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Author Topic: Said - Yelled - Whispered
genevive42
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So I understand that 'said' is to be used most of the time when attributing dialog. And I understand that this is to avoid overwritten, 'trying to use a different word every time' syndrome.

From Dark Warrior's post, KD Wentworth has said, "... I hate all action verbs used in place of "said."

But sometimes, just sometimes, isn't it justified to use something besides 'said'?

If I say, 'she said quietly' I will get tagged for using the adverb. But I could simply say, 'she whispered', especially if it suits the scene.

And if I put for dialog; "No, don't!" someone will cry foul that I used an exclamation point. But I could put, "No, don't," he yelled, to avoid over use of said exclamation point.

So I feel like it's a little of a Kobayashi Maru situation, aka 'damned if you do or damned if you don't'.

I am focused at this moment on a WotF story but would like to hear all thoughts.


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Kitti
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Personally, I'd prefer "No, don't!" over "No, don't," he yelled. I don't see anything wrong with the - judicious - use of exclamation points.

While I agree that people can get carried away with dialogue tags and said bookisms, sometimes it's fine to replace the word said to convey something that the dialogue alone simply can't.

"But who cares about what I think?" I muttered under my breath as I slunk out of the room.

"But who cares about what I think!" I stormed out of the room and slammed the door behind myself.

:-P


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JSchuler
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All rules are made to be broken. Said-book-ism is, I believe, simply something that gets annoying after repeated exposure. The occasional deviation is unlikely to get you flagged.

That said, "whispered" and "yelled" can be avoided, just like any adverb. "Whispered" is more straight-forward:
-she said in a hushed voice
-he said, almost inaudible over the chirping of the crickets
"Yelled" is a bit trickier, as you almost have to set the scene so that the only available interpretation is that the person is yelling.
-The God King stood over Marlene's broken body, taunting the barbarian warrior with his bloody hands as the fortress came down around them.
"Bastard," Alvrix said over the din of failing columns and tumbling walls. "I'll kill you."


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Phobos
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I have heard it said and I agree with this;

It is ok to use such attributions a "whispered" on occasion but only in instances when the character in fact would whisper. I think the main thing is to avoid "Hisssssing" words that have no s's and other such lunacies. Or even worse "I did it I slept with her wife," he ejaculated. Ejaculated? seriously, I have seen that on more than one occasion.


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KayTi
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If you're writing for WOTF and KDW (the all-caps version, as in the First Reader for WOTF) has said she really can't stand action verbs instead of said, then I think you might want to look for another way to portray things in this particular scene.

For instance, "Please don't say such things in front of the boy." His teeth clenched, Mark worked to keep his temper under control.

Or the book I'm reading now uses a lot of "he cast his voice so that it could be heard only by the group and not passers-by." (or something like that... voices are cast a lot, and it's not a wizarding story, lol.)

Use a beat, a line of action, in place of a "said" synonym. "Please." She kept her voice low.
"Please." Her lips barely moved.
"Please." She rolled her eyes and strode out the door.
"Please." She mouthed the words "Help Me" after her almost soundless whisper.
"Please." Her voice was barely above a whisper (can you tell I like the word barely? You're going to have to make your own deal with the devil as far as adverbs are concerned, but I personally use them on a not-infrequent but not regular basis.)

Just some ideas for you, I hope this helps! In this situation when you have a unique ability to hear from the person who is doing the reading, I think it makes sense to try to adjust your writing to appeal to that reader. Who knows, it may make you think differently about what you're writing, dig deeper for more details, more emotion, more characterization, more character quirks and details ("Please." The scab on her lip split open even though she tried not to move her lips.)

Good luck!


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BenM
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While this topic does arise on a regular basis, I do have fun discussing it for some reason. It could be clinical insanity.

But sometimes, just sometimes, isn't it justified to use something besides 'said'?
Sure.

"No, don't!" someone will cry foul that I used an exclamation point. But I could put, "No, don't," he yelled, to avoid over use of said exclamation point.
I agree with Kitti that the exclamation point is preferable. I believe it's a matter of style; certainly some authors never use them, but then some authors (I'm looking at you, Cormac McCarthy) don't use quotation marks either.

We've undoubtably heard that the word "said" is invisible. Why is that? I believe said bookisms call a user out of your text because they force him or her to re-evaluate the text. Consider:
"Here," she whispered.
"No, don't," he yelled.
Reading this linearly - left to right, top to bottom - a reader obtains the "mood" before reading "No, don't" and likely decides it's more a whisper. So if we read it in that tone in our heads, the appearance of "he yelled" forces us to stop reading, go back, and read it again with emphasis.

