You have most likely heard the saying "Said is Dead". A saying which has sparked heated debates amongst writers the world over. You might have even taken up arms yourself to defend your views on the topic.
Okay, maybe not arms exactly, but at the very least a pen. :)
At the center of this split is the simple question of whether a writer should use the word said when writing dialogue or if they should pick snappier dialogue tags to describe what their characters are saying.
I myself have been on the fence about the issue until just recently. I didn't really have an opinion, being a new writer myself, so I chose to wait and take a look at both sides.
However, now I believe that said really is the best way to describe the majority of a stories dialogue.
Now before those of you who don't agree with this pull out your pitchforks and torches, I'll give you a rundown on why I feel this way. (Then if you're still mad, bring on the mob.)
My first point is one you've probably heard before.
It really is the best argument that I've heard, though, so I have to add it.
1# The word said disappears the more readers see it. In other words, they see it so much that their brains literally skip it as they read your dialogue.
Why is this good?
Because it pulls them more fully into the dialogue. Which improves the dialogues overall flow. Which then in turn gives your story a faster and more engaging pace.
Whereas, every time you use a word like bellowed, whined, or screamed, your forcing the reader to stop and add that sound or action in. It effectively acts like the word STOP at the end of telegraphed messages.
This can be a good thing when used in moderation. (Which is actually the second point in my argument.)
2# Using said let's you save those descriptive words for special occasions.
A writer who always uses said only needs to add the word screamed to one sentence in his or her novel to let the reader know how serious a situation is. Because it is the only (or one of the only) times the word is used in dialogue it will practically jump off the page at the reader.
But if you use that word all of the time, it'll disappear into the work. (Unless you, like, put it in bold or something. Can you say "He screamed" *squared*?)
Don't get me wrong. I know it can be really tempting to hit dialogue on the nose in every sentence. You just want to make sure your reader gets it. You want to be as clear as possible. What better way to do that than to explain what everyone is doing at all times?
However, this is really unfair to your readers. You have to have a little faith in them and their intelligence, especially if you're writing for adults. Most of the time they'll get what's going on.
3# Using said let's your reader think for themselves and draw their own conclusions about how your characters are speaking. This ultimately gets them more engaged than if you spoon feed it to them.
Of course, this is only so long as none of your beta-readers or writing friends say they had trouble following a part of the story. You want to be open to improvement in all areas. And dialogue can be too subtle sometimes.
4# But using said can help with that too. Because if a reader can't tell what's going on during a conversation that only uses the word said, it means the dialogue itself is too weak or the actions leading to the dialogue were too weak.
This is what I call a dialogue weak spot, and you'll be surprised by how easily you can spot them when all you have is "said" to lead you through your dialogue.
So, there you have it. My reasons for favoring "said" over all those colorful verbs, adverbs and other more descriptive dialogue tags.
Alright, bring on the mob. I'm ready for my demise.
Unless of course you too prefer said.
Either way, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this controversial topic in the comments. :)