Dealing With “Says”

One of the things I hate when reading other authors is how often they use the word “says.”

This is where you roll your eyeballs and go, “okay, have you got your black turtleneck sweater and round-rimmed glasses, because you’ve just turned into a literary hipster.” Don’t, because there’s a reason for this.

“Says” is easy, but it also doesn’t give you a chance to let your characters breathe and develop more personality and express more of the story. For example, maybe one of your characters is one of those kinds of people that talks with their hands as much as their words. And, you read every time he talks, the dialog comes out something like this-

“This new pizza place,” Willy grinned, fingers drumming along the top of the table, “best pizza I’ve had in years.”

-and now, if you didn’t have that additional description, Willy would be a little less fleshed out. He doesn’t smile, he grins. His fingers drum on the table-top and that means he’s always sort of moving, not quite sitting still. It adds flavor to the character, gives him a bit more characterization.

When I was writing Solist At Large and The Winter Solist, one of the things I always tried to keep track of-and put in the story-was how characters spoke. Adelaide likes to talk, and there’s a lot of emotion in her words. Sayuri is dry and laconic, but when she gets interested in something…she gets interested. Charles is every David Tennant character…and, yes, all of them. Ian is the classic mid-rank British Army officer of the Victorian era and is pomp and circumstance.

And so on.

This also matters, because it primes you. You start to hear these characters’ cadence, their patterns of speaking, almost as if you were hearing them in person. Then, when they stop talking that way…something has changed.

So, what changed?

That’s where the storytelling becomes interesting.

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