Oct 28 2008
Beginning authors tend to overuse “said bookisms,” which are words used to replace the word “said.” For example, in the sentence “I’m ready!” he declared, declared is a said-bookism.
Using more than a few said-bookisms per page will probably make the dialogue feel melodramatic and stilted (“I’m hungry,” he uttered). Some common said-bookisms are wrong because they aren’t actually a way to speak. For example, “I knew you’d come back,” she smiled lazily conflates two actions: the speaking and the smiling. No, she didn’t smile those words. It would be clearer and more publisher-friendly to change the phrase to “she said with a smile” or give the two actions their own sentences.
Additionally, animal-sounds are unusually annoying. It doesn’t take much of him clucking and her purring to sound absolutely ridiculous.
Examples of Incorrect Said-Bookisms. These aren’t actually ways to speak.
More Potentially Hazardous Said-Bookisms.
- berated–it should be obvious when a character is berating someone, so this is usually unnecessary.
- cursed– this is only stilted as a tag. “Damn!” he cursed sounds silly but “He cursed” does not.
- insulted–this should be obvious.
- thanked–this will usually be obvious. But if it’s not, I think it could be useful.
- stated–Only use “stated” if the person is actually speaking with deliberative certainty. “This man was murdered,” the coroner stated is much more natural than “I’d like a pizza,” Dan stated.
- ejaculated–I haven’t seen this one in print since Arthur Conan Doyle, but it’s out there.
- responded, possibly (“replied” usually fits more naturally)
- retorted (try “replied” or “countered”)
- acknowledged–in most cases, I’d recommend “admitted.”
Said-Bookisms That Are Usually Safe
- replied (even though it should be obvious)
- cut in
- hissed (this sticks out a lot, though… use it very sparingly)
- barked (this also sticks out)
A lot of these are most effective when they provide additional information to the reader. For example, “I love you,” he lied tells us something that “I love you,” he said doesn’t. “Accused” and “admitted” can also add meaning. For example, if the sentence is “you study three hours a day,” it will mean something very different if it is ended with “he accused” rather than “he said.”
Likewise, compare “said” to “admitted” or “boasted” here.
“How much did you bench?” asked the first Marine. “Three hundred,” admitted the second.
“How much did you bench?” asked the first author. “One thirty,” boasted B. Mac.