Said is dead

(Figured it’s about time.)

Why are people still using said as a dialogue tag? There’s a thesaurus filled with other words that better fit the situation that aren’t nearly are repetitious as said.

Uttered, growled, ejaculated. Use those, instead. Or any of a million other words.


Oooh… you know, I’ve heard some folks talking about this on writing podcasts lately. A lot of them say it depends on the flow you’re after. If you can get through the conversation without using lots of tags, great. If you need them but don’t want to slow things down, use said, because most people skim over it. Too many of the “other verbs used in place of” said can end up making readers feel the conversation is stilted - so they recommend using them sparingly. I suppose it’s a matter of writerly preference - similar to using adverbs or other things we’re warned not to do, but that can be done if done consciously.


But there are so many other fresh and snappy words to choose from. The old workhorse is tired and overused. Time to just let it die.

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It’s been said that “said” is said to be invisible. Those who said such said that said makes it so that the dialogue itself said what needed to be said by the person who said the dialogue. That said, “said” needs not be said all the time; I’ve heard it said often that said dialogue tags aren’t always necessary, and they said that characters’ body language and demeanour said much about what they said without having said a dialogue tag other than “said”.

Or so they said. Or so I said they said “said” said nothing more than what needed to be said with “said”.



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Personally, I find it distracting to read dialogue where people are trying to substitute words when “said” would have been a perfectly fine tag to use. It seems to break things up too much if someone’s using a bunch of other things in an attempt to avoid a certain word. If you decide you really have to use them I find it’s less distracting to have them scattered about to underline a point or a mood in a scene.

At least, this has been my experience as a reader.

As a writer I tend to minimize dialogue tags automatically, so I generally go back in and have to add more during revisions. I use said more often than others just because the alternatives don’t add anything to the scene. Said doesn’t either but like others have pointed out, it tends to be pretty much invisible when you’re reading and acts like less of a speed bump than the others.


Yeah. Trying to find alternative words when they do not add to the meaning, often makes the words just stick out. Does it give something new to say “he snapped” instead? Did he speak in that way?
I’m writing in Finnish, but the same is true: here is one colourless word and then others that have a stronger meaning.
Sometimes you don’t need a word of saying.
“I don’t understand.” John stared past her.


I prefer said, because with it I get to be more interactive as a reader with the characters. I want to intuit their emotions based on what they say and do, otherwise the author is “telling” me exactly how they feel. It takes away my ability to connect with the character.
“Don’t touch that. It’s hot,” Jerom said. He stepped in between his sister and the stove.
"Don’t touch that. It’s hot, "Jerom warned.

Said does disappear for me. It’s purposes is so that I don’t get confused as to whom is speaking. This is my opinion as an avid reader.

Cheers, J


Hm. Well. I don’t particularly like “said”. But that’s because “said” has a flavour to me. So when (using your example, Tevyn) someone “says” something versus “warns” someone, it makes a huge difference of “tone” to me.
What I mean is: “said”, for me, brings with it a sometimes unconcerned feeling. A certain calm and/or neutrality. “warned” on the other hand brings with it a certain urgency. Depending on the situation, this urgency can, of course, differ. It can be angry, it can be concerned and many other things.
Now: I can, of course, infere the tone of voice from context and characterization. But the big thing here is: If the character is simple, I can read the right tone most of the time, without it needing anything else but “said”. Is it a complex character, that disguises his own feelings for example though… or a character, that we (the readers) do not know well enough yet: Then it can be more than difficult.

So (again stealing your example Tevyn) when you say “‘Don’t touch that. It’s hot’, Jerom said. He stepped in between his sister and the stove.” it can be read… vastly different from what you may have intended as a writer.
Version 1, “said” with the definition I used above: Jeroms tone of voice is calm, seemingly a little detached. He steps inbetween the danger and his sister, but… Is he a character, that is always collected? Does he maybe not really care (about his sister)?
Version 2, “said” without colour: Okay. Jerom steppes inbetween them, so he cares.

Now… There’s nothing inherently wrong with either Version. But the thing is: What do you, as the author, intend? Do you want your readers to have a film running in their head, while reading? Do you just want to entertain them in a lighthearted manner? (It can still be a Tragedy, I mean that in regards to investment only.) Do you want to shower your readers with little snippets, they can search for and put together, to get the bigger picture?
Depending on that, the weight of “said” differs.

Of course: You can use the “invisible” “said”. But you cannot use the invisible and visible together! That just doesn’t work. So I am vastly in favour of the “visible” (living and breathing) “said” than the “invisible” one.

I, personally, often find myself stumbling while reading the “invisible” said. Reason: Even if I tell myself to ignore the flavour it has to me, when someone (for example) is teasing or taunting, “said” is fast to make me stumble. Doubling back, to read again. Reading again, ignoriering the word “said” (ie: Not looking at it at all, with conscious effort). If the character is “saying” something and the context comes after the deed, for example being hurt and so the voice trembled a little, I falter, roll my eyes in exasperation, go back, and read again. This time with the “right” voice.
But yes: Those are problems to me. Other people will not make distinctions like I do. Other people are okay with only the information. But for me? I read, as though reading it to myself (in my head) and try making everything sound “right” (in my head). And because different people have different experiences as well as different priorities and ways to enjoy themselves/a story, it is important for every writer to be clear about their own as well as what they want for the reader. Their experience, their possibilities.

