1.21.2004

This Corpulent Economy--the evils of worrying about said "saidisms" and other economic woes

It must be because I'm a slow reader that words are so important to me--their efficient, economic use. At the beginning of Clarion I was all civil, putting useless words in brackets and by the end of the six weeks being haggard and worn out, I was slashing up the pages. "Why are you making me read all these extra words? I've got four more manuscripts to read, a story to write and sleep to catch up on!" But at least I was semi-civil for the morning circle.

I just read Theodore Sturgeon's "Poker Face" and he had this cool kind of ending that invited you to reread the story to see where you missed the clues. There were no clues, unfortunately--perhaps a nuance, but rereading became an annoyance. It was still cool, but he wasted my time by intimating there was more to the story than its first reading. Coercing rereadings without providing new revelations is a great way to lose readers--the careful ones, at least, but aren't they the ones you want to pull in?

One thing I notice about certain writers who've grown up on a steady diet of popular fiction is this tendency to worry about "saidisms." That's their word. It makes my stomach wretch typing it. Otherwise sane people think they have to come up with a new word for "said" everytime someone says something. I imagine it's a fear of repetition. They're no doubt the same people who like to change the name or pronouns of a character everytime he appears for fear of repetition. "Said"s are merely verbal tags of who said what. Let me tell you anti-"said" people the two ways why you are so infuriating:

Normally, we read dialogue according to the context surrounding it.

It was seventy-five degrees with the sun out and a light breeze to whisk off the sweat we worked up from laying the foundation. "What a nice day," I said.

The rain came down in sheets. The mud slid back down the ditch into our shoes. And my ass was itchy but I couldn't scratch it with the warden watching and the heavy burlap prison coveralls. "What a nice day," I said.

Do you read both dialogues the same? Do I need to write: "I said, meaning it" and "I said, sarcastically" (or worse, "I quipped"), respectively? No.

When you change the "said" to anything else (apart from "ask"), you cause the reader to stop and ask himself, "How did I read that wrong?" If he didn't read it wrong, it pisses him off because the author obviously assumes his intelligence isn't quite up to par--and you know what you do when you assume. Please trust your reader. Even if your reader did read it wrong, there's still another mistake people make:

"I think I will go to the park and put up a tent and an umbrella and read a book," she hissed.

How the hell do you hiss that? If you change it to "bark," I'd still have to wonder how you would bark it.

In you sadistic said-ists' defense, I will say that Thomas Pynchon does it, too. But you know what? Although he can hold your attention that we don't notice it for a long while, when we do notice, it's just as stupid.

I hissed. (Now you have to reread the entire monologue above while hissing. Have fun!) (Oh, come on, you literal types. Don't reread it. I was just being a smart ass. But you may want to study up on "irony" in your literature books.)

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