If the dialog can stand on its own without tags - or with just "said", then it is getting across the right emphasis already, and the user doesn't need to be told how to interpret it.

Which is why
"No, don't!" he yelled
would be even worse, because it's kind of like the "telling" in the second sentence here:
"I hate you," she said, slapping him hard across the face. She was very angry.

[This message has been edited by BenM (edited February 25, 2010).]


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Wolfe_boy
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Context above all.

If the scene is not complete merely using "said", if the context of the scene requires that a line of dialogue be delivered a specific way (whispered, shouted, bellowed, roared, etc.) then by all means go ahead and use it. If it can be avoided, however, stick to using "said". Occasional use heightens the impact of these dramatic verbs. Over use makes them overly visible and annoying. The best bet is, likely, a mix of all of the above suggestions; contextual actions, active verbs, "said", and even adverbs.

Do your very best to avoid the adverbs, though. They make me cry a little bit inside.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Ahh the Kobayashi Maru. My other half has been on a "Star Trek" kick of late, so I've just seen a couple of versions of it.

Its a very apt comparison to use for us writers. We face a lot of "no win" situations due to the simple fact that everyones opinions and tastes are different and-in my eyes-equally valid.

As you well know, my dear genevive, I feel strongly that an author should use whatever tools and techniques best serve their story in all ways-voice, the conveying of meaning, atmosphere, characterization etc.

That being said, the esteemed KayTi very much has a point that when you know what one of the people who has say in the acceptance of your story does or doesn't like and your writing for that market it would behoove you to incorporate that into what your doing. However, it could, potentially lead you into the circumstance of a creative/artistic compromise, and that in the end has to be your choice. KayTi's examples of how to make said compromise are I think excellent.

In general situations however I think this is another issue that gets to much attention for to little cause. Most stuff I read has "said bookisms." They like many things in writing could be likened to seasonings in cooking (in some cases, particularly to potentially overpowering ones like rosemary.) Moderation and skill of use is key.


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genevive42
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Thanks for all of the input, and so quickly - wow. There are some great suggestions here.

I will say that in a 16,000 word story I use 'yelled' and 'whispered' each one time. The rest of the time I use 'said' with no adverbs and often an appropriate action or response to set the tone as necessary.

It's just that the way I've used them is in the interest of the economy of words by using the right one. In neither place do I feel that extra exposition is necessary if I use the proper vocabulary. To me it is like the difference between saying, "He ran quickly across the street," versus, "He sprinted across the street." The second one is cleaner and gets the point across as, if not more effectively. I know these are not dialog tags but I'm using the same philosophy.

I'm not too worried about these two little words but I wanted to get your opinions overall. Please keep them coming.

And do you think KD Wentworth is as vehement as that quote makes her sound or do you think she might have been responding to an overdose of 'Said-book-isms'?


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Merlion-Emrys
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I generally tend to think editors/judges/slush readers who say they are tired of/hate/dislike/can't stand a thing are usually responding to a glut of it more than anything else.

To paraphrase something I said to you once before, if that KDW rejects your WOTF story because of your single "whispered" and your solitary "yelled" I will lose the already not especially vast respect I have for the whole WOTF thing.

[This message has been edited by Merlion-Emrys (edited February 25, 2010).]


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genevive42
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Oh and Phobos, it's funny that you bring up, 'he ejaculated' in place of 'said'. I am reading 'Crime and Punishment' and that phrase has come up a number of times. I don't believe, however, that it has much place as a dialog tag in modern writing.
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Bent Tree
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if the ratio is 2:16000 then I don't think you will have any worries. She is also just and wouldn't let a mild annoyance such as a said book'ism put her over the edge to toss your MS in the reject pile.
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genevive42
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Thanks Merlion.
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BenM
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And to tie this in with a couple of other threads, it inspired me to write a post for my blog, haha!
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Kitti
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quote:
And do you think KD Wentworth is as vehement as that quote makes her sound or do you think she might have been responding to an overdose of 'Said-book-isms'?

I just looked back over some of my HM's, and in the first 6 pages I've got shouted, whispered, answered, snapped, began, prompted, and admitted. I can guarantee this story had other (tragic!) flaws that made it not worthy of above HM, so it wasn't the said bookisms that did it in.

I think you're okay with 2 in the entire story. I don't have time to double-check my past anthologies, but I suspect you'll find winners who've used them a couple of times, too.