But to the opening post: I find myself reading it as sarcasm. So I want to answer to that too ^^
Sure. Using each and every possible (and impossible) word, just to use “some word I didn’t yet use”, is nonsense. But I find, that “said” is utterly redundant as an “invisible word”. (And for me and some others at least, it has it’s own place, being glaringly visible.) And I find, personally, that nothing, in a text, should be “redundant”. So if you want to use a tag, I find it way more enjoyable, to see “replied”, “asked”, “objected”, “agreed”, “joked” and the like. Sure: They may be redundant in their own way – but, and that is important to me, they can bestow a certain flavour. When used correctly. As with every other word. And using “murmered” or “screamed” can bring another kind of flavour to it. Words like “growled” or “chuckled” are one step further still – one can argue that it is impossible, so it is nonsense. But to others those words are more like a cue for a certain way to speak, or a certain way, the character looks at the one they are saying whatever they say to. And not to be taken as literal, as some seem to take them. (Though one can argue, that it sure is possible to chuckle while talking as well as to “growl” something.)

On the other hand though, using no tags altogether is also possible, making the whole debate on “said is (not) dead” utterly redundant as well :wink:

(Not talking about non-fictional texts here! Only fiction!)


That’s an example that comes up all the time in my real life. I tell my girlfriend, “The stove’s hot.” It’s said without inflection, almost as a throwaway line, but she’s a grown, intelligent woman who knows not to touch hot stoves.


Agree with the others who say it’s invisible. I either don’t use it, or use it when it may not be clear who’s speaking. And, when the situation calls for it, one of the more flavorful words takes its place.


Well, that is a possibility too, of course XD (Though I would argue you probably wouldn’t step inbetween your girlfriend and the stove. Or would you? :D) But yes. That would be a possible “coloured” said, if written down.
(I’m just wondering right now, whether that is supposed to contradict me, add to me or is just a fun little fact…? Maybe I’m just a little slow today ><)


Another example. When the youngest Bratling was about 9, he was reheating some hot cocoa in the microwave. He left the metal spoon in the cup. I saw what he had done, so when he reached in to grab it, I bellowed at him, “STOP!” and rushed to close the microwave’s door.

He stopped, then promptly burst into tears. He said that when I yelled, he felt his eyeballs rattle.

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Well… I get that it is an example. I am just wondering what the example is for, exactly. The first read a little like just adding a snippet to me, this example on the other hand reads a little different to me. So, if you tell me those examples for me to learn or to contradict me, please tell me, so we can have a conversation ^^ I know, I may seem a little slow on the uptake here… I’m sorry :sob:
(Or just answer, whether I am right in reading your opening post as sarcasm or not… 'cause that’s the thing with sarcasm. It’s easy to misunderstand ^^ I don’t want to say I am right with reading it as such – I just wanted to adress it in my post, in case it is. And that uncertainity makes it even harder for me ><)


If I have a point at all, it’s know your characters. An adult isn’t often going to jump in front of another adult and say/yell/bellow/warn that the stove’s hot. But an adult might do so with a child.

Not sarcasm, exactly. Maybe trolling a tiny bit. Mostly it was to start a conversation in an unused forum, and Said is Dead is a perennial favorite.

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Well, that is true. One of the most important things, arguably in first place.
Though, as it says “sister”, I read the example more as kids. So one kid (or teenager) warning the little sister, who is quick to do dumb things. I do not know the circumstences as it is an example without context though, so I just let it stand as it is :wink:

-laugh- So I guess I took the bait :partying_face:
How do you see the “said” debate though? Really for other words (just using key-words here, that made me think of sarcasm), neutral or against using other words?
Or can I just conclude, that you are for other words, as long as they “fit” and do not distract? (ie ‘know your character’)
(Don’t mind me. I’m just innately curious :sweat_smile:)


Really, truly, I recommend avoiding dialogue tags except when necessary. Use beats, instead.

John ran through the house, outrunning his brothers and skidding in his socks around every corner. “I love waxing day!”

Everybody was shouting, demanding answers, but Betty was the one who approached with a heart-shaped box of toffee. “Take one, honey.”

For what tag to use when a tag is necessary, I usually go with said unless some other word is the right word. Sometimes whispered, often asked, and occasionally even bellowed.


I wouldn’t say I recommend it, per se, but I tend to avoid tags while writing too XD I mostly use beats. I think, when starting out, using tags is easier though. Whenever I use a tag, it mostly somehow ends up as a mix between a tag and a beat though XD


Different strokes for different folks.
Our diversity (as readers and as writers) is a strength.


I don’t mind using/reading “said.” I find it often becomes invisible, and if an author is using too many other words I find myself getting annoyed. Although, I would almost prefer no dialogue tags to “said” over and over.
A good example of this in my opinion is the Magic Tree House series. Fantastic books. In my opinion, “said” is WAY overused.

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