Students and writers alike have heard it before. Even glossy posters inside classrooms have boasted the phrase. Cue the hand movements and air quotes because –
“Said is dead!”
Creative writing instructors have taught that “said” is overused and to avoid the speech tag. Some use of it is allowed, but an over abundance can turn writing bland. This is why other speech tags are suggested to writers that can boost the rhythm of writing, along with its overall appeal. We are taught how to use speech tags to impress, but not sound too pretentious and unpredictable, jumpy.
In journalism, said is used all the time. Stylistic freedom is few and far between when reporting. Said is the standard, where proclaimed, announced and responded are avoided. In news reporting, said isn’t dead, but rather very much alive.
In creative writing, the rules shift and bend. This is one quality that makes writing styles and voice complex. Unique word choice is encouraged, along with a variance of word length. Readers enjoy new, original phrasing and like to keep the repetitive out of sight. Though, many of our favorite books don’t necessarily shy away from the word. Simply, it is the default speech tag. Defaults are just that, the go-to, written without thought.
I use said often, but I keep a list of other speech tags flowing in my mind. Answered, wondered, replied…the list goes on and on. For a helpful guide, view the infographic below.
Every author uses the word said, including the magical series of Harry Potter, the teen romance stories of Sarah Dessen, the thrillers of Stephen King, and more. Since our beloved authors use said, then everyone should be able to, right?
Variance is key. Said isn’t totally dead, but we just have to be sure to not exhaust the speech tag more than it already is. Use it sparingly, but also take advantage of all the other speech tags the writing landscape has to offer.