He said, she said


First let me say–I’m not complaining, no sour grapes here. I was simply wondering, pondering, the current resistance against the use of “said” as a descriptor of dialogue. Let’s look at an impromptu dialogue:

“I’m leaving you.” He slammed the door behind him. The window was open. She heard his footsteps on the sidewalk. “Fine,” she said.

I do understand the “show” versus “tell” advice. The reader should see the anger, i.e. the man’s slamming of the door. But of her response we see nothing we have a single word and the fact that she said it. Is that so bad? If we know enough about her–the woman who says “fine,”– isn’t she said enough?

I think he said or she said allows the reader a bit of freedom to fill in the neutral space with the proper emotion. It empowers the reader. It engages. Because I’m not told that she “whispered” or “screamed,” or that she ran to the window and threw out his dirty underwear, I, the reader, can imagine, in my own way, the sound of her voice. We empathize with those characters we care about.

Please forgive my not-so-great dialogue. Let’s look at an iconic master of dialogue: Hemingway. Here’s a dialogue sample from Hemingway’s short story The Battler.

“They all bust their hands on me,” the little man said. “They couldn’t hurt me.”

He looked at Nick. “Sit down,” he said. “Want to eat?”

“Don’t bother,” Nick said. “I’m going on to town.”

“Listen,” the man said. “Call me Ad.”

Now, the point I’m not making so well is this: Is the use of “said” such a bad thing? When I read the above Hemingway I really don’t get tired of the repeated use of “said” It doesn’t “get in the way.” I find myself filling in the blank space left by “he said.”

I wonder if the simple “he said, she said” can indeed foster greater empathy on the part of the reader. I don’t think we as writers should over-do it, but I still ask: “Shouldn’t we on occasion utilize the neutral said and by so doing, fuel the reader’s imagination?

6 thoughts on “He said, she said

  1. candyyork

    I think said is perfectly acceptable. Some people over use the thesaurus searching out words that mean said and use those, but if I read one more romance novel (which is what I write) where they use interjected, or something similar, I will cry! I’m all for words like snapped, pleaded, bit out – but sometimes instead of said, or something similar, people could just have the dialog, making sure it’s clearly implied who’s speaking and leave it at that. I think some people are trying to add to their word count by the “she said quietly”, “he said emphatically” etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Ginger

    You ‘said’ that very well! I do agree that use of the word does leave more space for imagination, a component I love to use when reading.

    I had avoided this post because of the header … “he said, she said” was the standard recipe for all those court reports I wrote for years. Trying to quote highly volatile conversations verbatim was an art we had to perfect … guess now people can record on their phones?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul Post author

      Oh thank you so much Ginger. I didn’t get much response from that post, we’re all disappointed a bit when that happens, so what a nice surprise to see your thoughtful remarks. Yeah, maybe it was the title…:-).

      And you were a court reporter! OMG! What a great way to prep for novel writing…not that you planned it that way!

      Thanks again for replying. I value your opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ginger

        No when working in child protection, adoption and juvenile deliquency one becomes an officer of the court. We have to prepare court reports on our cases. I did a couple of posts about some of my ‘weird’ cases and people thought I was writing fiction. They told me to get real … so i deleted those posts. Sadly reality is much stranger than our imaginations!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Paul Post author

        I once had a professor who said if we locked ourselves up in a room for a week and imagined the worst things possible that could happen to a human being then get out and collect ten newspapers from major cities around the world, not only would we see that what we had imagined had come true, but it was worse.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Ginger

        Far worse than any one should know! Gives me a far deeper understanding of people who struggle with life at many levels eg mental health and drug abuse issues, etc. Sadly it’s often the only way they know how to cope.

        Liked by 1 person

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