Lesson 2 – Said-bookisms (Amateur Writing Mistakes)

Welcome to lesson 2 in my blog series on common amateur writing mistakes. The topic I am focusing on today is ‘Said-bookisms’.

What is it?

‘Said-bookisms’ is when a writer tries to use every word under the sun to avoid having to use the dialogue tags ‘he said’ or ‘she said.’

I’ve illustrated this in the example below (see italics)…

“Let me check in the fridge,” Cynthia muttered. She opened the door and scrutinised the contents, still unsure where the strange smell was emanating from.

“Maybe it’s the cheese,” Rose queried.

“I think it’s the milk,” Cynthia stated.

“I only bought the milk yesterday,” Rose exclaimed.

Why is it so bad?

I am afraid I am guilty of this amateur writing misdemeanour. I mean, won’t readers get bored if they keep seeing the word ‘said’ all through my book?

Well, surprisingly no. From what I have read on the topic it is commonly understood that readers will skip over words like ‘he said’, ‘she said’, ‘he asked’, ‘she asked’.

Said-bookisms like he simmered, she snarled, he whimpered on the other hand will actually distract a reader’s attention from the dialogue and interrupt the flow of the scene.

What can you do about it?

A good writer will be able to make the dialogue speak for itself without the need for said-bookisms.

For example, look at the three sentences below…

BEFORE – “I wish you didn’t do that,” Roger shouted angrily.

AFTER – “I wish you didn’t do that.” Roger stormed off in a rage.

OR – “I wish you didn’t do that,” said Roger, his eyes glaring.

In the first sentence I have used a said-bookism to try to show the reader what Roger is feeling.

In the second sentence I have been able to avoid dialogue tagging altogether by inserting an action.

In the third sentence I have used the word ‘said’, but I have added a description that shows the reader a glimpse of the character’s feelings.

Said-bookisms are not completely taboo, but use them sparingly to avoid your work coming across as amateurish.

Here are some links to other websites & blogs that are really helpful if you want to learn more about the topic.

http://www.writing-world.com/fiction/said.shtml

http://www.writesf.com/08_Lesson_05_Perils.html

http://users.wirefire.com/tritt/tip4.html

Stay tuned for some more amateur writing mistakes to avoid.

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3 thoughts on “Lesson 2 – Said-bookisms (Amateur Writing Mistakes)

  1. Probably comes from all the times one gets told in infant school “Don’t use ‘said'”, and actually encouraged to find another – any other – verb instead! I know I got that at school, and I have one vivid memory of a wall display of speech bubbles, and the punchline at the bottom was “But DON’T use SAID!” I guess infant-school teachers get sick of the word, but it does show how those lessons we learn when we’re taking the first steps in creative writing (or anything else) stick with us, even when we’re grown-up and experienced enough to know that the world isn’t as simple and black-and-white as that.

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