I’ve talked a bit about the word “said,” and how most writers go through an “avoiding said” stage when they’re working on improving their craft. And while that post goes into detail on how using synonyms for “said” isn’t actually always the best idea, there ARE other ways to stop using it so frequently.
My husband and I were actually talking about this, and he told me he tries to avoid using not just “said,” but any dialogue identifiers when he writes.
Even though you should usually use “said” instead of any other dialogue identifier in most (not all) cases, it is actually a really good practice to remove these identifiers entirely. It forces you to think more about the other actions your characters are taking, and it makes you identify who is speaking in what scene in more creative ways.
That being said, here’s my challenge to you today: write a whole section of dialogue without using any dialogue identifiers (he said, she said, he asked, she asked, etc). Below, you can read my own quick attempt (which also functioned as a character exploration). If you had read it without knowing beforehand what I was trying to do, would you have even noticed I hadn’t used the word “said?” Would you have been able to keep track of who was saying what?
Also, this exercise is a follow-up of a previous creative work I posted: this short story.
* * *
“I told you she was no good, man.”
Lincoln Scott sat at the bar and swirled his beer around the base of his bottle. The dark glass didn’t give any hint at how much liquid was left, but by the feel of it in his fingers, Link knew he would be ordering again shortly. “Mmhmm.”
“I mean, seriously.” Leopold crouched down over the dark wood and tried to look at Link’s face. Link pointedly avoided that gaze–not out of anger or resentment, but because he was not nearly as drunk as he wanted to be for this conversation. “She was too nosy.”
“Mmhmm.” Link waved the bartender down. The man was significantly smaller than both Lincoln and Leopold, and he was also obviously unaccustomed to the size difference. He hardly said a word to them as he dropped another Negra Modelo on the counter and moved back to the pretty blonde he was chatting up.
She smelled of such thick, desperate perfume it made Link nauseas.
Leopold sighed at Link’s extended silence. “Look.” He took a hurried sip of his rum and coke. Leopold’s mane of shaggy, golden brown hair fell around his shoulders in long, graceful heaps. “I don’t mean to say I told you so–”
“Then stop saying it.”
Lincoln sat up straight in his chair. At full height, he easily stood three inches above Leopold’s already-impressive six feet, four. The other man was undaunted by Lincoln’s size and just shook his head and rubbed his eyes with massive fingers.
“Link, you’ve never been this beaten up over a woman before.” He paused and watched Link for a reaction. There was none. “Never.”
Leopold had a point. It wasn’t that Link dated a lot of women, but he dated enough to know it was easy for him to cut the tie when the relationship was over. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Link was rarely the one who received the “we need to talk” phone call.
But Link doubted that. He figured it was because he’d never really figured out why she’d had to end it. If there was anything negative he could say about Eve, it would be that she was secretive. So secretive, in fact, that Link had never learned much more than her name, her favorite foods, and what sexual positions really got her off.
The longer he looked back at it, the less it looked like they had a “relationship” and the more it felt like a quick, passionate fling.