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?