Today’s hot writing advice may prove embarrassing in a few years
I still have the mimeograph handout from high school, from oh so many years ago. The title boasts “50 Substitutes for Said.”
The opening instruction says, “Both color and drama can be added to a story by using other verbs as substitutes for said.” (A poorly written sentence, by the way.) As I recall, this teacher encouraged us to never use said in our writing.
Some of the recommended alternatives for said include blustered, bantered, challenged, directed, emphasized, giggled, implored, insinuated, mimicked, philosophized, revealed, and soothed. (By the way, I keep the list for nostalgic purposes, not for reference.)
In my writing, I can’t imagine using any of these suggestions in place of said. If I did, people would laugh at me and dismiss my work.
Now the trend is to not use alternatives for said. The extreme position is to only use said, even if it’s a question. I can’t bring myself to do that. It just seems wrong to write:
“What do you mean by that?” she said.
It makes me cringe. Plus, encountering said when I expect to read asked, is a speedbump that takes me out of the scene.
Yet, some writing experts instruct writers to do just that, to only use said, even for a question.
I think this minimalist approach is an extreme view, along with being dull. I suspect this will be a short-lived writing trend that will later be dismissed as unimaginative.
Just as we now groan at writers who would write “he blustered” instead of “he said,” we will one day groan at writers who only use said. It’s lazy writing and makes for boring reading.
In the same way that we discern which editing suggestions we need to follow from our critique partners, we need to consider which writing advice makes sense for us and which to ignore.
As for me, I will disregard the advice to only use said.
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Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.