Is “Said” Truly Dead?


Students and writers alike have heard it before. Cue the hand movements and 100pt bold font quotation marks, because – 

“Said is dead”

Teachers and mentors have taught that “said” is overused and to avoid the speech tag at all costs. Later, a piece of paper is slipped in our direction that reveals an in-depth list of other speech tags to replace the dreaded and redundant.

But how dead is said?

Is said truly and undebatably a thousand feet under?

Or is said still alive, breathing beautifully with a beating heart?

In journalism, said is used all the time. Not much stylistic freedom is allowed. Proclaimed, announced, responded, and more are avoided and essentially banned in news reporting. Said is the standard, ignoring the “Said is dead” statement.

AP style is its own entity.

In creative writing, the rules shift. Intriguing wording is always encouraged. Using speech tags such as the ones listed in the paragraph above, as well as stated, mentioned, replied, and more, are also encouraged.

Because readers enjoy reading new and original phrasing, said is often frowned upon and can become repetitive quick, especially as all books hardly shy away from the word. Said emerged as the default speech tag. Defaults are just that, the go-to, and written without much consideration.

As a writer, I use said often, but I also keep in the back of my mind to take advantage of other speech tags. Answered, wondered, replied, and responded are some of my favorites.

Like I mentioned previously, every book uses the word said. This means that the best and most established authors set aside the “Said is dead” quote and continue to type it anyway. Just crack open any Harry Potter book, Stephen King thriller, or even a cheesy Nicholas Sparks romance.

If beloved authors use the word, does that mean it’s justified?

Here’s my stance:

You see, I think said is okay to be used. But variety is also okay as well. Said shouldn’t be totally dead, however, we shouldn’t make other speech tags feel exhausted and tired by overly writing them either.

Instead, set limitations for your stories.

Limitations could include only using said once on each page or maybe a limited time each chapter. These limitations might depend on how much dialogue you create and rely on to help accelerate the story.

It is also important to keep in mind that being too abstract and fancy with speech tags can become too pretentious. Pretentious is not always a good writing style to obtain. Just read this example below:

"I have never seen the sky so clear," he mentioned.
"Me either," she replied.
"Should we count the stars?" he asked.
"I'd only want to count them with you," she responded.
"And we can do it all again tomorrow," he added.
"Absolutely," she agreed.

You see, it can quickly become a bit too heavy. Not only are the varying speech tags too much, but including a speech tag after every dialogue line is not always the best idea either. Do not suffocate the sentence or the minds of the reader.

Read another example, similar to the above:

"I have never seen the sky so clear," he mentioned.
"Me either," she replied.
"Should we count the stars?"
"I'd only want to count them with you."
"And we can do it all again tomorrow," he added.

Doesn’t the second example sound more appealing?

It should.

I like to think that speech tags are just like decorations. Decorations are beautiful things that can create a distinct style within a room. However, these decorations must be precisely paired with other items. Too many decorations and a room can turn cluttered and too clashy quick. Almost suffocating.

So, in summary, said isn’t a thousand feet under. Instead, it is very much alive, yet should be used sparingly and not numerous times on a single page.

Use more creative speech tags, but don’t allow each of them to follow every dialogue string.

What are your favorite speech tags to use?

Do you think said is more dead than I do?

Let me know in the comment section!

Thanks for reading!

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