My brother and I had a conversation the other day about a book that he read. He thought it was really cool, because the author never actually uses the word ‘said.’ I apologize for not remembering the author or book title, but I thought it was a cool concept. It got me thinking about the word ‘said.’

I like the word ‘said.’ I find it unobtrusive. When you’re deciding upon a speech identifier, it’s the default one. Now, as a teacher, we always try to get kids to use other words in their writing, such as ‘mumble’ or ‘yell’ or ‘whisper.’ Kids either don’t do them at all, or go way too far, and every phrase has some sort of exciting descriptor glaring out at you. Now, I like a good alternative to ‘said,’ but don’t go too far with it. It can get out of hand rather quickly.

Then, there’s the conversation where some writers will put an identifier after every phrase, and as a reader it gets terribly tedious. Plus, most likely, we know who is speaking. It’s nice when character’s voices are so unique that you don’t need to identify each phrase, but that’s pretty uncommon. Conversely, I absolutely hate it when the writer has a long back-and-forth conversation, and they stopped using identifiers after the first phrase or two, and now, half a page later, you’re sitting there thinking ‘who’s saying this?’ Then you have to go back and reread, counting out the odds and evens on the page to figure it out. My wife says that as soon as that happens to her, it’s a signal to put it down and get a new book. I’m not as cut and dry, but it does irk me.

Then there was a piece recently that attempted to bypass the identifier altogether, and it was a good attempt, but it didn’t quite work for me. I’ll present the following phrase (not exactly from the book, but you’ll get the idea) and you can decide what you think.

“Cut it out,” Elanor knocked on the door, “or I’ll have to come in there!”

Maybe that was all right for you, but in my mind she was knocking words out on the door, reminiscent of Morse Code. It just didn’t jibe with me. You need a speech identifier. My edit was to say “Elanor said, knocking on the door.” That way you get the whole idea in, plus the identifier.

So, while I applaud the author who didn’t use the word ‘said’ in his novel, I still think it’s more of a cool trick that a necessity. (I haven’t read the book, yet, but my brother liked it, and I trust his opinion.) So my advice is to use the word ‘said.’ Try to find places where you don’t need it, or can replace it with something more descriptive, but it’s a nice, unobtrusive default speech identifier.

But, when you do use the word said, use it correctly, and use the quotation marks correctly. It’s not hard to find a good guide online and edit your work so that you’re using them correctly. I just googled one that looks decent.

Although, even there, I noticed something that confused me. They have the rule as follows:

Example: Lamarr said, “The case is far from over, and we will win.”

In my experience, I would never capitalize the “T” in the sentence. Is it an American thing, like putting punctuation outside of the quotation marks?

Do you have an opinion on the word ‘said?’ Tell me about it in the comments below!

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