I noticed that I keep using ‘said’ a lot — mainly because a novel has a lot of dialogue, but it’s after a lot of thinking and some research I realised that ‘said’ is just one of those words that you skim past without even notice — unless you really overuse it.
The only result of changing some of them with a more specific word1, would be a pause in the reading, meaning the reader actually acknowledged the foreign word before going on. And that’s not something I want — something anyone would want. It’s a pause that kicks the reader out of the story. Your words are only a method for you to tell the story you want to tell, nothing less and nothing more. Don’t make the mistake of confusing prose to poetry[^2].
Of course if there is a case where the identity of the speaker is clear without the need to specify who’s speaking it’s best to omit “he/she said” altogether.
The Black Wolf
King Rylosh was sitting comfy on the leathered throne, when the door slammed open, revealing a dozen of farmers, most of them seemed to have way too many years on their shoulders. The farmers were escorted by what seemed to be a man even older than those behind him. His face covered by deep wrinkles and his beard so long it was a miracle he didn’t walk on it with every step.
Dayn, the head of the king’s personal guards, was walking next to them, as an escort.
“My king” said the guard, solemnly, clearing his throat and pointing at the farmers waiting at the doorsteps. “Those people asked to speak with you, my king.”
The king pondered for a second, nodding. “Let them in, than.”
The guards bowed and raised his hand up, hurrying them to move “Come in, come in.”
The farmers walked in cautiously, they never laid their eyes upon the beauty of the royal palace before. Rylosh could see it in their eyes. “There’s no need to be scared.” said friendly.
One of them — probably the oldest — stepped forward, took a little bow and started speaking, sobbing. “Not here my lord, outside the wall it’s different. It took all my sheep. What am I supposed to eat now?” Tears falling on his cheeks. “A giant black wolf, my lord.”
The guard snapped, but before he could hit the farmer with his reinforced glove the king raised his open hand to the sky, stopping him. The guard than stopped, but screamed harshly “He’s your king, not your lord and you will address him as such.”[^3]
“Calm down Dayn. He didn’t mean any disrespect, right farmer?”
The farmer fell to his knees apologising again and again even when the king said that there was no need for it.
“Well than, we ought to do something. I’ll dispatch two cataphract and you will guide them. Wait for them just outside the palace.”
“Thank you, my king.” He bowed again and turned, following the other farmers as they walked out.
A wolf in the lands of the South. That was a concerning thought… Surely a matter that the guild of magic would have loved to be informed of.
“Dayn” called the king. “Inform master Pryum about the wolf and tell the soldiers to bring back the body.”
Days stormed off and Rylosh was left alone with his dark thoughts.
Was it a sign? He couldn’t say.
The best advice I can give though is to read all your dialogue out loud, you’ll see in a moment if it sounds right or not[^4].
Inspired by this thread on reddit.
Not that i don’t use them, I do. But using them once in a while is way different than using them all the times. [^2:]: With that I don’t mean that prose is inferior or superior to poetry, just that those are two very different kind of writing and must be treated as such. A novel could be told only in poetry, sure, but it’d lose a lot of meaning that way. Maybe it’d gain something else in the process though. It’s all a compromise. [^3]: Here it’s needed if it was something like:The guard snapped, but before he could hit the farmer with his reinforced glove the king raised his open hand stopping him. He screamed harshly “He’s your king, not your lord and you will address him as such.”The guard snapped, but before he could hit the farmer with his reinforced glove the king raised his open hand stopping him. “He’s your king, not your lord and you will address him as such.” he said, disgusted.The guard snapped, but before he could hit the farmer with his reinforced glove the king raised his open hand stopping him. “He’s your king, not your lord and you will address him as such.”It would mean different things and you wouldn’t be sure who was the one speaking, the king or maybe the soldier? Probably not the farmers, it wouldn’t be appropriate for them to say so, but you never know. It’s another culture, so maybe it’d be appropriate there, and if so, that would be a reasonable thing for a peasant to say to another — even in the presence of a king. [^4:] Of course that doesn’t mean that my dialogue is perfect, even though I read it out loud — far from it. But sure it’s better than what it would have been before.[Mac only:] I personally use the text to speech function of my Mac. You can assign a handy shortcut and the software will read the selected text out loud for you. The voices can be changed from System Preferences -> Dictation & Speech -> Text to Speech. A few of them do sound rather mechanic, but there are a others that sound natural enough to be listened to with ease. From there you could even change the language of the speaker if you want to.I found that changing the voice of the speaker to somebody else than yourself can help a lot in catching mistakes. [I’m pretty sure dragon dictation is available for Windows as well.]