Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't Kill ‘Said Bookisms’ On-Sight--by Chihuahua Zero

by Chihuahua Zero, @chihuahuazero

3804543539_0225744185Pick any ten writing blogs in the writing blogosphere, and I bet nine of them will say: "don't use said-bookism!"

This is understandable. Excessive amounts of dialogue tags besides said and asked are often syndromes of an amateur. Pull up a random fan-fiction, and it's likely there's a dialogue tag like laughed or quipped or even the infamous ejaculated.

These types of words pop out and are clunky to the point of being distracting.


Counter-Examples: the good old "show, not tell" rule, the "don't use said-bookism rule'" isn't in effect 100% of the time. Or even 80%.

For instance, I used the Nicolas Flamel series as an example in one of my posts on dialogue tags. While it used the word murmured one too many times, it's still a good series that has a decent amount of popularity. And despite its the almost total absence of dialogue tags, The Chronicle of Vladimir Tod slips some by when there are.

The Book Thief? I spotted a few mentions here and there.

Harry Potter? Slughorn ejaculated at Snape. Really.

Acceptable Uses:

Despite what advice you receive, you can say said-bookisms aren't as poisonous as you might have presumed them to be. Sure, it's lazy and overly colorful if you use a handful of them in one chapter, but or two don't spoil the entire bunch.

You can argue that "just because many works use it, doesn't mean it's good", but I don't think it applies here. Said-bookisms are mostly a mechanical element. They're not lazy plot device or cardboard characters. They're only a link in a long, fictional chain.

There are some cases some borderline said-bookisms that can work. It's safe to use shouted and whispered, to the point they're accepted alongside said/ask. They're volume indicators.

Some said-bookisms are awkward (like laughed and smiled), while there are some other sound tags that work based on context. For example, bark. Can a person bark a sentence? If you stretch the definition. Can you also howl, rasp, and bray? Your mileage may vary.

And in specific cases, like explained, admonished, and quipped:

  1. I'm guilty of overusing "explained.” "Explained" are among the words that I tend to overuse, and will certainly be on my edit list. But I think other writers had that same compelling feeling to add it in, and decided to keep them in.
  2. I actually saw "admonished" in an old collaboration project. I wanted to delete it due to being wordy, but they voted to keep it. They said that it elaborated the sentences meaning, even though it's just a fancy word for "friendly explanation.” Thoughts.
  3. "Quipped?” Get back on me about that.

Why You Need to Know This:

The point is that like any type of story mechanic, said-bookisms aren't 100% bad. They can be (and often are) misused and overused, but their presence doesn't condemn a work.

One reason why it's important to know this because over-thinking this can spoil your enjoyment of reading. It's good to keep a critic's mind open when reading, but for a few months, my mind kept seizing onto these words that my mind has long glazed over before several blogs pointed out that they were "bad.”

It wasn't until I read a couple of fantastic works my mind dropped this peeve and filtered them.

So, put down that gun, and worry about something else.

Chihuahua ZeroChihuahua is a young, aspiring writer who loves writing, reading, music, Chihuahuas and dark chocolate. CO can be found at Thoughts of a Young Aspiring Writer.

Blog Image—Flickr-By krazydad / jbum