I’ve been seeing this phrase around the internet recently, and I’ve got to tell you, it’s pissing me off. “Said is dead.” Have you seen this? I really hope that it’s just a trend, and it dies a merciless death soon.
Said is a simple word. He said, she said, they said. I like simple words when I’m writing, and I’m not alone. Steven King and I might not agree on outlines or how many sex scenes a horror story needs, but we do agree on this. At least according to his book On Writing, which should be on every indie author’s reading list.
I understand that there are a lot of reasons people want to use more complex words, especially in transition. You might think they’re boring, or that maybe your line of dialog wasn’t clear, so it needs a little help. Maybe you just want to show off how smart you are. Here, though, are five reasons why you should reconsider.
You should always use the right word for the situation
For example, the word very. (This is about all simple words, not just said) I hate the word very when used in description. The sun was not very bright. It was blistering, it was sparkling. He had never seen a brighter sun. The writer who uses very in description is being lazy. They are half assing it.
But, your characters should be free to use very whenever they please, so long as the dialog rings true for them. If “the sun is very bright today,” sounds like what your character would say, then let her say it. The same goes for any simple word.
If a simple word will do, it’s probably best to just use it
Especially if it was the first word that came to mind. That is most likely to be the most natural, and most comfortable word. Which means that it’s less likely to jar the reader. If I read a line with the word pejorative, for instance, that’s jarring. I know what it means, but negative would have worked just as well. Now I’ve got the chant from that Simpson’s episode where Homer is accused of pinching the baby sitter’s bottom because she had candy stuck to her. Totally great episode, but now I’m not thinking about your story anymore. Complex words, when not needed, confuse laymen and distract word nerds.
Using complex words doesn’t mean you’re talking down to your readers
The New York Times is written to a fifth grade reading level. Let’s just start with that. So if such a well known big name newspaper is aiming there, you shouldn’t feel bad at all about writing to a similar level. But always remember that simple words do not equal a simple thought. Think of Steinbeck, author of such books as Of Mice And Men and Grapes Of Wrath. Do you consider those books condescending? Me either, yet the language is the very simplest.
If you’re writing for kids, don’t listen to me
I have a pretty impressive vocabulary, because I watch Simpsons and read Calvin and Hobbs. I am not making that up. My monsters are even better than I was at their age, because they read Calvin and Hobbs and Series of Unfortunate Events. I love children writers who use great stories to teach difficult words.
I, however, am not writing for kids, so I really do not care to expand my audience’s vocabulary. I would settle for teaching people to use the words they already know better.
Finally, the number one reason to use simple words
Your job as a fiction writer is to tell a story. Your job as a non fiction writer is to convey information in an entertaining way. Whatever words you chose should help you do that, not distract from it. Just use said, and tell the damn story.
Nicole, I agree that said is a good word and often the most natural word to use when someone says something. However, when I write conversation, I do not want to use the word repititiously. In my last post, “Split Second..” I deliberately looked for other words such as asked, inquired, explained, confessed. I did consider some words that I thought would be out of character so did not use them. Thanks for the post. Good advice.
I don’t know if “said” is dead but U use it as little as possible since I try to write dialogue that conveys the tone of the situation. I took a writing course at 18 and for the entire course, the teacher made us write in the style of Hemingway (I think) to strip away all excess adverbs, etc. His lesson stuck! ☺
Here’s my big problem with words like uttered, gasped, injected and the like. They remind me that I’m reading a book, and pull me out of the story.