Pinterest is my favourite online tool for curating great articles on literature, blogging, and writing craft. And there are endless recipes and garden tips along with the aspirational hairstyles, sigh-worthy interiors, and badass tattoos. It a site where beautifully presented information flows on and on in a dizzying swirl of distraction and practicality.
Other than its Procrastination Quotient™,* the main problem with Pinterest is not all Pinformation is reliable. It’s not Pinterest’s fault. The Internet oozes unsubstantiated, dodgy “facts.” We all know that, right?
Today, I’d like to debunk one such “fact” which is promulgated on Pinterest via Said is Dead infographics. These pins often turn up on teachers’ education or language arts boards, but they regularly make their way into the writing craft stream. Building students’ knowledge of synonyms is virtuous, but please, let’s leave it as a vocabulary exercise and not apply it to writing fiction.
The Said is Dead concept suggests that the word said can be overused in writing—that a page of he-said/she-saids is unimaginative. These folk (whoever they are) insist that writers should be more original in tagging dialogue by using
colourful intelligent alternatives, such as declare, announce, remark and so forth.
Worse still, some of these dodgy infographics suggest that writers should mark dialogue with tags like chortle, breathe, gasp, and hiss.
Sorry, but laughing and speaking are mutually exclusive activities. Maybe gum-chewing walkers and other such contortionists can handle the dual act of chortling while talking, but I can’t. And as for breathing (inhaling) while speaking—seriously. Have you ever tried it? It’s a feat best left to didgeridoo players.
The Incredible Vanishing Act of Said
Said is magical. It’s there but it’s not. It does an important job for the reader and then Poof! It vanishes without a trace. On the other hand, declaring, intoning, stating, and sighing all demand attention: “Look at me! There’s a writer responsible for this clever stuff you’re reading, and s/he can use a thesaurus!”
Freelance editor and former kidlit literary agent Mary Kole calls these dialogue markers “peacock words.” In her wonderful book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, she says:
“…while we’re at it, try only using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ in your speech tags. You might think this is woefully unoriginal, but those verbs disappear on the page because readers are so used to them… [O]verusing thesaurus words marks you as an amateur writer. These verbs convey emotion, and I see them as a lazy cheat, since that’s your dialogue’s job, not the job of your tags.”
She has more to say on page 136 about adverbs modifying speech tags, another pet peeve of editors. To paraphrase: “Don’t,” she urged irritably.
Fight the Good Fight!
So please, fellow pinners, for the love of language and literature, stop pinning the misleading Said is Dead infographics that incite crimes against good dialogue!
Writer-Pinners, let’s rally to save the magical, un-improvable Said. Fight back against mispinformation with me by pinning this post instead.
Graphics by Ali Stegert
The ™ is a joke. There’s no such thing, at least not that I’m aware of. But if there should be, the ™ is mine! 😛