characters / dialogue / writers / writers resources / writers tips

Writer’s Tip #22: When to Use Said as a Tag

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

Today’s tip: Stick with ‘said’ as a character tag.

I don’t necessarily agree with this one, but I’ve read it so often, I feel forced to pass it on.
Stick to “said” and always place the tag after the noun or pronoun. To use anything other than “said” distracts the reader (“said” is invisible). Words such as growled, barked, scoffed tell the reader how the character spoke rather than show it through the dialogue and action.

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Jacqui Murray is the editor of a K-6 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, creator of two technology training books for middle school and six ebooks on technology in education. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, Cisco guest blog, Technology in Education featured blogger, IMS tech expert, and a bi-weekly contributor to Write Anything. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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9 thoughts on “Writer’s Tip #22: When to Use Said as a Tag

  1. If in doubt, use said because it’s safe. However, sometimes being dangerous produces awesome results. I’m actually turned off by authors that only use said. If I hear or see it back to back, I’ll throw the book across the room. (Or shut off my Kindle as I don’t throw it)

    The danger from straying away from said is real too, though. “Wow!” he effervesced. Probably not a good idea. Moderation is the key methinks.

    In fact, I think straying from said appropriately can actually show, instead of tell like most sources contend — or more accurately, using a tell to show. Ambiguous dialog can clearly be shown for what the author meant by a carefully chosen dialog tag. Instead of me having to figure out what was meant by the dialog itself or context clues.

    In the end, there’s room for both kinds of writing, as there are many kinds of readers.

  2. I hate reading dialog that repeats the word “said.” Just like any other word, it can be overused. It’s true that sometimes people try to jazz up their poor writing by using various tags, but I’d wonder in that case if just replacing all those tags with “said” is going to fix the problem.

  3. I try to eliminate the problem at the outset by first showing the character doing something and then putting in the dialogue. Doesn’t always work because the action must not only be pertinent but also essential to moving the action forward. The problems are increased with multiple characters involved in a conversation. Not only do I now need to tag each speech, any pronouns used can’t be ambiguous. When it’s appropriate and nearly essential to let the reader know the state of the speaker’s mind, I will tag with: he asked, she slurred, he whined, she screamed. If I haven’t been able to dump the need for the tag most of them remain “said.” It’s something I look for very carefully when rewriting.
    On a slightly different topic, I hate when writers eliminate quotation marks and force readers to figure out what is being spoken, what is internal dialogue, and what is narration. Topic for another post.

    • I am pretty sure none of the writers I buy (and love) use flashy tags. I think most of them avoid tags in the manner you are saying, or use ‘said’.

      Feel free to write a guest post for me on that fascinating topic. I pay well…

  4. Pingback: 10 Hits and Misses for 2013 | WordDreams...

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