"Are you lost, Daddy?" I asked tenderly.
"Shut up," he explained.
interrogated. "What's that?"
"Well," Bob exposited
, "it's a variety of Purple Prose
in which the writer goes out of their way to avoid the word said
"Why would they do this?" ejaculated
"Because," explicated Bob, "it was the fashion at one point. There were even 'said books' you could get mail order with lists of the words that can be used instead of said
as saying said
was discredited during that time. That's where the name of the trope
comes from," he further proclaimed.
"But Said Bookism
itself is a Discredited Trope
these days?" Alice queried.
"Absolutely," confirmed Bob, "it's considered redundant," he proceeded, "because dialogue should speak for itself
without needing fancy tags to convey its meaning and intention."
"That makes sense," Alice concurred.
"In many bad cases, the dialogue tags end up repeating what the dialogue itself is telling us," Bob stated in addition, revealing that in the worst cases the dialogue tags end up repeating what the dialogue itself is telling us
. "In the very worst cases, they use a substitute for 'said' that you can't actually use to say something. People sigh, and say things, but they don't sigh things that they say."
"Oh, dear," Alice murmured. "How do more experienced writers get around lots of dialogue, then? If repeating 'said' over and over is annoying, and using dozens of synonyms for 'said' is also annoying, then how do you write so that it's not annoying?"
"Well." Bob's eyes darted upward as he thought. "You could use body language instead."
Alice gave Bob a confused look. "How does that work?"
"It's simple." Bob gestured. "The word 'said' isn't really the important part of the sentence. What you're trying to do is draw attention to who
is speaking, not the fact that they are
"And that's so the reader doesn't accidentally mistake one person's dialogue for someone else's, like if we left off the names entirely."
"Exactly!" Bob smiled seductively. "So having a person perform some action just before speaking is as good as explicitly telling the reader that they're speaking. It also gives the author another tool for delivering sub text
that you couldn't get across with just text — as long as you don't use the action as another said bookism. 'She smiled. "I'll be glad to go." works, but '"I'll be glad to go," she smiled' is an impossible said-bookism."
"That could get old too, though." Alice frowned. "Just like in video games where the characters just perform actions randomly as they're talking.
"I guess so." Bob shrugged. "In that case you always have 'said' or its synonyms as a fallback, at least,
so long as you don't overuse it."
"Are there any similar tropes?" Alice requested.
"There are!" enthused Bob. "It's not just like Purple Prose
, but also sort of like Delusions of Eloquence
and Author Vocabulary Calendar
," he noted augustly
"So where can I see what it looks like?" Alice inquired.
"Well," said Bob
, "right here...
- In one Tomorrow Stories special, Splash Brannigan decides to act like a Film Noir-slash-dime novel hero, and narrates everything that happens to him. So this is how conversations go with him
Splash: "Take it easy, toots!", I screamed. "I'm simply considering a career as a 1930's film noir detective!"
Daisy: But it's 2005! You'll never find suitable premises!
Splash: ...she moaned, seductively.
- At one point Daisy specifically tells him not to say "she said". Throughout the story he basically uses every other word that could possibly mean "spoke", and a couple that couldn't, paired with increasingly ridiculous adverbs.
- The trope name comes from the Turkey City Lexicon, which lists it as a common mistake made by beginning writers.
- The Tom Swift books were notorious for this, leading to the invention of the Tom Swifty.
- Biggles does this all the time. Algy and Ginger might be guilty of saying things, but Biggles and Von Stalhein never are.
- The Harry Potter series had a few notorious examples:
"We're not going to use magic?" Ron ejaculated
- "Don't use this trope," How NOT to Write a Novel advised repeatedly.
- Twilight is most definitely guilty of this, as skewered expertly here.
- The Host is just as bad.
- Dave Barry's Twilight parody Fangs of Endearment does it on every single dialogue tag.
- Stephen King voiced his disgust for this in On Writing: "Don't do these things. Please oh please. The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said."
- He also provides the best example of doing it wrong: "'You fucking tease!', Bill jerked out."
- Defended by Lawrence Block in Telling Lies For Fun and Profit, in which he says that replacements for "said" can enliven a story, so long as they're not used with a heavy hand:
I do feel that any number of alternate verbs have their uses from time to time. They can be good accent points in dialogue, and the less frequently you employ them the more effective they will be.
- Inheritance Cycle is infamous for this, especially in Eragon. "'Sorry,' apologized Brom."
- Occasionally, Timothy Zahn's otherwise excellent Dragonback Trilogy falls prey to this.
- Warrior Cats falls into this sometimes, though this mostly is becuase the authors replace every instance of the word "said" with "meowed", which can get a little weird sometimes and the authors want to avoid that. Apart from that, there are still a lot of said bookisms, like "ventured."
- The fantasy author Robert Lynn Asprin is another who sometimes had problems with this.
- Characters in the Myth Adventures will often "retort" to something "argued" to them.
- Elmore Leonard includes in his Rules of Writing "Never use a verb other than 'said' to carry dialogue." Another rule expands on that slightly: "Never use an adverb to modify the verb 'said.'"
- The Eye of Argon. Nothing is ever "said" - instead it is "husked" or "ejaculated" or "stated whimsicoracally".
- Atlanta Nights uses this quite a bit, as one of many deliberately bad writing techniques.
- "The word said is to prose what the arrow of a word balloon is to comics", Neil Gaiman blogged.
- The Great Gatsby is not only full of these, it's full of redundant ones, like "snorted contemptuously."
- Fifty Shades of Grey is very fond of 'murmur', even using it four times on one page. People are also fond of whispering things.
- Also, dialogue often gets tagged with actions, in some cases not by the actual speaker. This can make it quite hard to tell who's talking at any given time.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, there is a character called Hodor, who has a Verbal Tic Name: the only word he can speak is "Hodor". The prose is fond of sentences like: "Hodor, Hodor agreed." or "Hodor, Hodor protested.", to convey the emotion of the character's speech.
- "Catelyn admitted", "Tyrion pointed out", "Ned replied"... the series tend to have this pop up quite frequently, though aversions happen a lot as well.
- Darren Shan, most famous for The Saga of Darren Shan, likes to use these regardless of whether they're needed or not. He once used the word "tsked." No, really.
- Classic science fiction writer Stanley Weinbaum's most famous short story is "A Martian Odyssey," which he followed with a sequel, "The Valley of Dreams." They involve a team of astronauts who have traveled to Mars, including a German named Putz as a minor character. Both stories give him a chance to "ejaculate" a line of dialogue.
- Robert B. Parker had an apparent version to using any other word than "said" to tag dialogue, at least in the Spenser series. Listening to the audiobook really drives the point home.
- Tamora Pierce tended to do this early on; it's most noticeable in the Alanna books.
- Walter Kerr's How Not to Write a Play cautions playwrights against the theatrical equivalent of this trope, which is to lead every significant line of dialogue with an adverb in parentheses.
- In The Phantom Tollbooth, the members of King Azaz's cabinet talk like this all the time.
- Many English classes in American schools specifically require students to write this way as well as proscribing all use of "be" verbs (am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been). It can almost seem as if they are trying to sabotage future writers.