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Robert Nowall
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Barry B. Longyear---remember him?---practiced and advocated not using "he said" or any variant form thereof at all. Just dialog with sentences within indicating the [named] speaker was doing something. I tried that a couple of times, but found "he said" to be adequate if not overused---but I stuck with keeping "shouted," "whispered," and so on down to a bare minimum.
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Teraen
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Like most stuff in writing, there is nothing inherently wrong with what you pointed out, but a balance must be maintained. I once had an editor tell me that for exclamation points, no more than one per page is allowed. Their rationale: some people rely on exclamation points to try and make the writing seem intense and action packed, rather than using words to accomplish the same thing:

"Jake!" I yelled, "Don't open the door!"
But he must not have heard me, because the next moment he opened it up anyway!
I pulled my blaster from the holster! From behind the door, a large gobbermunker pounced! Taking Jake's leg in its teeth, it clamped on!
"Kackervershlagen!" Jake cursed. "Get it off me!"
But I was too late! My laser blasts merely bounced off the bony hide! The poison quickly took effect - soon, Jake's lifeless body lay on the floor! In less than two hours, he would be a gobbermunker too!

See? Boring. And the exclamation points surely helped in that regard.


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Bent Tree
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As I often do in cases of questioning advice, I went to the scientific method. I picked up the closest book by a trusted author and recorded data. The book happened to be "Earthfall" by OSC, Book four in the five part series that I read last weekend while I was in bed with the flu. Here are the results from Chapter 1 of "Earthfall"

87- Total lines of dialogue

33- lines with no attribution (NA)

The most common example of this is in direct volley of conversation where the reader understands who is speaking by turn.

Example:
Sara glared at Steve. "Shut Up!"
"No I will not shut up."
"Shut up, or leave"
"You know that you don't want me to leave."

We can tell who is speaking because there are only two people involved and we can visualize the volley.

29- lines attributed with "said" or "asked"(which is the question form of said)

20- lines of Action Attributed Dialogue (AAD)

quote:
He shrugged. "Maybe she said and I didn't notice. I don't always notice."

I noticed something new in regard to this style of attribution. OSC typically uses the action proceeding the dialog, where I seem to use it after. Reflecting, I can see how in many cases it is more effective to show the action first, so I have learned something new and important due to this investigation. For the sake of clarity, I might point out that I may have tallied a few AAD in examples where the paragragh included two lines of dialogue by the same character such as this:

quote:
"I am of the same opinion," said Nafai. "It would have spared me the agony of watching you distress of being my sister-in-law."

I recall tagging the second line of this type of dialogue as AAD on three occasions. Looking back, this may be NA or simply the normal "Said/asked" depending on how you look at it.

3- Other instances.
Two instances of, "He muttered" and one, "He cried. The latter which was given after a line of dialogue that included and exclamation point.

quote:
"No!" cried Luet.

There was only one instance where he used an adverb in the attribution.

quote:
"I see that you have nothing but respect for them yourself,"said Nyef drily.

So there is my contribution du jour. I took me a few moments but it anchored my understanding on the topic and I also learned something new about my writing which is always a joyous occasion. I will widen my investigation at some point today for my own purposes to make this a more accurate analysis. This after all was only one chapter from one book, by one author.

[This message has been edited by Bent Tree (edited February 25, 2010).]


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Wolfe_boy
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quote:
said Nyef drily.

Blech.


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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I submit that you can get away with anything that a reader doesn't notice.

The trick is in doing whatever so that they won't notice.

Example: if the story is exciting enough, they won't notice poor writing so much.

And I'm with Kitti that you're probably okay with one each in an entire story.


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dee_boncci
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I don't think there's too big a problem with verbs that indicate volume of spoken words like "whispered" and "yelled", as long as they're used relatively infrequently. I think the bigger problem is overuse of things like "growled" or "purred" and other verbs that at their plainest meaning do not pertain to human linguistic vocalization. So in your example I think your choices are sound.

And for those that care, to ejaculate really does mean to speak suddenly or sharply, and I believe that is the original meaning of the word, and often the first definition in even a modern dictionary. Alternate definitions have sort of overtaken the historic one, but it was pretty common in days gone by. That said, I wouldn't use it in that sense in anything I took seriously.

[This message has been edited by dee_boncci (edited February 25, 2010).]


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Merlion-Emrys
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quote:
Kackervershlagen


What does that mean? I assume its German.


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Teraen
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I have no idea if it means anything or not. My best friend when I was twelve used to say it alot. I think he heard it on a movie somewhere...
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Dropbear
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I'm wondering if KD Wentworth's words are being taken too literally here.

