Should I Replace “Said” with Synonyms?

One topic that gets debated quite frequently in writing is the question of whether writers should use the word “said” or choose a synonym for the word. Any piece of writing with character dialogue has to deal with this question, and there’s really two camps that stand their ground fervently. On one hand, English teachers tend to absolutely love when synonyms are chosen instead of the word “said” repeated ad nauseum. On the other hand, most successful literary authors, tend to use “said” more than any other word when describing a character talking. But there are notable exceptions. Which is right?

The Case for Synonyms

The English language is so versatile and varied, so why would you want to stick to just one word when describing someone talking? After all, you can say so much about character emotion with how you describe the way they talk. By simply switching the word “said” with one of its many synonyms, you can add so much color to your writing.

English teachers tend to love this because, well, they tend to be big fans of the English language. By sticking to only using “said,” you are basically blocking yourself off of a wide section of the language. To them, language is music. Sure, a song with just three chords and no melody can be a popular song, but they just aren’t as impressive as a master of music theory’s masterpiece compositions. To them, it’s boring, like eating the same food every meal. Can you survive on it? Sure. But variety is nice, too.

Writing different words instead of “said” every time effectively makes a point about how the character says the things they say, without having to go into descriptions of it. By simply swapping one word, you have conveyed to the reader the raw emotions of the speaker, and you don’t have to worry too much about trying to figure out other ways to do it through your writing.

The Simplicity of “Said”

Here’s the thing you might realize on your own while writing: having to come up with new synonyms for “said” is a heavy burden to bear while writing. If your goal is to be varied in what words you use instead, then it quickly becomes a question of how long you can keep the variety going. It’s easy in the beginning when you’ve got so many to choose from, but when you find yourself continuously going back to your list of synonyms trying to find appropriate ones you haven’t used too many times, it takes away from your ability to write efficiently.

Here’s the thing about “said”: it’s invisible. You don’t think about it when you read it. It doesn’t remove you from the story at all, and you get your point across without wondering “did this person really sputter while they said that?” The truth is most likely no, the character didn’t sputter the words, the character said those things. It doesn’t have to be more interesting than that to the average reader, so why make it harder on yourself when writing?

Not only that, but if you’re trying to get your book published through an agent/publisher, you’re up against people who look at synonyms for “said” as a mark of an amateur writer. Not every agent/publisher will think this, of course, but you’re better off to know that that’s the typical sentiment. As a new writer trying to break through in traditional means, your best bet is probably to know this, as well as other things that make you seem like an amateur.

When All is Said and Done…

You will have to decide what works best for you as a writer. In the end, you should write for your own enjoyment. Write the way you would want to read, and if that includes a lot of variety in the way you say the word “said”, then go ahead and do that. If you find it too taxing to do so and aren’t happy with the way you have to keep up with the synonyms, then maybe you can be relieved to learn that many agents won’t be interested in such variety.

One thing to keep in mind is that one of the most successful book series of all times uses an enormous amount of synonyms for the word “said.” If J.K. Rowling can write Harry Potter to such phenomenal success and include all the synonyms for “said” that she does, that certainly makes a strong case for writing your books the way you want to write them.

1 thought on “Should I Replace “Said” with Synonyms?”

  1. Very interesting! I tend to enjoy books more that don’t try too hard to include flowery language… or take 20 pages just to describe a lamp, for example. 😊

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