took me forever to break the habit of NOT using said.

TsukiRyoko
10-08-2008, 01:36 AM
Synonyms are good for replacing said when...you know... it's appropriate.

Example:

"Charlie, no!" she said.

"Charlie, no!" she cried.
"Charlie, no!" she shouted.
"Charlie, no!" she demanded.

But, avoiding the word really makes readability choppy.

My highschool creative writing class wanted us to try to write a short story while avoiding the word "said," and I got into a bit of a scrap with the teacher when I said, "That's a crock of crap and it cannot be done properly." I then went on to talk about how the use of "said" was very appropriate, and there was a reason that it was used to often. She kept agruing with me, so I wrote two nearly identical papers. The first was using what I felt was the appopriate version of "said" and the other was using every other appropriate word but "said". Then, I took it to every other English teacher in the school, asked them to read both papers, and include a signed note saying which was more worthy of being called a "good paper".

That teacher still curses my name.

JoNightshade
10-08-2008, 01:44 AM
Just to play devil's advocate here, learning a bunch of adjectives and said-isms is bad for writers, but it's probably good for your third grader. I mean, it's essentially expanding his vocabulary. Not just written, but spoken words as well. We do in fact use a lot of adjectives and said-isms in everyday speech. And since your third grader's writing is going to be utter dreck for the next 5 years no matter WHAT he's writing, he might as well be expanding his vocabulary in the process!

My point: Rules for writers are not necessarily rules for everyone.

maestrowork
10-08-2008, 01:47 AM
Have your 3rd grader return with: "Score!" he ejaculated.

maestrowork
10-08-2008, 01:49 AM
Just to play devil's advocate here, learning a bunch of adjectives and said-isms is bad for writers, but it's probably good for your third grader. I mean, it's essentially expanding his vocabulary.

There are many ways to expand one's vocabulary without getting the student into the bad habit of said bookism. How about, "instead of saying she is beautiful, can you come up with other adjectives or actual things to show us she is beautiful?"

Bad habits are hard to break, and you don't want them to start so early.

MagicMan
10-08-2008, 02:07 AM
Mark Twain punned said-ism in Huckelberry Finn C1 P6.

She said it was wicked to say what I said;
said she wouldn't say it for the whole world; she was
going to live so as to go to the good place.

Smiles
Bob

Mark Twain is an excellent role model. For example, in the $30,000 bequest. Said, added, and responded are his only tags, when he used tags, excepting the tag for the close, where he used muttered.

NicoleMD
10-08-2008, 02:10 AM
It just sounds like an exercise to me. The same way you have to write out your times tables or spelling lists over and over. Book saidisms aren't evil in themselves.

Nicole

maestrowork
10-08-2008, 02:24 AM
It may just be an exercise, but this:


To make dialogue more interesting, writers use other verbs instead of said.

... is what I have a problem with. It's not just an exercise, but a faulty concept. Many writers end up have to relearn all that when they become adults.

NicoleMD
10-08-2008, 02:31 AM
It may just be an exercise, but this:



... is what I have a problem with. It's not just an exercise, but a faulty concept. Many writers end up have to relearn all that when they become adults.

I don't see how it's a faulty statement. Writers DO use verbs other than said to make sentences more interesting. They might not use them all the time, but they do. Though, I agree a "sometimes" stuck somewhere the instructions would probably be justified.

Nicole

maestrowork
10-08-2008, 02:36 AM
You don't make dialogue more interesting by using said bookism. You make the DIALOGUE itself more interesting.

Not to mention:



shrugged
laughed

... are not even dialogue tags. The teacher needs a refresher course.

NicoleMD
10-08-2008, 02:55 AM
Still, they use them, for whatever their personal reasons: pacing, emphasis, variation -- all which lead (if done correctly) to a hightened interest of what's on the page.

Nicole

MagicMan
10-08-2008, 03:06 AM
A tag outside of the invisible ones (said,asked,responded,added) breaks the reader from the fantasy, draws the reader's attention to the author, creates a pregnant pause as the visible tag is digested. This is used for dramitic effect, but should not occur with any frequency.

Smiles
Bob

TsukiRyoko
10-08-2008, 05:31 AM
Not to mention:




... are not even dialogue tags. The teacher needs a refresher course.
Agreed. Now, the addition of these words do empower the sentence, present action, and take any noticibility away from "said" in order to (usually) give the sentence a more fluid feel- and that's why teachers should be teaching the importance of these words- but you can't use them as vocal substitutes.

