How many ways can you say “he said”???

Said is Dead

(the above illustration came from the TEACHERS PAY TEACHERS website. You hit this link and it will take you right there. Let me tell you something folks – I have worked with a LOT of kids at schools across Canada – and when I bring one of my storytelling workshops to a classroom those kids leave the classroom feeling inspired to go forth and read and write. I’m pretty good at what I do. However, without fail, some teacher or another will point it out to me – “Gee,” they will say. “You have a real gift for this work. Have you ever thought about being a teacher yourself?” But teaching – every day out of a school year – takes a degree of guts, passion and sheer determination that I do not possess. Teaching is HARD work. The next time you talk to a teacher make sure you shake their hand. They have earned it.)

I’ve got a confession to make.

I am a said-addict.

In fact, I’ve even had more than a few editors/publishers tell me – “Dude, you say said way more times than you ought to!”

(he said)

But sometimes, when you’re writing dialogue, nothing else will do!

I can’t tell you how many times I have hurled a book across the floor for one too many “he giggled”, “he chortled”, “he grunted”, or “he ejaculated”.

The fact was he didn’t do any of those things.

What he did was he “said” something.

My favourite example has to be from a book I read many years ago that involved the Spear of Destiny – the one that Roman soldier stuck in Christ’s side.

I can’t remember who wrote it.

One of the characters in the novel was a German general.

A panzer general.

“Why don’t you just say said?” the general rumbled.

Cool, I thought. A tank general who rumbles. I like that.

The first time I read it, that is.

Then, two pages later he rumbled again.

Then three paragraphs later.

It wasn’t too long before I started wondering how ANYONE could even understand just what the heck that dude was saying what with him rumbling all the time. I mean – did he have digestion problems? Were his clockworks wound too tightly? Not enough WD-40 in his diet?

Why was the dude rumbling?

But the author of that novel didn’t care. He kept that poor old general rumbling for at least sixteen chapters before he finally shot the dude.

Last words?

“I’m dying,” he rumbled.

Next time just say said!

(this blog entry owes much to the inspiration of a Kindleboards thread which you can read just by clicking HERE!)

Thanks, Dalya!

yours in storytelling,

Steve Vernon

32 responses to “How many ways can you say “he said”???

  1. I enjoy a good research challenge, but holy hell, man, do you have any idea how many books over the years have featured Generals who rumbled? Wilbur Smith, Elizabeth Peters, Stephen Coontz, Mercedes Lackey, Bruce Sterling… the list goes on and on and on.

    I guess it’s just what Generals do. Rank hath its privileges, and evidently expressing yourself in a rumble is one of them. πŸ™‚


  2. Visiting editor here …
    Try ignoring dialogue tags altogether. Use actions instead.


    • Would I appear rude if I sat here with my hands pressed firmly over my ears shouting “LA-LA-LA-LA-LA-LA” at the top of my lungs…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….he asked?


      • heh heh
        Hey, whatever works, Steve! You seem to do just fine with the “saids.” I know there are mixed views on this whole topic, but I say mix it up as much as possible.

        I don’t like things like “What’s that?” she blinked … since it’s not possible to “blink” words.
        Instead, I prefer “What’s that?” she asked, blinking.
        OR …
        She blinked. “What’s that?”
        But as you say, it’s all personal taste. Freedom of expression and all that.


    • Now darn it – I’ve still got to keep disagreeing with you, Genevieve. Heck, I often “blink” out conversation in semaphore fashion. Once I even blinked out the entire first three chapters of the unabridged WAR AND PEACE. I would have rolled right on through the entire book but I pulled a muscle in my left eyelid – and ever since then I blink with a limp.


  3. Pingback: Solutions not Resolutions – Tackling the Plateau « Word Blurb

  4. You know, I once had an Editor that wanted to change all of my “replied”, “asked”, “chuckled”, etc. to “said”? You would’ve loved her, Steve. I just couldn’t do it, though. I find that each time I go through my manuscript, I take out a few more dialogue tags altogether. Especially if it’s just two talking. Seems to read smoother… with my book anyway. And that’s just it – every book is different.


