Self-Editing: What’s The Problem With All This ‘He Said/She Said’ Bull….?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

My daughter brought home an assignment for English this weekend that makes me want to drag my soapbox into school with her on Monday. Her instructions are to ‘correct’ the dialogue in a one page short story by replacing the word ‘said’ throughout the text with an alternate verb. While I support diversity in language, avoiding overuse of words, etc., most of the time, in my opinion, a ‘said’ is just a ‘said’. Not a whispered, wondered, whimpered, simpered, stated, stuttered, muttered, mumbled, purred, prayed, pronounced, declared, replied, answered, exclaimed, yammered, hinted, jested or complained. In fact, all of these words walk the line between telling and showing.

“And I hate that!” I exclaimed.

See there. I might as well have added ‘idiot’ at the end of that sentence, because any intelligent reader knows that the punctuation mark I used is, in fact, an exclamation point, so the fact that I exclaimed is implied.

“My dialogue marker was telling, redundant and insulting,” I stated.

Oops. Did it again. I made a statement then told you it was a statement. Forgive my manners. In both cases, ‘said’ would have identified who was speaking without distracting from the dialogue. As a marker, ‘said’ is unobtrusive, polite…quiet. That isn’t to say a character does not on occasion actually whimper, whisper or guffaw and that there is no situation in which it is appropriate for an author to tell me so. In fact, when the words are only occasionally used, I find them to be far more powerful.


Note: In lieu of breaking out the thesaurus, action beats not only identify who’s saying what, but help show the story. With action beats, a writer does have to be careful to avoid cliche. According to my editor, ‘he titled his head’ and ‘he pursed his lips’ are both overused in fiction.



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