Reader and Writer – Cliches and the dreaded ‘said’

I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I mean, I’m going to keep this height-challenged and bitterness-deficient.

Cliched words, cliched phrases, the word “said”. When do we embrace them?

The dreaded ‘said’

They say information comes to you at the right time for a reason.  When one of my favorite authors tweeted that you should always use ‘said’ in dialogue because it becomes an invisible word,   excrement smashed heavily into the wind- producing apparatus.

I made a hectic phone call to my husband, I was emailing people and setting up threads in goodreads to refute this claim. I always thought you had to stay away from using ‘said’. As I was coming up with my alternatives I was smiling at myself for working so hard at ensuring the word was underused. I use it. Especially when there’s a large chunk of dialogue and my character goes from crazy to calm. I also use it when the dialogue is punchy – I’ll throw it in every third of fourth time. And sometimes, they just ‘said’ something. I guess I’ll keep to my casual use. At the time though, I wanted to rewrite all the dialogue to ensure I would be respected by authors who follow this edict.

So was ‘said’ killed in error?


“Lorelle furrows her brow*  When I read, I like to relax into a book. I understand that as writers we have to produce images and imaginative explanations without repetition, but sometimes the character just shrugs. We use metaphors and similes and idioms so that people can relate to our descriptions and our work; so they can relax into the read without them having to work out a complicated jumble of adjectives, verbs and body parts.  It’s like matching someones body language in an interview: people warm to others if they believe they are like them.  When I read over familiar words, it allows me to concentrate on the great characters and storyline.  Of course I use unexpected words at times. It’s just that I read that publishers and agents may disregard a manuscript if there are cliched words used in the first few pages and it made me think. Have I used too many cliches?  Should I be more careful to mix it up?


What do we think about cliches and the word “said”. I’d love to hear from both readers and writers 🙂

16 thoughts on “Reader and Writer – Cliches and the dreaded ‘said’

  1. It doesn’t bother me when a book has used “said”. Though I get worried when I am writing and fear that I’ve overused the word. I’ll occasionally throw in a “responded”. :).

    • Before I wrote, I never noticed said being overused and I thought hey maybe it is invisible! I did notice in one book where there was a lot of dialogue bunched up and it was “he says” then “she says” then “he says”. I just found it strange that I’d never come across this before my second draft was done..

  2. Good questions Lorelle.

    I’ve read that you should use said and not use words like snarled, jerked, etc. And always said comes after the proper noun / pronoun (Sam said / he said). Apparently one should have indicated the manner in which the dialogue has been delivered by other means, other happenings and descriptions within the scene and the words used in the dialogue itself. I think the odd mutter would be okay. Who made these rules anyhow? Rules are made to be broken, else how do you get original works. Imagine if everyone wrote the same, painted the same, how boring!

    Cliches. I have come to the conclusion that only picky writers pick on cliches and, of course, agents and editors. Readers do not give two hoots. I never remember thinking ‘oh-oh, cliche’ when I’ve been reading. Like you, cliches feel comfortable and normal to me. The only time a cliche moment has stopped me cold – twice in the same week in different books recently – the writers qualified dialogue by making the speaker think to themselves how their thought or spoken words were cliched. How stupid is that, and in a traditionally published book too!

    • I’ve seen that too. It drives me crazy when a character goes, “oh, how cliche of me.” I’m like: I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t pointed it out. 😦

    • so there is even a position for the said? This word has great power for someone so invisible lol. When I was reading about the cliche words and using fresh words, it was in relation to romance, so I don’t know whether this is more important in this field. Its meant to make the whole reading experience more visceral. I don’t know though. If I stop reading to work out what they are trying to say, I’m not feeling it as much. I prefer the text to flow.

  3. It used to be writing teachers told students to mix up their tags. Now, all the advice I’ve read says to avoid using anything other than ‘said’ for the reason you mentioned–it doesn’t slow the reader down because it’s invisible.

    I’ve noticed authors using ‘said’ now even when they mean ‘asked.’ Supposedly, it’s the only acceptable tag.

    • I do find it strange to read “said” when there’s a question. If its a long piece of dialogue and the question is only at the end I would probably use said then. From what this author said, it was only school where they were forced to believe said is dead, but at college that went out the window. It was quite confronting to come across this said dilemma.

  4. As long as they don’t become repetitive, I reckon any dialogue tags are okay. Cliches can be tricky to spot. I once received editorial feedback that a situation was cliched, which took it to a whole new level for me!

    • I couldn’t believe that cliched expressions such as “narrows his eyes” and “furrows his brows” were frowned upon. Every time my male love interest leans on a wall and pushes off I’m thinking, yep that’s probably considered a cliche move 🙂 When I don’t use said I do have to be careful of repeating myself. That’s why I make sure there is a said in there somewhere.

  5. I’m on the side that “said” become invisible. I only use alternatives if I need to convey an emotion in the character. That said (haha) its not always needed if there are only two characters alternating speech.

    • I’m loving all this feedback. I forget sometimes that you don’t need so many tags when it’s just two people. I really thought more people would be defending the alternative tags but it seems “said” has a lot of supporters!

  6. I have never heard the word “said” described as “dreaded”. I love the word said. I want what the character says to describe how they’re feeling. I don’t want to be told. And that’s what it comes down to when using “said”. Show, don’t tell and when, in dialogue, I’m told that she mumbled or stuttered or said joyfully or sadly, or whatever, then I’m not being shown, am I? I agree with whomever that said becomes an invisible word. The emotion should be shown, not told.

    By the way, really enjoying your blog.

    • I’m happy you’re enjoying it 🙂 I probably used the word dreaded because dread rhymes with said lol. Oh and it did cause me a fair amount of angst. That’s an interesting way to look at it. Show and not tell. I was just really surprised. I was so sure I was following the accepted practice. It might also scare people to know that I didn’t notice tense until I started writing…

  7. I use said a lot. My characters also have a tendency to smile sadly, furrow their brows, and generally use a lot of body language. I reserve the word said, mostly for conversations with more than two people. In many places where I do use it goes something like this “he said, shaking his head before walking away.” I just think that by writing that you are communicating a lot more. Disappointment, anger etc etc without writing “he was angry.” or “he said angrily.” I don’t know what’s right and what’s wrong. We all have our won styles and ultimately it is up to the reader to decide I guess.

    • I think you take what resonates with you. After the feedback I’ll be at least now aware of what I’m doing. I try and show without telling in other aspects but this one needs a little more of my attention. Thanks for the comment!

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