Is “said” really so bad?

The number of times I see requests for alternatives to “said” in forums, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was something wrong with the word.

It is easy to see where the idea that using said “too much” is bad came from. Who here did not have it drummed into them by well-meaning English teachers that repetition is bad and synonyms are good?

The truth is that sometimes repetition is good. Sometimes you should use it. Sometimes it drives the point home.

Besides, in novels “said” is an invisible word. Like “the”, “they”, “and”, and “then”, words we use so often that we do not even notice them. Said is a dialogue tag that connects the quoted words to the identity of the speaker of those words. It is a job it does excellently.

Assuming that you convey enough emotion through description and action, said should be all you ever need. Assuming you even need it at all.

Jack shifted from one foot to the other. “I know that, but do you like like me?” He looked at the floor.

Alice smiled. “Of course I do.”

Sometimes you can simply get away without a dialogue tag. For all those times that you cannot, there is “said”.

Not said plus an adverb, just said.

“I hate you,” said Jack angrily.

“I don’t see why,” said Sue sulkily.

“You two need to talk more,” said Alice calmly.

“I wish that were true,” said Sue wistfully.

“I’m willing to try,” said Jack desperately.

Terrible isn’t it. Painful even. All of those “ly” words are taking up space without doing any work.

Most of the time, adverbs are telling us something we could already infer from the text. Part of the art of writing is to imply more than we say. Adverbs are usually the exact opposite of that.

When a reader is speeding through your novel, said becomes little more than a punctuation mark. It does not need to be decorated with adverbs any more than it needs to be replaced with a synonym.

Said is a perfectly fine working word. That person said that thing. Any more information than that is the job of other words in other sentences.

I put it to you that there is nothing whatsoever wrong with said. It is a good word. It does a job without getting in the way of a smoothly flowing narrative. You cannot say that about too many of the alternatives if any.

Pick up any book by an author you enjoy. Open it at random and the chances are that they use said if they use anything at all.

If said is good enough for famous writers, it is good enough for you and me too.

When you or another writer you know starts looking for alternatives to said, ask this: Is “said” really so bad?

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