LAST WEEK’S HINT drew quite a few emails and comments. Here are notes from some…with my responses below each:
FROM KAREN GEARY:
What if a writer uses too many “said”s in a story? One of the magazine’s writers gets wordy, and occasionally I will replace a “said” with “recalled” if the subject is speaking about a memory, or if it is a humorous statement, I will use “(he/she) said with a chuckle.” I also do that to fix an orphan or widow. I just think too many “said”s distract in a story, too. Is there a journalism rule on that?
1. I don’t know if it’s possible to have too many “said”s in a story.
2. My argument is that readers just read over “said” but other words and phrases, like “recalled” and “(he/she) said with a chuckle” tend to stop readers. With “said”, the attribution is there but it’s in “stealth” mode: not hidden, but not in the way.
3. I disagree that too many “said”s are distracting (see “stealth mode” above).
4. No…I don’t know if there’s any journalism rule on it.
FROM KEITH SMITH:
Funny, when I am writing stories, this is one area where I really stumble. Should I just use “said” 3-4 times or mix in “commented, answered, remarked, etc.”
I’d use “said”.
FROM ELIZABETH ECK:
Just say “said”. Amen.
You got it.
FROM KEN COOKE:
Amen on “said.” This is from Elmore Leonard’s famous “10 Rules for Writing:”
Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.
Precisely! Notice Leonard’s line “…and had to stop reading…”
FROM LYNNE HUMMELL:
Just saying “said” is your solution and that of every other good editor, mentor and journalism professor with whom I have ever worked. I insist on “said” with quoted material and my writers probably hate it, but I don’t care. Other words make me cringe, but none as much as “enthused.” That one is like fingernails on a chalkboard. Well said, Ed.
FROM SUZANNE SHELDEN:
I love the “said” post!!! But it can be overused. How about your ideas on other candidates for neutral attribution.
I took up the challenge and searched internet posts for other attribution words. What I found was…well…nothing I’d use. In one post, though, I did run into words I’ve never seen before:
Aw, c’mon. Gawped? Really?