Category: I think I’m on the right track

Fiction Writing: Said Bookisms and Unattributed Dialogue

I was looking over a few of the bestsellers on a retail e-book site and reading the excerpts. Now, I’m not trying to be an expert here. Though I have a degree from an excellent university in English, and I received excellent grades, I’ll be the first to admit I’m still learning and still looking for better ways to write fiction. I usually do this by reading proven fiction masters, like John Irving, Anne Tyler, and Toni Morrison on a regular basis. I like to see how they handle certain techniques, especially dialogue.

And I thought I’d offer this small post, and example, about Said Bookisms and Unattributed Dialogue, partly because these two things drive me up the wall, and partly because they seem to be so popular these days.

Maybe I’m missing something and it’s okay to use Said Bookisms and too much Unattributed Dialogue nowadays? I have been seeing a lot of this going around, especially on more than a few bestseller lists.

But just in case it’s not, this example below might help. Here’s a link in case anyone wants to dispute this with the author of the ariticle. Don’t blame me. I could post five dozen other examples backing this up.

Every writer goes through a stage where they think that they use ‘said’ too much. So a young writer starts to use substitutes like, he expostulated, she shouted, he questioned, she stated. Don’t do it. ‘Said’ is virtually invisible. Pick up a book with a decent amount of dialogue and count the ‘said’s. It’s astonishing.

Another rule of thumb. You can use unattributed dialogue:

“It’s mighty dark in here,” Joe said.

“It sure is,” Emily agreed.

“Cold, too.”

“You got that right.”

Unattributed dialogue is the stuff where it doesn’t say who said it. But be careful with it; too many times I find myself counting back to see who said what. Attribution is invisible, when in doubt, use more rather than less.