Tuesday, 14 April 2009

You don't say: N M Browne

I have just recently been arguing on line with some writers who think that the only possible speech tag is ‘said.’
I am at that age where I am easily irritated and I am allergic to writing rules of this sort. I am a natural heretic when it comes to style rules and immediately feel obliged to break any ‘rule’as soon as it is suggested to me.
I suppose that most of the time I use ‘said’ but I reserve the right to use ‘muttered’, ‘grumbled’,’ argued’, and anything else that suits my story if I choose. So there.
Anyway, having made my point repeatedly, forcibly and not particularly well, I came up with this piece of flash fiction which probably says it better.

'My husband was a novelist and a good one. He wrote the spare, minimalist prose that won prizes. The idea of using an obvious speech tag horrified him. ‘I love you,’ he said. ‘let’s get married,’ he said, and years later after some small success,’ I am finished,’ he said.
‘Mark!’I howled when I found his corpse. I sobbed his eulogy, shrieked his last words at the graveside – overwrought and overwritten like the cheapest of airport novels. In all the things he said in all our long years together, he never ‘spoke’ to me at all.'


Nicola Morgan said...

Love it! And I couldn't agree more. It's a "rule" I only discovered relatively recently and i can't believe how angsty people get about it. I agree with the moderation in all things view (ie I wouldn't want something littered with alternatives to "said") but in my view it's as rubbish as the "rule" about not starting sentences with "and" or "but". I'll do it when it feels like the best word and rhythm to use.

Anyway, well said. Or well ranted. Or well pointed out. Or whatever.

Nick Green said...

Aah, come on! What twerps were arguing that you can only ever use 'said'? That's one of the most ridiculous things I've heard today.

Arguably, it's best to use it in the majority of cases. But there's a vast difference between 'most cases' and 'all cases'. Fer gawd's sake... If people start getting hung-up on non-rules, they'll never get anywhere.

My preferred way of doing dialogue is to try and avoid any attribution verb at all. Just place the dialogue alongside an action. E.g. 'Tiffany rounded on him. "That's a lie!"'

Asakiyume said...

Funny how these things go in waves! The people arguing for only using "said" are no doubt the ones who were taught as kids to try using anything **but** said in order to avoid sounding dull. And then, after writing a while following that rule, they realized it was crazy to always have people quipping, smirking, hissing, and expostulating--so they went overboard and decided it would be better only to use "said." But these rules ares really meant to be suggestions to help make writing better; they're not supposed to be shackles. Some people, though, cling to rules like talismans.

catherine johnson said...

Lovely! I agree rules do get my hackles up. But as I was bought up very low church I err towards said. I hate going into classrooms where you have lists of words OTHER than said and the students are banned from using it. Or you read kids' writing and it's all 'gushed Lucy' or 'snarled Tristram' or 'questioned Bartleby'.

Linda Strachan said...

The only rule should be...NO RULES! How can you consider being truly creative with rules all over the place? Surely rules are only there for those too scared to survive without them. I am with Asakiyume - suggestions are fine but rules stifle and confine.

Nick Green said...

Or perhaps the only rule should be... Does it work? Does it read well? Does it do the job? Surely, it's that simple. You just need enough practice and experience to be able to trust your own judgement there.

Writing by a set of rules is like painting by numbers. It's not 'real'.