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Thread: Descriptive verbs or "said"??

  1. #1 Descriptive verbs or "said"?? 
    Malignant Pimple shlunka's Avatar
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    When writing, I often find myself creating continuous dialog between characters. Just wondering, when there is an extended period of two characters essentially exchanging monologues, should I use "said" or use descriptive verbs, or no verbs at all? I.E

    "Hello." Jerry said
    "Hi there neighbor." Replied John
    "Fine weather we're having today." Jerry stated the obvious
    "Yes, a perfect day for my neighbors to collocate and annoy me." Retorted John

    Or
    "Hello." Jerry said.
    "Hi there neighbor." Said John
    "Fine weather we're having today."
    "Yes, a perfect day for my neighbors to collocate and annoy me."

    Should I favor using "said" with a combination of not using verbs to indicate conversation, or should I try using a mix of "said" and various other conversational indicators? Thanks.


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  3. #2  
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    Depends on the tone and the mood you're trying to create. Using only "said" creates a kind of flat background, a bit boring but has no authorial comment or guidance on the words used. The words have little to no context, just relationships (or not) to the other speaker/s. If you're only using "said" in the first couple of exchanges to identify the speakers of alternating speech, then that's probably all you need.

    Normally I'd want a reasonable mix of replied, answered, asked, enquired, stated. Then you can step up the mood or guide the reader's responses with more descriptive terms for the speaker's words - agreed, concurred, questioned, concluded, insisted, repeated, for the content - whispered, mumbled, muttered, interrupted, demanded, shouted, grumbled, complained, whined, joked, laughed, giggled, for the sound of a speaker's words (along with their behaviour and mood).


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  4. #3  
    Malignant Pimple shlunka's Avatar
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    Thank you very much, it is appreciated.
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    Forum Professor jrmonroe's Avatar
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    If I remember correctly from a few books I've bought on writing fiction, the non-said verbs should be used sparingly. Check out some favorite fiction of yours and see what those authors use, perhaps it's mostly "said".

    You can also use action verbs followed by a simple quotation.

    John winced. "I don't want to think about it."

    Bob shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing surprises me anymore."

    Jill dangled her shoe from her foot and smiled at him. "Why don't you ask me out?"

    I've read a book or two with your second suggestion, simply quotes after quotes, but a few times it went on for so long that I got confused about who was saying what (but maybe it was my limitations).

    Most fiction restricts conversations to two people, so that alone simplifies conversations.
    Grief is the price we pay for love. (CM Parkes) Our postillion has been struck by lightning. (Unknown) War is always the choice of the chosen who will not have to fight. (Bono) The years tell much what the days never knew. (RW Emerson) Reality is not always probable, or likely. (JL Borges)
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  6. #5  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shlunka View Post
    Or
    "Hello." Jerry said.
    "Hi there neighbor." Said John
    "Fine weather we're having today."
    "Yes, a perfect day for my neighbors to collocate and annoy me."
    There is a name for these (I found out recently); they are called "said bookisms" because (supposedly) back when they were in fashion, you could get books with lists of them.

    They are generally frowned on now (despite adelady's preference ). Using "said" is generally pretty much transparent to readers. Using alternatives can be a distraction because it is not what modern readers are used to. But, as noted, they can often be omitted anyway.
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  7. #6  
    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    Depends on a lot of things, Shlunka. Adelady and Monroe have good points - the style you have developed should be something to consider. You should also think about where you are in the project before getting too concerned with the little things. In my experience, stuff like that is best left to be dealt with in later drafts, either your final draft or in drafts where you've decided to make changes to your narrator's constitution.
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    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by shlunka View Post
    Or
    "Hello." Jerry said.
    "Hi there neighbor." Said John
    "Fine weather we're having today."
    "Yes, a perfect day for my neighbors to collocate and annoy me."
    There is a name for these (I found out recently); they are called "said bookisms" because (supposedly) back when they were in fashion, you could get books with lists of them.

    They are generally frowned on now (despite adelady's preference ). Using "said" is generally pretty much transparent to readers. Using alternatives can be a distraction because it is not what modern readers are used to. But, as noted, they can often be omitted anyway.
    I take it you're of the limpid school of thought?
    "Cultivated leisure is the aim of man."
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  9. #8  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stander-j View Post
    I take it you're of the limpid school of thought?
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Strange View Post
    Quote Originally Posted by stander-j View Post
    I take it you're of the limpid school of thought?
    It's just a way to describe a style of writing that is particularly clear. Comparable to the ways of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, where the story and what is implied tends to be certain. Then you have other writers, like Joyce or Kafka, where the work tends to come off in a more abstract way.People often just describe it as strength some writers have (writing limpid work), but it's also used as a way to describe styles - so I was just asking if that's the kind of approach you prefer, the limpid approach.
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  11. #10  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stander-j View Post
    It's just a way to describe a style of writing that is particularly clear. Comparable to the ways of Hemingway or Fitzgerald, where the story and what is implied tends to be certain. Then you have other writers, like Joyce or Kafka, where the work tends to come off in a more abstract way.People often just describe it as strength some writers have (writing limpid work), but it's also used as a way to describe styles - so I was just asking if that's the kind of approach you prefer, the limpid approach.
    Ah, I see. It is not a term I have come across before. I don't think I have a strong preference but I do tend to read more "realistic" fiction. On the other hand, I do like the unreliable narrator (Kazuo Ishiguro comes to mind) and some other stuff that is where it is hard to know exactly what is going on ...
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  12. #11  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    And then there are Tom Swifties: Rapid Thomas | Caxton
    Without wishing to overstate my case, everything in the observable universe definitely has its origins in Northamptonshire -- Alan Moore
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  13. #12  
    Forum Ph.D. stander-j's Avatar
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    Hey, sorry Strange, I meant to respond to your reply but I had completely forgotten. I think we have similar tastes as far as literature goes. I too prefer fiction that adheres to realism - though I do enjoy a good venture into the worlds of fantasy texts on occasion. I have never heard of Ishiguro, but I did do a google. I'm almost finished with the book I'm reading right now, so I may have to give one of his a go. Is there a particular work of his you would recommend (I try to do a lot of leisure reading during the summer... "Atrophy of the Brain" is a phrase that runs through my head when I'm not in school)?

    If you're ever looking for a read, and can't think of anything to go with, I'd recommend "Disgrace" by J.M. Coetzee. It's quite good, and I think Coatzee is one of the few to have won the Booker Prize more than once (I may, however, be wrong about this).
    Last edited by stander-j; May 21st, 2013 at 09:54 PM.
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  14. #13  
    Brassica oleracea Strange's Avatar
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    I prefer Ishiguro's earlier work. They all have a common theme of people out of place or time, and you come to realise that the story they are telling you is not what really happened - they seem unaware of what was really happening around them. But I found When We Were Orphans rather unconvincing; it took the "unreliable narrator" too far so it became the "implausible narrator". And I found Never Let Me Go really disturbing (which, I suppose, says something about how well it was written).

    I have read the Coetzee book. Very powerful (I'm not sure I enjoyed it!)
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  15. #14  
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    I like Stephen King's advice, which basically states that if your writing is good, you don't need the descriptive verbs in too heavy a dose.

    I find them really distracting and juvenile when used a lot. I should be able to figure out HOW he/she said whatever it was by the context.
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  16. #15  
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    Oh yes. If anyone tries using one after another, every single one of them loses its impact. Far better to insert just one occasionally so that it retains its power to convey what the writer sees as the most important moment of an interaction.
    "Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
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