He said, She said

The word “said” is one of the most innocuous little words in the English language.  It ranks right up there with “a” and “the”.  That’s why when you read them you don’t even recall doing so.  Reading these words is almost like a reflex, a natural automatic reaction.  So why do new authors waste so much mental energy on trying to avoid “said”?  They awkwardly substitute words like replied, retorted, interjected, responded and a laundry list of others because they fear that readers will find it repetitive if they keep using said. 

These fears, however, are unfounded.  The eye rushes right past “said” just the way you would all but ignore a speck of dust when viewing a beautiful statue.  Yes, there will be occasions when you want to modify the speaker’s dialogue by using more descriptive terms such as he muttered, he mumbled, he blubbered, etc.  Or perhaps he bellowed or he ranted if the character is agitated or angry.  Yet these exceptions only prove the overall rule and should be used with moderation.  Trust me, nobody will be bothered by too much “said” if you’re writing engaging dialogue.

On a related note, writers should be concerned about the overuse of character names within fictional dialogue.  Let’s say there are only two people in a conversation.  Their names are Bob and Alice.  Whatever else you do, please don’t ever write something that sounds like this:


“Good morning, Bob.  Getting ready for work?”


“I think I’m staying home today, Alice.”


“What’s the matter, Bob?”


“I think I’m coming down with the flu, Alice.”


This is a real turn-off for readers and completely unnecessary.  We know there is only Bob and Alice talking so there’s no need to keep identifying.  Do so sparingly, just enough so that the reader is never confused about who is speaking.  Otherwise, keep repeating this mistake throughout your novel and readers will start to get annoyed.  Master the techniques of crisp dialogue before you publish that novel.  Your readers will thank you and you will sure as heck want to thank yourself too.