Monday, December 14, 2009

He Said - She Said

Following up on last week's topic about quotation marks, how about we dive into another scenario -- he said / she said.

Supposedly "said" is an innoculous word that just disappears into the writing. Does it really? Try reading your manuscript... or any other persons work of art and see if it really, REALLY does disappear. Oh, wait, I meant READ IT OUT LOUD!

Remember, at some point in your banal life you are hoping to hit it big-time. At that point, somebody is going to be forced to stand in front of an audience, whether it be a classroom of bored English students, a clutch of tea-sipping ladies of the afternoon white-glove society, or an artist performing at a coffee shop or elsewhere.

Yes, they will be reading YOU out loud.

How will you measure up?

So, do you believe that "said" just disappears or do you think it should be mixed with add-on phrases and substituted terms like: shouted, screamed, whispered, hissed, etc. I say this with drama to reinforce... I spat angrily... ETC ETC ETC

What are your thoughts on this little discussion?


  1. The use of "said" does fairly disappear, especially if there's a lot of action going on. It doesn't distract from what's happening.

    However, I don't oppose the use of "he spat angrily" (etc.) in a scene that's focused on the dynamics of personalities, or a scene in which there's much emotion to convey by the author. Too much of that gets tedious though. My advice is not to avoid those adverbs totally, but to use them sparingly for emphasis.

  2. Sometimes I feel if there are only two people in a scene that we don't really need to always use "he said/she said." Sometimes the short sentences that are quick replies to each other are simply enough.

    Mike stared at me. "Can we go already?"
    "No, I'm mad at you."
    "Karen, come on already."
    She crossed her arms. "Not a shot."
    "Fine, stay here."

    See, not one she said/he said in the bunch!
    - Elyse S.

  3. Most times, if I am silent reading, I don't notice SAID, or rarely, but reading out loud it starts to get on my nerves.

    There's a few pages in Crichton's TIMELINE (my favorite book of his) that I swear the SAID started to feel as if I was being beaten over the head with the word. It stood out.

    I would suggest to break up the dull he said/she said with actions to ID the speaker.

  4. Also, I'd suggest not using tags with the LY adverbs...he spat angrily; she whispered sadly. Or use sparingly

    These ly words tend to weaken your prose, they tell the reader what your character is feeling. Not always a bad thing, but grates on my nerves and lessons the involvement in the story for me. Instead of a Wow, read, I wind up felling hohum.

    Just my two cents.

  5. Elyse is right-on about not having to id the persons constantly if only two are involved in a short dialogue. But often if the conversation becomes long, I have to go back and figure out who's answering whom.

  6. At a writery type meeting, the speaker did some readings of different authors' works. One of them was very jarring with all the saids in the two or three pages she read. I was almost to the point of strangling her to make it stop.

  7. Good point, I always heard the advice that "said" is invisible. But no one ever thought to point out what happens if it is read aloud.


    PS - I found your blog through fantasywriters yahoogroup.

  8. I have always been told to simply use the he said/she said. I've been told that adverbs when describing the way something was spoken is weak.

    Stephen King said as such in his book, On Writing. "Then again, he freely admits that he still does it, much to his misery." Dave said.