I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript. Yep, you can join in the fun, too. Let’s take a looksee at topic #14
14: Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.” That’s not quite true (anyone who doubts this should track down a copy of Fletcher Flora’s Most Likely To Love), but it’s close enough. And don’t use adverbs as modifiers. Adverbs used in this way are ‘telling’ words (I told you rule 8 was rarely heeded!).
I’m going to partly agree here. If you need to point out who said something, say:
“Mom went to the market,” Paul said.
Now, to be clear… don’t spruce it up by saying “said hastily”, or “said sorrowfully” – That is what he is talking about with adverbs. Use just plain old said and let the action around the word do the description for you. Never add an “ly” word, and never say “he groaned” or “he snickered.” Use plain old said.
Now let’s talk about the “invisible word” thing. Said IS invisible, but only to an extent. A recent editor I had challenged me to get rid of 90% of the word “said” in my manuscript. I exchanged it for actions instead of dialog tags.
Paul leaned over the counter. “Mom went to the market.”
See, there is no confusion as to who is speaking, and I got a little action in to. The scene flows better. I couldn’t believe the difference in my manuscript.
I just took a gander at my finished manuscript for “Fire in the Woods” and in 253 pages I only used the word “said” 133 times. I scanned the first 32 pages, and most of those “saids” are in dialog or internal thought.
“You were supposed to stay home.”
“You said to stay home last night. I went out this morning.”
In those 32 pages, I had only used “said” as a dialog tag three times. (Yes, I am quite proud of that.)
If you are in the middle of a conversation, and you end every few sentences with “he said” or “she said” that little word is not going to be invisible anymore. It will drive your reader nuts.