"The weather's all right," he shrugged. He always was the master of shoulder-talk.

:D

Sean D. Schaffer
10-08-2008, 06:41 AM
Ack! My third grader just came home with the following worksheet completed:

"To make dialogue more interesting, writers use other verbs instead of said. Look in your book for synonyms for said and write them in the speech balloons. Add any other synonyms you can think of, and look in a thesaurus for even more."

shouted
whispered
screamed
shrugged
laughed
offered
complained
ordered

"Nooooooooooo!" I said. "Just use 'said'!"

What are they teaching our children these days?

Vent over...back to your regularly scheduled AW.


Believe it or not, this is not new to 3rd Grade. When I was in the 3rd Grade, back about 1978, such teaching was pretty well the norm for the school I went to.

Only much later (say, a couple years ago) did I hear the sentiment, "Just use the word 'Said.'" The first place I ever read that was AbsoluteWrite, followed quickly by reading The Elements of Style.

Personally, I think if the word fits, use it. If that word is 'said,' use the word 'said.' If it's 'whispered,' or 'breathed,' or some other non-standard word, then my opinion is use it.

Just don't use it all the freaking time, okay? :rolleyes: That's when the more colorful words become VERY old. The best writers I've read, have learned to use both in moderation, not one or the other exclusively.

Of course, this is merely one person's opinion. YMMV, and all that usual stuff.

Haggis
10-08-2008, 06:47 AM
*shudder*

Sean D. Schaffer
10-08-2008, 06:56 AM
*shudder*


Yeah, that pretty much says it all. :Shrug:

SPMiller
10-08-2008, 07:04 AM
My schooling back in the 90s went a lot farther than that. My teachers specifically trained me to avoid said whenever possible.

FennelGiraffe
10-08-2008, 07:20 AM
Writers DO use verbs other than said...
Yes, but very sparingly.


...to make sentences more interesting.
No. Trying to make sentences more interesting is a really, really BAD reason.

The only valid reason for using a dialog tag other than said or asked is to convey information about the manner in which the dialog was spoken, and when a different verb is the most unobtrusive way to express that.

In my opinion, volume is the only that that can't be shown within the dialog itself. 'Shouted' and 'whispered' are reasonable tags for occasional use. Sometimes adding an adverb is better, such as 'said softly'. Even volume, though, can often be shown otherwise. He raised his voice to be heard over the hubbub. "Yadda yadda yadda."

Rolling Thunder
10-08-2008, 07:25 AM
Yes, but very sparingly.


No. Trying to make sentences more interesting is a really, really BAD reason.

The only valid reason for using a dialog tag other than said or asked is to convey information about the manner in which the dialog was spoken, and when a different verb is the most unobtrusive way to express that.

In my opinion, volume is the only that that can't be shown within the dialog itself. 'Shouted' and 'whispered' are reasonable tags for occasional use. Sometimes adding an adverb is better, such as 'said softly'. Even volume, though, can often be shown otherwise. He raised his voice to be heard over the hubbub. "Yadda yadda yadda."

I think in MG and YA there is more room to use tags beside 'said'. But only because these age groups have less experience, reading wise, to visualize some of the emotions a writer might be trying to convey.

TsukiRyoko
10-08-2008, 09:54 AM
I think in MG and YA there is more room to use tags beside 'said'. But only because these age groups have less experience, reading wise, to visualize some of the emotions a writer might be trying to convey.
I agree with this, and yet I don't think you give the "said" substitute back-up enough credit to stand on its own. Using tag-along words with "said" can be used as great emphasis in all genres. YA and MG are written at a lower reading level, but there's bigger reasons as to why the reading level's so low.

Phoebe H
10-08-2008, 10:33 AM
If you learn to use words other than "said," you can then learn later not to use them.

If you learn to "just use 'said,' " then you can never choose to do anything else.

And any explanation more complicated then what was quoted will be too subtle for most 8 year-olds to understand.

rostaria01
10-08-2008, 11:10 AM
I grew up thinking that "said" was boring however ironically when I started writing.
The only words I used was.
"I shouted"
"I asked"
"I said"
"He whispered"

But nine out of ten I didnt use desciptive words because I didnt need it.

qwerty
10-08-2008, 11:11 AM
Not to mention:

shrugged and laughed

... are not even dialogue tags. The teacher needs a refresher course.

That was my immediate thought when I read the list.

These would need to be written with a period after the speech instead of a comma:

"Don't ask me." She shrugged.
"I agree." He nodded.

