The ‘said’ tag, part 2: the literature review

There was no consensus of opinion on whether removing the ‘said’ tag is preferable, but most commenters agreed that ‘said’ has it’s place.

So the next step is to review the work of some published authors, and see what sort of variation there is.  I’ve hauled out some recent and popular authors from my shelf, in a wide range of genres.  And of course, while searching through looking for example dialogue, I keep getting caught up in the stories…

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The ‘said’ tag; when, where and my views

In my last post, I included a section on removing the ‘said’ tags from my work.  Ruzkin replied with “what’s wrong with ‘said’?”

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.

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The View from the Narrative


Merrilee crept through the plot, ducking the twisted branches that threatened to entangle the fragile narrative she carried on her back.  A flock of adverbs fluttered heavily across the page.  With no foreshadowing, a minor villain appeared; throwing the readers into confusion.  Action was needed, and fast.

She drew the gun, hand shaking.  Her alpha reader’s comments came back to her; truthful, damning.   “Watch out.  You’ve got guns appearing out of nowhere.”

Behind the villain, she saw that the scene was weak and shaky.  She was angry at the situation.  She heard the narrative falter, then felt it start up again with a lurch.  Telling was choking the life out of it.  She looked over her shoulder.  There was only one way out of this exposition.

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