The way I understand it:

Use either "said" or "asked" as a normal course. Don't use "said" if there's a question involved, it just sounds weird.

"What's the time?" he said
"What's the time?" he asked.

If it is important that the reader understands how the dialogue is being delivered (usually in respect to volume) then use a simple verb that doesn't call attention to themselves such as:

whispered, muttered, mumbled, yelled

These are not direct synonyms of "said" and "asked", and have their place, and will generate a different emotional response in the reader. You should find that you'll only be using these verbs occasionally, in any case.

"Help me," he whispered.
"Help me," he yelled.
"Help me," he said (this doesn’t carry the emotion of the previous two).

Avoid verbs that call attention to themselves (I think it was only this category that KD Wentworth was referring to)

exclaimed, proclaimed, uttered, announced, expounded, expostulated

If the dialogue itself or the context makes it clear how it is being delivered, then avoid adverbs

"You jerk, get out of here," she said angrily.
"You jerk, get out of here," she said.

Otherwise, use the adverb if you want the reader to understand tone and delivery.

"Get out of here," she said angrily.
"Get out of here," she said sadly.

Even adverbs have their place, if used sparing and correctly.

[This message has been edited by Dropbear (edited February 26, 2010).]


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shimiqua
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"Hey, I think this is right," My character whispered adverbally.
"No way, you big loser," the rest mumbled mockingly.
"Hush," she shushed with that look in her eye.

Occasionally, an adverb can lead to understanding, so if your whisper doesn't nudge at you that it is wrong, then you can probably just ignore it.

I do wonder, however, if the amount of time you've spent worrying whether whisper is a bad idea couldn't have been better used writing a quick descriptive sentence.

It obviously is bugging you, so I say who cares* what KDW thinks about two short words, and focus on what you would want changed when you see it printed in the anthology.
~Sheena

*Me


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Brad R Torgersen
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I must admit to be a closeted lover of the adverb.

Like L. Jagi Lamplighter, I quietly wish the irrational hatred of adverbs would vanish from publishing.

He grumped.


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Merlion-Emrys
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Don't feel bad, I very loudly wish the irrational hatred of a lot of things (and peoples belief in an irritional hatred of various other things) would vanish from publishing/our lives/existence.
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Wolfe_boy
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I am pleasantly content to dislike unrelentingly almost all adverbs. Finding them in my own writing (and even worse, leaving them there during editing) is my own little cutting experience.
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philocinemas
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quote:
Don't feel bad, I very loudly wish the irrational hatred of a lot of things (and peoples belief in an irritional hatred of various other things) would vanish from publishing/our lives/existence.

I agree with you very strongly on the first half of that comment, Merlion.

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Merlion-Emrys
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The me wishing loudly part?
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johnbrown
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I actually think said-bookisms and adverbs can sometimes actually make the dialogue more vivid and clear. They can also sometimes make it goofy. I've found it depends. They're just tools.

BTW, bravo, Bent Tree, for actually looking at a book you enjoyed and examining the lines and your response.

I think this suggests the real question isn't if you find a thing in a book by a trusted author, but if the passage in question actually works for you.

Did the "he cried" and "he said drily" actually make the dialogue more clear and vivid for you? If so, then it can work and be considered great writing because it obviously just worked that way.

Another thing. The stage action coming before the spoken words, I've found that increases clarity too. As does putting the pov internalization ahead of the words as well. I've also found it more clear to put in reading instructions up front. For example, you could say, "Let's get out of here," Stan whispered. But I found when reading aloud that putting the said-bookism after the dialogue always tripped me up. I'd read it normal and then get to the whisper instruction and realize I'd just read it wrong. To make it more clear, I've taken to putting that in front. So now I'll write: He pitched his voice low. "Let's get out of here." Or Stan turned to whisper in Gloria's ear. "Let's get out of here."

I've found in many cases that this keeps things a bit more clear. Although sometimes you want the action AFTER the words if it's the action that the other person is going to react to.

Jack Bickham has a great discussion of this chapter 14 of his WRITING AND SELLING YOUR NOVEL and the reasons behind it. I recommend it highly. And after you read it you can test to see if it actually works the way he says it does when you read.


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philocinemas
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quote:
The me wishing loudly part?

The "I very loudly wish the irrational hatred of a lot of things...would vanish from publishing/our lives/existence" part. Unfortunately I believe there is "an irrational hatred of various...things" that will always be in "publishing/our lives/existence".

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