Is the Word “SAID” Dead for Writers?


There are a million synonyms for the word “said.” When tagging ordinary speech, you could replace said with stated, reported, or added. For angry speech, you could use hissed, fumed, or sneered. Or for sad speech, you could write cried, sobbed, or groaned. But the fact is crying isn’t speaking, although it can accompany speech. And those who are frightened, happy, or surprised don’t actually speak by quivering, giggling, or marveling.

But I also know you don’t want to keep repeating the word “said” whenever there’s an exchange of dialogue. Well, you don’t have to if you make use of your characters’ distinct personalities. Let their speech patterns reflect their particular level of education, class, temperament, idiosyncrasies, situation, or beliefs. Then you won’t need an attribution tag.

For example, in my historical mystery novel THE DEADLIEST HATE, Miriam bat Isaac is conversing with her brother, Binyamin the gladiator, in his cell beneath the arena. One of them says, “Let Albus show you out. My gapped-toothed friend here knows this maze better than anyone.” The situation itself makes it clear that Binyamin is the speaker. He’s the one locked in a cell so no one could show him out. Moreover, Miriam doesn’t know Albus, and even if she did, she’s too refined to ever refer to his gapped teeth.

Still, even when you do need an attribution tag, I’ll argue that the word said is still preferable. It’s meant to become invisible as readers focus on the content of the remark while their eyes slide down the page. So, join Miriam in Binyamin’s subterranean cell in THE DEADLIEST HATE and live the life of a Roman gladiator as you decide whether the word said is dead. But I warn you, at the same time, Miriam will be hunted by Judean assassins. Just click here.


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