Ms Hollands
10-08-2008, 12:31 PM
I agree with what Pheobe said.

I don't see the problem: it's third grade, so the sentence is written for third-graders to understand. They have to learn what options are available to them before they learn the best way to put them into practise when writing a novel. This will open their vocabulary (otherwise, why are they instructed to look in a thesaurus instead of thinking of the words themselves) and how to use a thesaurus. These lessons seem far more valuable than whether they over-use some said-isms one day down the track if they happen to become writers. I remember learning the same thing at school.

Ms Hollands
10-08-2008, 12:33 PM
Not to mention:

shrugged and laughed


... are not even dialogue tags. The teacher needs a refresher course.


Yeah, this I agree with too.

Jo
10-08-2008, 12:33 PM
I think in MG and YA there is more room to use tags beside 'said'. But only because these age groups have less experience, reading wise, to visualize some of the emotions a writer might be trying to convey.

You reckon I've gone in circles with this one? I write MG fantasy and, true to my primary school teachings where said was "boring", had everything but said in my original MS. It was a huge head-f**k mulling over new words to express what was essentially "said" without repeating them too often. Then I had the MS critiqued and was told said was invisible--use it. After reading this advice all over the place, I went with said, although strengthened my work by removing many of the tags. Then, although I'd researched the market previously, I delved deeper and found Australian MG books are littered with saidisms, adjectives, adverbs... ARGH! I was gritting my teeth because I could no longer enjoy, or even get into these "weaker" (to me) stories. (I'd submitted my original MS to two big publishers who'd actually thought it was well written, although it lacked that something special.) Anyway... I'm now rewriting my work in the adult form but with childish content (which seems to be the trend overseas). It's a risk, but I feel the story is stronger--and more visual--this way.

Back on topic, I think kids need every opportunity to expand, experiment with and enjoy their vocabularies, however I'd rather they weren't taught that writers use saidisms or speech actions (e.g. he nodded). Relearning by trial and error what was drummed into us at school is what I'd call a massive waste of time and effort. Saidisms are good for expression but are not trendy in writing at the moment. Schools need to catch up.

Stacia Kane
10-08-2008, 12:43 PM
Yep, I remember this exercise in third grade, along with lots of synonyms, and that would have been...1981? I think? 81-82, anyway.

I agree, they need to learn all those words. I'm all for vocabulary building. I'm not crazy about the teacher telling them these things are what all writers use "to make sentences more interesting", but hey, I remember having "Never start a sentence with and, but, or because" beaten into my head with a hammer as well, and I managed to get over that one.

To me it's akin to anything else the school teach my kid. They're free to teach it, and that's great, but I'm free to turn around and say "Yes, and that's all well and good and you must do the assignment, but WE believe X, and here's why."

Exir
10-08-2008, 03:25 PM
I think in MG and YA there is more room to use tags beside 'said'. But only because these age groups have less experience, reading wise, to visualize some of the emotions a writer might be trying to convey.

Epic disagreement. Trust me, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers are no less competent at picking out subtle nuisances and emotions compared to adult readers. They don't need crutches -- they can figure out the tone of dialogue themselves.

tehuti88
10-08-2008, 06:27 PM
I'm rather simple regarding all this. I use "said" when a character simply says something. I use something else when they say it in a different way (ask, scream, growl, hiss, cry, wail, beg, grate, laugh (IMO, yes, one can "laugh" something they say), whatever). I see no hard-and-fast rule regarding usage of either type of word (just plain "said," or its more colorful variants). Just exercise good judgement (i. e., don't overuse either of them), and use what's necessary when it's necessary.

I'm kind of naive that way.

Though I never, ever use the said-verb "ejaculate."

*snickers in a rather juvenile fashion whenever she reads that one in old books*

NicoleMD
10-08-2008, 07:14 PM
Yes, but very sparingly...

I think we can safely allow some degree of flexibility depending on genre, audience, and personal style.




The only valid reason for using a dialog tag other than said or asked is to convey information about the manner in which the dialog was spoken, and when a different verb is the most unobtrusive way to express that.


I wouldn't go as far as saying it's the only valid reason, but as a general rule, it might work well for some. Others might take a less mechanical approach to the act of writing and choose words because they just "feel" right. That's the beauty of writing, there are a million ways to create a wonderful story and not one of them is more or less valid than the next.

Nicole

maestrowork
10-08-2008, 07:35 PM
If you do it well, of course anything is possible. Rowling used a lot of adverbs and said bookism, and they work for her.

#1 rule: if it works, it works.


