Is “Said” Really Dead?

The debate over whether “said” is superior to more unique dialogue tags (and vice versa) has been raging on for decades in the writing community. Insisting that one way is better than the other is a very easy way to pick a fight with other writers, but this topic doesn’t have to be so contentious.

Here’s my take; essentially, using “said” is perfectly adequate most of the time. But so is using more colorful dialogue tags. And, at times, so is using character action to indicate speaker.

The key thing to remember is that these different methods are all tools in a writer’s arsenal, and that a good writer will take care to understand when, where, and how to use them. Restricting yourself to singular tool is largely unhelpful (aside from doing it for a creative exercise). Neither is a vow to never, ever use a specific tool — for there might come a day where that tool will serve its purpose.

Sometimes, “whispered” is the right word for the job.

Sometimes, “said softly” has the correct tone.

Sometimes, the character shakes her head sadly before she speaks.

Sometimes, the character just says what she has to say, for her brother has spoken before her, and we know thus that it is now her turn to speak.

“Said” is not dead. Neither is “said” the only way to handle dialogue. What method suits the tone you need? What method is best for your pacing in the moment? Be willing to use every dialogue tool on your belt, because variety is what gives the written word life.

And that’s it for my dialogue advice today! If you find this helpful, then you can support me as a creator by buying me a Ko-fi. Thank you, and have a lovely day.

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