I had the wonderfully witty and mundane conversations stuck in my head after listening to Ali Smith Autumn. I don’t remember much about the content of the conversations, but I do remember the tags: I said, he said, I said, he said.
Just hearing that forbidden word repeated a multitude of times felt liberating and refreshing. It felt almost as if said were taboo, that I had heard something naughty. Usually, the verb is seen as repetitive and controversial and you are advised by your teacher not to use it, find alternatives that are more creative and substantial. But when the narrator uttered that simple word over and over, I felt the impact. I felt the impact that is everyday dialogue.
Said is such a natural word. Most words are said. When we have a normal conversation we don’t scream one thing and whisper another. You don’t speak softly and hoarsely, you just speak in your normal mundane voice.
So when dialogue is surrounded by different synonyms and adverbs it can start to feel clunky. Speech can begin to feel unnatural. It is evident when the writer has gone to a thesaurus and has begun listing out all the different version for said and more. What is wrong with a little repetition? Creative writing teachers are also telling us to use repetition in our writing, it helps emphasise the meaning. So why can’t the repetition of said in particular conversations hold the same purpose? Why can’t it show the true nature of a conversation?
And the dialogue is hard to get a spot on anyway; it never quite comes out right in fiction. With the use of said where it needs to be, it can be perfectly replicated. It shows the input and output of a conversation clearly without distracting with the fancy decoration around the quotation marks. In a way, said acts as a form of punctuation. Separating one speaker to another. With the addition of new words, dialogue can get messy and hard to understand.
Of course, said should not be used after every single sentence. But I do think the little word needs to be rejuvenated. It has almost become underused — unless you read a four-year-olds story — and if used carefully in a work of fiction now can have a fresh and exciting impact. That’s how I felt after reading Autumn. A book I cannot wait to own in the flesh and linger on the simple word for a little longer.