Still, the problem is many people use said bookism for all the wrong reasons, and their dialogue comes off just juvenile. If that's what you want the agent or editor to see, that's perfectly fine. Just be prepared to hear them snicker before dropping your ms. into the recycle bin.

To me -- going back to the OP -- the premise of "making a sentence more interesting by using alternative verbs other than 'said' " is a flawed concept. There is absolutely nothing wrong with "said" in the first place. I'm against teaching children bad habits or wrong concepts simply to have them relearn when they get older. Why not start "right" in the first place? Why not teach them how to write interesting and informative dialogue instead of artificially adorn them with said bookism and useless adverbs? That's all I'm saying.

And no, seriously, folks, "shrugged" and "laughed" ARE NOT dialogue tags no matter how much you want to justify them.

Spiny Norman
10-08-2008, 10:10 PM
Using a whole lot of dialogue tags and unnecessary verbs doesn't feel like writing, it feels more like puppeteering.

If your characters are well-rounded and believable, then the things they say and the way they say it will be communicated to the reader without your intervention.

Elonna
10-20-2008, 10:24 PM
Well, I have to make myself use said when something else would be better. I don't know who decided using words other than said was a "bad thing" but I hate using said all the time. It doesn't have the same punch, it doesn't have the same meaning.

"Oh, stop...I can't breathe," she said. I have to add something like "laughing" or "as she laughed" to this to give the meaning I want it to have.

"Oh, stop...I can't breathe," she said as she laughed. or "Oh, stop...I can't breathe,"she said, laughing.
"Oh, stop...I can't breathe," she laughed.

To me the third sentence is more succinct, more descriptive and less distracting than the first two.

Now, overusing saidisms just to be using a word other than 'said' I could see as annoying. But I think saidisms have their place and should be used when it is better to do so.

IMO, I think writers and critics notice these things more so than readers.

Clio
10-20-2008, 10:50 PM
To me -- going back to the OP -- the premise of "making a sentence more interesting by using alternative verbs other than 'said' " is a flawed concept. There is absolutely nothing wrong with "said" in the first place. I'm against teaching children bad habits or wrong concepts simply to have them relearn when they get older. Why not start "right" in the first place? Why not teach them how to write interesting and informative dialogue instead of artificially adorn them with said bookism and useless adverbs? That's all I'm saying.


Well, I can't speak for US grade schools, of course, but here in England it's even worse! My son was at primary/elementary school in the mid 90s. Not only was he actively encouraged to use about three adjectives per noun (I kid you not), but such old-fashioned concepts as spelling and punctuation were considered inconsequential things. His schoolwork was full of spelling and punctuation errors and I would tear my hair out when I read them.

So, armed with maternal indignation, I brought this up at a parents' evening. I was told that the teachers did not want to curb the childrens' natural creativity and imagination by pulling them up over spelling and grammar errors! 'All that comes later,' they said. And so, at eleven years old when he went on to high school, he suddenly found himself metaphorically rapped over the knuckles for silly spelling and grammar errors.

I'm glad I'm not a kid today, I'll tell you. :rant: My son's a reasonably bright boy, and he went on to score an A in his English GCSE at 16. I'd read some of his essays. They wouldn't have got an A in my day.

bethany
10-20-2008, 10:55 PM
I saw this way back when I was in school, and I've seen it today (high school teacher). It's one of the only things I'll tell them that something they learned elsewhere is "not a good idea" (I won't tell them wrong, they have to catch that themselves).

I'm betting that handout/list has been recycled for years and just keeps showing up.

truelyana
10-20-2008, 10:58 PM
Ack! My third grader just came home with the following worksheet completed:

"To make dialogue more interesting, writers use other verbs instead of said. Look in your book for synonyms for said and write them in the speech balloons. Add any other synonyms you can think of, and look in a thesaurus for even more."

shouted
whispered
screamed
shrugged
laughed
offered
complained
ordered

"Nooooooooooo!" I said. "Just use 'said'!"

What are they teaching our children these days?

Vent over...back to your regularly scheduled AW.

'Said' sounds fine to me, though it does sound repetitive when you over use it in a a document. The other synonyms are more meaningful, if expressed within that content, so I feel they have their place.

I am a minute taker for several forums at work, and I have a little hard time sometimes picking out different words to use instead of 'said'. When I started I used 'revealed' and than my manager told me it was too historical to use, though a few days ago I saw it in a casual newspaper. Although the minutes are just pieces of information said in meetings, I do tend to have a play about with other words, though 'said' is still the most popular word used.

