Using 'said' in your manuscript

I don't know if it's a personal taste, or just a really common thing among writers. But along with the telling of emotion, there's a lot of aversion to the, "he said, she said, we said together," tag lines.

I know it may seem repetitive, but the thing is 'said' reads more like a punctuation mark than an actual word. If you go through some of your favorite books, or at least most of the best sellers, you'll find they use 'said' or 'asked' ninety percent of the time. In fact, many agents will tell you that using anything but the common place 'said' sounds amateurish.

Lets look at an example from a conversation in my current manuscript 'The cursed Prince,' re-written with different tag lines.

He flipped the paper on its back and then forward again. As if it could change with each glance.
“Answer me,” shouted the King.
The knight flinched as he cleared his throat.
“Yes, My King. It was found on his desk with fresh ink on the quill.”
“Why would they write it in his room?” the Queen stammered, but the King waved a dismissive hand at her.
 “Oh shut up,” he said, and slammed his fist on the throne. “Answer your Queen.”
“Yes, My Queen. We’ve sent men to the village in search. The guards at the docks were doubled, as well as those in the forest along the mountain paths.”
“Good. Send another group after them. I want the entire road searched before morning, and no one leaves these mountains without permits signed by me.”

The King relaxed in his chair. When he turned his head, his eyes sparkled to fiery pinpoints by the light of the torches. Grahn didn’t look away as the others.
“You,” groaned the King. He rubbed the wrinkles at his temples. Grahn in turn, raised his chin. Rain water dripped to the floor. It had turned from white to grey over the years, and rust red from where blood had been spilt upon it
“Why are you here?”
 “I only came to see my Queen,” Grahn said. He bowed his head, though his eyes sparkled as polished emeralds while his lips smiled between insult and mockery.
“There’s blood on your arm. Why?”
A drop fell from his hand to the floor.
“I turned a corner to sharply and hit a nail. This is just such troubling news. I had to get here soonest I could,” Grahn said with an exaggerated shake of his head.

Now here's that same example with all those pesky 'said' tags put back in. 


He flipped the paper on its back and then forward again. As if it could change with each glance.
“Answer me,” said the King.
The knight flinched as he cleared his throat.
“Yes, My King. It was found on his desk with fresh ink on the quill.”
“Why would they write it in his room?” the Queen asked, but the King waved a dismissive hand at her.
 “Oh shut up,” he said, and slammed his fist on the throne. “Answer your Queen.”
“Yes, My Queen. We’ve sent men to the village in search. The guards at the docks were doubled, as well as those in the forest along the mountain paths.”
“Good. Send another group after them. I want the entire road searched before morning and no one leaves these mountains without permits signed by me.”
The King relaxed in his chair. When he turned his head, his eyes sparkled to fiery pinpoints by the light of the torches. Grahn didn’t look away as the others.
“You,” said the King. He rubbed the wrinkles at his temples. Grahn in turn, raised his chin. Rain water dripped to the floor. It had turned from white to grey over the years, and rust red from blood had been spilt upon it
“Why are you here?”
 “I only came to see my Queen,” Grahn said. He bowed his head, though his eyes sparkled as polished emeralds, while his lips smiled between insult and mockery.
“There’s blood on your arm. Why?”
A drop fell from his hand to the floor.
“I turned a corner to sharply and hit a nail. This is just such troubling news. I had to get here soonest I could,” Grahn said, with an exaggerated shake of his head.
Your dialog should always be able to portray what you want, without you having to add anything to help it along. Whether it be saying something was whispered, shouted, or your telling emotions. I have it on good word that a lot of agents and editors will often jump to the first string of dialog in a manuscript to judge it, because dialog is by far one of the most important aspects of story telling this day and age.

Of course it's lovely if you can describe a scene or setting, or even character, in beautiful flowing sentences. And paint a picture like a painter on a canvas, but your readers need to relate to your characters. To do that they need to feel like these people are real.

Now, as in the example above, you can see it's not all a string of 'said.' I broke it up with beats. I take it most writers know what beats are. But for the sake of the few who might not, they are short bits of character action, or description put in between dialog to remind your reader where they are and who's doing what. It also helps to break up the repetitive,
"Hey John, your working with me Tuesday," said Liam
"What? No it's Suzanne," said John.
"I'm not working with that hell fire bitch," said Liam. "Talked to the boss, got you put on instead." 
 Taken as it is, that little bit of conversation is flat, boring, and annoying as hell. So, for fun, lets put in some beats:
"Hey John, your working with me Tuesday," said Liam.
"What?" The tooth pick John was chewing fell to the hot pavement. "No, it's Suzanne."
"I'm not working with that hell fire bitch." Liam grinned. "Talked to the boss, got you on instead."
 Beats give your characters more personality, more emotion, and you don't break the 'said' rule.

I hope this helps, and let me know your thoughts on it.

Comments

  1. "Yes," he interjected, "my characters said a lot of things until recently." "Now, like your, King and his court, my characters, stammer, shout and groan, too!"

    Thanks for sharing Melissa Rose--good post!

    :o)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glade you enjoyed it. Maybe it's just me, but putting anything but said or asked as a tag line, unless it's well done, sounds amateurish to me. I know I used to do it all the time. Actually one of the first edits to my manuscript was changing the conversations around to accommodate the new beats, and changing all those shouts and stammers to said.

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