Writing Tip: Don’t Be Afraid of Said

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So every once in a while I come across writers online who mention trying to avoid “said” in their writing. And I’m not 100% sure how this not-so-foolproof advice started, but I suspect it has to do with avoiding repetition in writing.

As I’m sure many of you know, a common critique in any sort of writing is the accidental repetition of certain words and phrases. Usually this comes through with writer ticks—everyone has a couple crutch words or phrases that they often unconsciously insert into their work while writing, and the ticks often even change manuscript to manuscript. That’s normal and easy to fix, and yes, should be adjusted particularly when it happens often enough to draw attention to itself.

“Said,” however, is not usually a word you have to worry about overusing. To a point.

When it comes to writing dialogue, "said" is a somewhat magical word because it’s largely invisible. The only time it really becomes noticeable is if too many dialogue tags are used, for example:
“Hello,” Mary said.
“Hello,” Bob said.
“How’ve you been?” Mary said.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob said.
“We’re using too many dialogue tags,” Mary said.
“I think you’re right,” Bob said. 
You get the idea.

Now, that’s not to say that you can’t (or shouldn’t) vary up dialogue tags—to avoid situations like the above terrible example, you do want to drop dialogue tags, use action tags, and when relevant, use tags other than “said.” But generally, it’s best not to get too fancy with dialogue tags because anything that isn’t “said” (or a dropped tag altogether) draws attention to itself.

For example:
“Hello,” Mary uttered.
“Hello,” Bob pontificated.
“How’ve you been?” Mary inquired.
“I’ve been great, and yourself?” Bob articulated.
“These dialogue tags are a little distracting,” Mary communicated.
“I think you’re right,” Bob concurred. 
Again, you get the idea.

Generally, this is something I don’t really worry about while first drafting—I just use whatever dialogue or action tags come to mind. But for those of you who worry about overusing said, particularly in the first draft, I encourage you not to worry about it. While there’s absolutely always a balance to aim for, if you find yourself reaching for the thesaurus to look up another word for “said” you may want to hit the pause button.

What do you think? Do you worry about overusing “said”?

Twitter-sized bites: 
Worried about overusing “said”? Writer & assistant editor @Ava_Jae says not to be. #writetip (Click to tweet
When it comes to writing dialogue, @Ava_Jae says "said" is invisible. What do you think? (Click to tweet)

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