Up until a month ago, I would have agreed that there’s nothing wrong with that useful little utility tag. But then I received a critique from an author, Jeanine Berry, who advised me to remove the tag as much as possible. This is what she told me:
This advice isn’t my own, actually, I got it from another writer who has since gone on to be published in NY, but I’ve tried it in my own writing and like how it works.
Basically, the idea is that “said” is usually a wasted word. And while writers will argue that the reader reads over “said” as if it were invisible, she felt it often slowed things down and served as an easy substitute for something better.
I remained unconvinced until she demonstrated with a review of some text from my novel. I’ve cut and pasted it here. It won’t make any sense, because the phrases aren’t connected. My version in blue, the revised version in red. Don’t tell me about the passive voice etc; this is first draft stuff, so I really don’t care. Yet.
“No.” said Camar. “I have a feeling their major food source has been cut off.”
“No.” Camar shrugged. “I have a feeling their major food source has been cut off.”
I had to admit, it was more active.
“That one is Van,” he said, pointing to the slender grey Vashti. “He’s the eldest of the three.”
“That one is Van.” He pointed to the slender grey Vashti. “He’s the eldest of the three.”
Iffy on this one, because it reads like Camar points, then speaks. This tag will probably stay as is.
“I could call for a stretcher,” said Giessler, “because I’m damn-well not going to carry you.”
Giessler chuckled. “I could call for a stretcher, because I’m damn-well not going to carry you.”
This one is much improved.
“All right,” said Giessler, looking amused. “I’ll have a medic standing by to pick up the pieces when they’re done.”
All right.” Giessler looked amused. “I’ll have a medic standing by to pick up the pieces when they’re done.”
And this one.
I was convinced. I still think the said tag has a place, as indicated in the previous post, but I also can see the benefits of removing it. If I have to perform a complicated linguistic feat to remove it, it stays; otherwise I replace it with an action, or in a lot of cases, just leave it out altogether.
Okay, your turn. Are you convinced by the examples? Do you think that removing ‘said’ improves the text, or not? How much do you use the tag in your own writing? Have at it in the comments, I want to hear your views!