Wednesday, November 24, 2010

He said, She said . . .

So I'm at my first conference and I see an editor with several books on his table. These are the books that he'd personally worked on. I start thumbing through the books to see if this editor is someone I'd want to schedule a meeting with when I spot a book I'd recently read.

This book is one that caused me some consternation. It was replete with one of the great blights on publishing: synonyms for said. i.e. he joked, he retorted, he exclaimed, etc. etc. etc. Of course we've been told, lectured, advised, commanded, informed, and warned not to do this.

Now personally, I don't like these either. They bother me. I worked hard on using action beats instead of dialogue tags and using only said when necessary. Besides, not only don't I like them, it's universally agreed upon within the publishing industry that this practice is universally frowned upon and better left on the ash heap of history.

But here it sits. A published novel whose word count owes a substantial debt to this plague.

I decided to take this opportunity and ask this professional's advice. After all, he's an editor of a major publishing house. So I open the book, point out a few examples, and asked him for a definitive answer to this puzzle. He looked me straight in the eye and said "We don't really care about all that."

Wow. Tell that to the agents and the how-to books. (yes I know you really can't tell that to a book, but that's how I wanted to write the sentence, so get over yourself. : )


Nicole said...

Dayle, I'm one of the oddballs who detests "said". It's dry, boring, and obvious. I like variety. Not a constant barrage of dialogue tags, but, hey, give me something besides said.

And I get a kick out of his response because in fact sometimes it's true. The evidence is in the books.

Kaye said...

Wordsworth Editing checking in. Dayle's right. Keep your tags to said and asked or HOW something's said (ie., hollered, whispered, bellowed). Smacks of amateur writing to dialogue the comment, "I like blue hats" with a 'he commented' tag. Tells what you showed. Readers read right over said/asked tags. They're simple, keep the story moving. Tags like 'he asserted, he intoned' stumble readers. Thanks for helping writers, Dayle.