  5. Good old Steve King covered this in ‘On Writing.’ So you’re in good company!


  6. I’m with Steve on this one – ‘said’ remains invisible and doesn’t detract from the dialogue as the following ‘Tom Swiftiies’ do: “I can’t afford a Christmas tree,” Tom pined. “I’ve lost all my hair,” Tom bawled. “I’m about to have a nervous breakdown,” Tom snapped. These are over the top examples – but you get the point. Use ‘said’ or no speaker verb at all.


  7. I’m in total agreement with you on this one, Steve! At least when it comes to me and my writing. Said works, and if you’ve crafted your dialogue and narrative well enough, it’s all you need. The expression is inside the quotes or in the action surrounding them. I don’t mind a few other tags here and there for emphasis. In fact, sometimes they can be a wonderfully effective tool. But like fresh, zesty spices, they’re best used in small measures. My personal opinion, of course!


  8. I’m giggling at this, Steve, not only because it’s true, but because I had considered writing a post on the same subject since I’d started reading Pollyanna a few days ago. There’s so much “ejaculating” going on in that book (two times on one particular page!) it went past being funny. Nah, it’s still funny. Great post as usual!


  9. I use said about 35 % of the time and other tags (asked, whispered, etc.) about 5% of the time. The other 60% of the time there is are no dialogue tags. Just action.

    In the public education system, they are doing the exact opposite. English teachers demand lots of descriptive dialogue tags (bookism) and a few have outlawed ‘said’. I think it’s crazy. I tell my kids to ignore them. Use ‘said’. Most of the English teachers aren’t writers; they’re just teachers.


    • I hear you, Diane – but I’m also pretty sure I know why they’re doing it. As a rule it is best to encourage kids to use DIFFERENT words – just because the “average” kid will naturally fall back on using the most familiar and common phrases and words that come to mind. A lot of those teachers are most likely just trying to teach the kids to dig a little deeper and to use their imagination AND their vocabulary a little more.

      You have to remember that not EVERY one of those kids they are teaching has an author for a parent.


  10. Well said πŸ™‚ and I love this tank general rumbling. If we’re not writing parodies, we shouldn’t set readers up to laugh at our words. I try to use action tags as much as possible, and rely on “said” for the rest.


  11. Hi Steve. I created the “Said is Dead” resource you’ve posted on this blog entry. I don’t mind if you keep the image, but please credit me somewhere in this post by adding a link to the resource on my Teachers Pay Teachers store:

    Thanks in advance!

    – Sarah McMurrough


  12. Steve, I couldn’t agree more! This sort of writing throws me right out if the story. The reader should be able to tell how the charcter is saying it from the dialogue alone. Extra description is helpful occasionally, but I tend to only use it as a lat resort, or for comic effect. Always look to edit the dialogue first.


  13. I find ‘said’ to be invisible. Also, it ads cadence to a story. Robert B. Parker uses the word “said” more than the word “the” πŸ™‚ jk there, but he uses it a lot, and it works. I’m in bed with said.


  14. Late getting to this but I just love it, Steve. I teach adult creative writing and I’ve lots count of the numerous ways I’ve said ‘ just say.. he said, she said.’ And lots count of the number of times I’ve had adults fall about like silly kids when I tell them about the Billy Bunter books where Billy ‘ejaculated’ all over the place. Thanks for this


    • Right you are, Judith. I prefer “he said” because at the end of the day we writers just want our readers to HEAR our characters speaking, not just TELLING them what we said. A good novel ought to be a good escape for our reader. We are writers, not journalists.


      • You are so right. ‘Said’ gets lost in the dialogue, Steve. Readers learn about the the characters through what they say, as much as what they do. This subject can lead to hour long discussions and arguments in my classes. OK if I print it out? With attribution, of course. Think it will finally nail my argument. Won’t be offended if you say no but just a thought. J


  15. Hey Judith. If you are asking me for permission to print the chart out, I am not the person who can give that permission. That would belong to Sarah McMurrough at her Teachers Pay Teachers store. She has got a comment here a few comments above your question. I am sure if you get in touch with her and explain that you are using it as a teacher that she has some way of working that out with you.

    It is definitely a well-thought out piece of graphic design – but like I say, you ought to talk to Sarah about using it your class.

    Good luck and thanks for the comments.


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