Cherry Bear
10-21-2008, 03:33 AM
What's worse than the whole "said" thing, is the whole "So-and-so and I" because you know what, parents-trying-to-make-their-kids-sound-polite? It is not always "so-and-so and I".

I understand that it's easier to teach your kids that but that pretty much confuses them massively when they start learning about when it's okay to say "so-and-so and me".

selkn.asrai
11-10-2008, 06:34 PM
My opinion is that if the vocal cords are required in order to make said action, then it may be an acceptable tag. Thus, "'I can't imagine why you'd think that,' Jaime smiled" doesn't cut it for me.

Any word but "said" should be used with caution and intent. Because if a character screams something every third line of dialogue, it will quickly lose the desired effect of the verb's usage. But if you wait for that moment when screaming and its implications are in place, when it's appropriate for your character, when it conveys the terror or the pain or the ire or what have you, use it.

scarletpeaches
11-10-2008, 06:42 PM
Agree with those who say 'laugh' isn't even a dialogue tag. It just isn't. You can't laugh out a word no matter how hard you try. You can say a word, whisper it, shout it, but not 'laugh' it out.

Another gripe I have is with 'hissed'. "You bitch!" he hissed. Um, no. If there's no 'S' sound there, you don't hiss.

Roger J Carlson
11-10-2008, 07:12 PM
IMO, I think writers and critics notice these things more so than readers.And agents and editors, of course.

To me, that's the important point. Sure, you're free to write any way you want and there are few truly objective rights and wrongs. But current fashion says to limit the number of adjectives, adverbs, and said-bookisms. So why put in any more roadblocks to publication than you need to? Your manuscript may never get past the slushpile reader.

I didn't have a huge problem with said-bookisms when I first started writing, but I did use tags way too often -- almost every sentence. I found that I could get rid of most of them when there are only two people talking, just add one every now and again to keep the reader in sync.

On an interesting side note, my middle-grade science fiction novel has an alien race whose language is very musical and they speak English musically too. So I used the word "sang" instead of "said". After the first couple of times, it became as invisible as said.

Sargentodiaz
11-10-2008, 10:00 PM
Try -

Replied
Responded
uttered
murmured
whispered
shouted

and so on.

Cybernaught
11-10-2008, 10:33 PM
"Take a look at these big 'uns," the stripper flashed.

scarletpeaches
11-10-2008, 10:33 PM
Try -

Replied
Responded
uttered
murmured
whispered
shouted

and so on.

On the other hand - please. Don't.


"Take a look at these big 'uns," the stripper flashed.

"Kiss my arse," scarletpeaches said cheekily.

Clio
11-10-2008, 11:21 PM
Another gripe I have is with 'hissed'. "You bitch!" he hissed. Um, no. If there's no 'S' sound there, you don't hiss.

That's one of my pet peeves. I picked up a novel the other day by a very well known English writer (she commands pretty high sales) and on the very first page, we have:

'Don't you dare', she hissed.

Not only was it Page One, it was paragraph 2! Has this woman no editor?

TrickyFiction
11-11-2008, 01:13 AM
That's one of my pet peeves. I picked up a novel the other day by a very well known English writer (she commands pretty high sales) and on the very first page, we have:

'Don't you dare', she hissed.

Not only was it Page One, it was paragraph 2! Has this woman no editor?

I always read "hissed" as something said between the teeth in anger. So I never had a problem with it and occasionally use it myself. It's interesting to learn how other people read things.

Cybernaught
11-11-2008, 01:26 AM
"Kiss my arse," scarletpeaches said cheekily.

:ROFL:

"Somethin' in your pipes sure does stink," the plumber said, flushed.

HarrisLiteraryscamsu
11-13-2008, 05:13 PM
Dialogue, like most elements of storytelling, serves as a bridge between descriptions, and vice versa. You want to break up the tedium developing in a single form. Like kct, Iíve written short stories without dialogue (both third person), and they worked, but I feel theyíre the exception to the rule. A work in solid dialogue, first word to last, strikes me as an uncomfortable concept, unless itís very brief and uses characters already familiar to the reader. But I guess whatís good is good. A particular writer might have a gift for this approach.

SPMiller
11-13-2008, 11:42 PM
I always read "hissed" as something said between the teeth in anger. So I never had a problem with it and occasionally use it myself. It's interesting to learn how other people read things.She clenched her jaw. "Don't you dare."

(That's how I'd have written it, and I consider it superior in every way.)