Writerly Post Wednesday: “Don’t Use ‘Said’,” They Said



This was one of the first — and worse, dare I say — pieces of writing advice I was ever given. Don’t use “said” too often. It’ll bore your reader. Try mixing it up a bit! And this, to a certain degree, I kind of agree with . . . but like I said, only to a certain point. “Said” is a simple word. It’s clear, and obvious, and somewhat invisible.

Because the idea of dialogue tags are to be invisible, right?

You want to fully embody your reader in your works, and I’ve found that when you get “creative” with your dialogue tags, I personally find that it pulls me from the story.

“Said” is not a bad word. “Said” shouldn’t be avoided. “Said” isn’t a boring word.

So how do you know when to use “said”, and when it’s okay to get a little bit creative?

I say, use other words (eg, “whispered”, “hissed”, “shrieked”, “snapped”, etc.) sparingly . . . but don’t avoid them. Just ask yourself this: Is it really necessary? If Yes, then feel free to use it! If No, then don’t. And if I don’t know if your answer . . . then stick to “said”. And if you’re still really unsure, then ask yourself, Does this piece of dialogue even need a dialogue tag? You might find your answer there, too.

But you can’t really go wrong with “said”, if you ask me.

What do you think of dialogue tags? “Said” or do you like to get creative?


13 thoughts on “Writerly Post Wednesday: “Don’t Use ‘Said’,” They Said

  1. Yep, completely agree with this. ‘Don’t use said’ was a very bad piece of advice given throughout most schools, and the general consensus among most writers now, is that it’s better for dialogue tags to be invisible unless the action (yell, shout etc) is important enough to break the reader’s flow.

    Most readers skip dialogue tags anyway. You’re better off using ‘said’ and just moving on, then trying to find a hundred different verbs for every turn in conversation, or just leaving the dialogue tag off if the conversation is just between two people.

    Great post!

  2. I was told in high school to use creative and interesting dialogue tags. And I used them horrifically often. Now that I’m in uni, I use ‘said’ primarily. I feel like it’s cheating in a way if you keep using different dialogue tags because the words and the overall mood should be able to convey what the character is saying.

  3. I totally agree with all of this, and like you said, a writer needs to be careful when using dialogue tags. Things like “she said angrily” or “he said quickly” should be avoided if possible. Great post!

  4. You definitely can not go wrong with “said” in dialogue tags. I try to avoid dialogue tags and use action tags instead, but when I do need to use a dialogue tag I use “said” unless I really need an interesting tag. It makes the story flow much better. I can now gladly say that I am past those horrid days in elementary school where I was forced to use every single dialogue tag on the face of the Earth.

  5. When I was younger and writing stories in class, my teachers always stressed the notion that said was horrible and we should always avoid it. But just a couple weeks ago, my English teacher told us for this story we’re writing to always use said.
    I already kind of used said in my writing because I’m kind of lazy, but I hadn’t heard this before. He said that it distracted the reader and should only be used if necessary, basically what you said.

  6. I’ve read a lot of articles on how you should only use said, because too many different dialogue tags will pull the reader out of the story. I think everyone has a different opinion on this sort of thing and you’ll never be able to please everyone so just do what you think is right! Personally, I normally just stick to said and only mix it up a bit every now and then.

  7. Well, I don’t want to be reoetitive…but said actually often perfectly describes the action. It doensn’t need to be dressed up. It doesn’t need to be fancy. It needs to acknowledge that dialogue is taking place. Describe how something was said to add atmosphere or understanding- but be sensible with it. Said is good, I totally agree. (and I love this post title title :)

  8. I agree with you! Said is perfectly fine and practically invisible so the readers eye skims over it without losing a beat. Dialogue tags are great, but not over done. Great advice, thanks for sharing :)

  9. I agree! I think the best word to use is Said tbh… The other words could be use to create an adequate atmosphere but if they’re used for no reason it can pull you out of the story. Love this post!

  10. I ABSOLUTELY 100% AGREE. It kills me when I see writers giving each other “advice” and being like “oh don’t use said!” NO NO NO *tears things* USE SAID ALWAYS. I mean, YES use other words, but like you said…sparingly. At the end of the day saying “he whimpered” is telling not showing and we should always attempt to be SHOWING, right?! *nods* Although it is hard to avoid sometimes. x)

  11. Sometimes I like getting creative but I don’t mind using said… Although actually I should probably CUT DOWN ON creativity and go back to said. I’m sure my dialogue tags will distract someone…

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