The Non-Fiction Novelist

Helping at-work writers to become novelists

“There’s nothing wrong with using said,” he said.

By Larry Kahaner
One of the first things non-fiction writers learn is to use is phrases like … she said, he noted,  or she stated, after a quote. They use these words because they are neutral and unbiased, which is what you want in a press release, report or some other business document.

However, once these same folks try their hand at fiction writing, these phrases become she chortled, or he postulated, or even she puzzled. Worse yet, I’ve seen he said, quizzically and she said, longingly. Yuk.

There is nothing wrong with using simple, clear language after a quote – even in novels. Especially in novels.

375px-Hesaidshesaid

It’s okay to write ‘said.’

Said works. And it works well.

Strong dialogue shows how a person feels. You don’t need to explain it by using a word to modify how he felt when he just spoke the words. If you find yourself needing such a modifier, though, then rewrite the quote to reflect it. Make the dialogue stronger, more meaningful. Alternatively, there’s nothing wrong with adding another phrase or sentence like: … he said, offering his hand in friendship. Another way to go about this is: …he said. Bob knew they would be friends for a long time.

I know what you’re thinking. I read my manuscript and there are too many, … he saids. It doesn’t look right on the page because my dialogue is fast back and forth. The lines are short. If that’s the case, leave out some saids. The reader won’t lose track of who’s talking.

Like this:

“I’m going away,” she said.

“Then go.”

“I really mean it.”

“I’ll miss you, but do what you have to do,” he said.

“Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

With all that said, (see what I did there?) here are some words that are permissible to sprinkle around. They work because they’re clear and simple. Use them if you tire of said.

He replied.

She answered.

He asked.

She noted.

He stated. (this shows some forthrightness.)

Using anything other than these said equivalents (and maybe just a few others) will only clog your prose. More important, they’re signs of an amateur.

“Be a pro,” I said.

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