'Said' lives

“Said is dead,” declares a homework assignment. A LiveJournal writer is pleased her son has been assigned to write fan fiction: He’s supposed to “write a few exchanges of dialogue between two or three characters based on a ‘missing scene’ from the book they’re reading now.” But she wonders at instructions not to use “said” more than twice. Instead, students get a long list of alternatives, including:


Of course, this is terrible advice. Read the comments.

Thanks to Michele Catalano for the link.

About Joanne


  1. Doug Sundseth says:

    “Brilliant!”, he denounced. A teacher actually encouraging said-wordisms. That is perhaps the most pernicious habit of bad amateur writers. In fact, I can’t recall ever reading a book on writing fiction for publication that failed to advise against exactly this.

  2. You know, I had a feeling “ejaculated” wouldn’t be on the list (snigger snigger). I wonder if L. Frank Baum is still permitted reading.

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    To be fair, I suspect the teacher intended this more as a vocabulary-expansion exercise than as a creative writing exercise. But obviously it wasn’t well thought out. (J.K. Rowling unfortunately must have had a teacher like that. 😉 )

  4. Independent George says:

    This reminds me of Ring Lardner’s famous, “Shut up”, he explained.

  5. I had an English teacher who hated passive writing so much that for one assignment we were banned from using any forms of the verbs “to be” and “to have”. I understood the idea behind it but it was quite difficult to achieve and the resulting paper sounded pretty terrible.

  6. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:

    And to think the first thing I thought of when I saw Joanne’s hed was “Oh, golly, they’ve put Orientalism in the high schools now.”

  7. BadaBing says:

    If “said” was good enough for Raymond Carver, it’s good enough for me.

  8. My number one piece of advice to writing students is say what you mean.

    For example, if two characters are conversing normally, using “said” is good since it, being an ordinary, dull word, doesn’t draw attention away from the dialog. If, after Kaci’s confesses to sleeping with Traci’s boyfriend, Traci is disposed to shout at Kaci, then say she shouted, not bellowed or berated or caterwauled or proclaimed or thundered… (The peanut gallery says to move on, so I will.)

    The thing about creative writing that seems to escape many of those who attempt to teach it is that it is the message that is creative, not the mechanics of the writing. Writing about something boring with a bunch of hifalutin vocabulary and irregularly formed sentences is still writing about something boring. Writing about something interesting with precise vocabulary and clearly formed sentences allows for the most enjoyable reading.

    In short, it’s not about the most words, it’s about the right words.

  9. This article/post made me chortle and guffaw! I commend to all developing writers the Mark Twain piece about James Fenimore Cooper’s misuse of language. Google “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses” to check it out if you’re unfamiliar.

    In 1895, Twain writes, “Use the right word, not its second cousin.” In 2005 we’re more likely to see not a second cousin but an abused step-child’s best friend straight off a scene on COPS.

  10. Reminds me of the Hardy Boys series by “Franklin W. Dixon”. He never used the word “said”. It was always “That doesn’t make sense,” Chet pointed out. “Yes it does,” Joe answered. The advice against said is as tedious as never split an infinitive, or end a sentence with a preposition.

  11. greeneyeshade says:

    steve labonne, j.k. rowling’s problem isn’t verbs _ she uses ‘said’ regularly enough; it’s adverbs. she can’t let a quote go by without adding one. reminds me of the heyday of tom swiftie jokes back in the 60s.

  12. LOL at Michelle Dulak Thomson’s comment…I thought the same thing.

    Trackbacks here seem to be nonworking. I linked to this with a post titled “What he said,” said Said sadly. Other than the title, I didn’t have anything insightful to add to Joanne’s post.