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November 21st, 2005, 12:34 PM
I was reading Amy Sterling's piece on how to critique (http://www.critters.org/tips.asterling.txt ) when I stumbled across this:

c) Bad tags. "Said" is fine, as well as the occasional whisper or shout,
indicating volume (but even that's not necessary). Bad tags include
"exhaled," "ejaculated," "shrieked," "sputtered," "muttered," "murmured," and
all other verbs attributed to a line of dialog instead of appropriate action,
description and good dialog which speaks for itself.
Marianne cupped her hand by my ear. "He's going to try it now. Just
watch," she said. Whispering is pretty much understood.
Bob sighed and opened his mouth, then sighed again. "Can't," he said at
last. "Can't do it." (Beats "stuttered," or "sputtered," followed by "Bob
stuttered. He had stuttered since he was seven and the Burnsey boys had
whipped him behind Old Man Gruenpfluegel's barn.")

I'm confused! I write for a German language newspaper and we're encouraged to find as many different words to replace the ubiquitous "said" as possible. In fact, if we write "said" more than three times in a row, we're considered boring and unimaginative. So I've tried to follow this rule when writing in English, too.

Can I have your opinions on this?

November 21st, 2005, 01:23 PM
Ms. Sterling makes an assertion without arguing her cause (not surprising, since this is just a basic list). However, any hard rules about writing have weaknesses, and without going into them, you're not increasing style awareness.

I know the advice you received from your newspaper editors well. It's a cliché perpetrated through the Austrian education system (and - quite likely - throughout the world); it's no less an assertion than Ms. Sterling's proposition.

The low down is, whenever you're following a rule, you're being a lazy writer (or one who writes for opinioted editors ;) ). That isn't to say that rules are useless: they topicalise problem areas in writing. Without them, you can't improve. But the improvement is in trial and error, with awareness that the rules exist; not in their mindless application.

Ms. Sterling neglects that - sometimes - a tag may be the quickest, most unobtrusive way to incorporate information (although I'm hard put to think of a valid - non satirical - instance where I'd use "ejaculated" [for words, anyway...] O.o). Your newspaper editors ignore that "said" is one of those ubiquitous words that become "invisible" quickly (only a step above "is", "a", "the", or "through"... - but - of course - you can overdo those, too.)

And - last but not least - they probably enjoy different styles.

November 21st, 2005, 01:34 PM
I agree with Dawnstorm, you're getting two sides of the issue, both of which are wrong. It's not what word you write, it's why you write what word you write. Glaring use of only "said" when their might be a better word is lazy. Glaring use of "oh god anything but 'said'" is as bad. The main purpose of language is to communicate, the rules are secondary to the main purpose.

You can add "blurt" to your bad tag list, people don't blurt.

I would say, choose your words carefully, and for a purpose. If you can use said eighteen times in a row without it being noticed, go for it. If you can rotate through half a dozen words instead of 'said' and it not be painfully obvious you are rotating though a list of alternate words, then you are a better being than I.


November 21st, 2005, 02:30 PM
I see what she's trying to get at, and bad tags do drive you crackers in an otherwise good piece of work. (see Eddings and his use of the tag 'laconically', a writing oxymoron if ever there was one.)

Usually, you just don't need them I find they creep into a first draft, but on rereading they're usually redundant. they're -ly words, which are generally in inverse proportion to writing quality. That said, it is a bit genre specific, and they do lurk in greater numbers in fantasy writing.

They overlap with beats, which are a much better way to delineate speech:

He toyed with his mashed potato. 'I'm just bored.'
'Well,' she reached across and took the fork from his hand, 'there's plenty of stuff you could help me with.'
'I didn't mean like that.'
She snatched the ketchup away as he reached for it. 'You can't be that bored, then.'
He glared at her. 'Give it back.'

...and not a 'said' to be seen...

Teresa Edgerton
November 21st, 2005, 03:14 PM
The rules for journalism and fiction writing are not always the same.

Some writers and editors go nuts if you use a single "saidism" (that is, a word that substitutes for "said"), others take a more moderate stand and simply advise not to get carried away.

In the US, some magazines (particularly movie magazines) use saidisms to such an extent the effect really is ludicrous. They'll even invent verbs while they are at it.

People who are dead-set against saidisms usually don't think much of adverbs either.

Rocket Sheep
November 21st, 2005, 05:56 PM
In fiction written in English, you don't only use said type tags to show who is speaking.

You use layout: you start a new line for each new speaker so if there are only two people in a scene, you need hardly any tags at all.
eg. Steve and John met at the river bank at noon.
"We have to stop meeting like this," Steve said.
John laughed. "People will talk."
"Actually, they probably will. Rampant homophobia is the 'in' thing down around here."
"That's why I'm leaving. I've met a nice Swedish boy on the internet."

You use action:
eg. David ran his hand over the sleek body of the corvette. "SweeEEeet!"
"And she's all mine, mate." Joe waved a set of keys, then stuffed them back in his pocket as if he were afraid David would snatch them.

Personally, I prefer nice invisible "said" plus any active or layout method of tagging dialogue before using words instead of said. AND I can't stand adverbs.

November 21st, 2005, 06:06 PM
Personally, I prefer nice invisible "said" plus any active or layout method of tagging dialogue before using words instead of said. AND I can't stand adverbs.

Passive Voice? :p

November 21st, 2005, 08:20 PM
AND I can't stand adverbs.
Tell me about it! (he said, graciously). :D

Rocket Sheep
November 21st, 2005, 09:00 PM
I'm sure I have, and I'd tell you what to do with passives and confusing sequential actions with concurrent actions, but your ears would burn... :D

November 21st, 2005, 10:38 PM
I'm sure I have, and I'd tell you what to do with passives and confusing sequential actions with concurrent actions, but your ears would burn... :D
Fortunately for me, I don't even know what most of that means. ;) Which allows me to just start putting words together...