I know, I know. I’m doing dialog posts with astonishing slowness even for me, but I’ll get to the end of them one of these weeks… or months… or years.
This particular post in the series began with a recent blog post from Anne R. Allen (a great blog, by the way):
Specifically, it began with Anne Allen’s bogus point #3: “‘”Said’ is boring. Use more energetic tags like ‘exclaimed’, ‘growled’, and ‘ejaculated.'”
To which Anne replied:
“Whoever thought up this one is treading dangerously close to TOM SWIFTY territory. ‘Said’ is invisible to the reader. Any other dialogue tag draws attention to itself. Use other tags judiciously, the way you do with exclamation marks. You do use exclamation marks judiciously, don’t you!!?”
I totally agree with Anne. However, at least one commenter disagreed. Vigorously. I’ll let you scroll down the blog to find it. It’s the first comment for Nov. 27, 2014. My comment follows it.
Now, I’m not trying to belittle or berate any individuals. Rather, the response demonstrates how widespread misinformation is among writers. Yes, you will find books from major publishers using non-said tags and tags with adverbial attributes: he said languorously, she said pointedly, he said amorously, she said charmingly. These have their place, but they must be used judiciously. As I pointed out in my comment on Anne’s blog, Norton Juster’s charming children’s novel The Phantom Tollbooth–one of the exceptions–would not have been what it was without the adverbs and humorous tags. They gave it its wonderful voice.
We’re not saying you can’t use non-said tags, but you do have to use tags that really are valid tag words. That said, I’m going to post a bunch of links to articles that say it (and repeat it) better than I can. Further, I hope that, by looking at these many opinions on the subject, you’ll see that those of us who do argue for “said” as the tag of choice aren’t simply preaching our personal viewpoints. We tell you this for a good reason: your writing will be better and stronger.
NOTE: The key point in this last one is “Still, there’s nothing wrong with mixing it up on occasion — especially when how something is said is particularly important and not sufficiently clear through the dialogue itself.” Be sure you recognize the “on occasion” part.
It is definitely possible to overuse “said” by overusing tags in general. The good writer understands both when a tag is needed and when it is not. I hope that these articles drive that home for you.
To summarize, there’s nothing wrong with “said” as a tag, but as with anything in writing, if you use dialog tags when not needed, then “said” is going to start standing out. Don’t use non-said words to avoid using “said” too much. Rather, avoid using tags when they’re not needed and “said” will not be problem.
Remember always the primary purpose of a dialog tag is to tell the reader who is speaking–no more, no less. When a tag ventures beyond that into the realm of describing the delivery of the speaker’s words, then there’s a good chance that the dialog line itself (and maybe the narrative itself) isn’t doing its job. An attributive dialog tag is telling instead of showing.