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Friday, May 20, 2011


Today’s post is part of the monthly blog chain with Our theme is “journey,” commemorating the journey begun by Lewis and Clark to explore and map the Louisiana Territory. Each of us has taken the word “journey” in whatever direction we feel inspired. Click on the links to the right and read what my friends have to say.


I’m a lover of books. As a child, I’d head to the library on Saturday and drag home as many books as my library card allowed. I’d devour them during the week and be back the next Saturday gathering a new pile. Over the years, I harbored a secret desire to write some of those books myself.

One day, when our kids were at an age when they needed fewer hours being hovered over, after hubby and I had wound up a business that no longer needed my attention, and after I reached the age when I was searching for that next big challenge to tackle, hubby suggested I write.

“Write? Like a book?” I stared at him open mouthed.

“Sure, why not?” He asked.

To which I responded…well, actually I had no response at all. Rather, it got me thinking.

And then it got me sitting. In the office chair. In front of the computer. With my hands on the keyboard.
My fingers began to move. Every day for 3 months. And then I had it. A book I had written all by myself. And it was good. And it was funny. And it was mine.

Okay, it was a 400-page middle grade novel from which you can deduce it wasn’t that good. But it was funny and it was mine and it was the beginning of my love of writing and creating books.

This month as I’ve been thinking about my writing journey, I forced myself back into that place where I started 11 years ago. As I was reminiscing, I found something which made me smile.

Tucked away in a corner of my word document files, was a folder neatly titled “words for said.” My very newbie writer self had created a list of words I could use instead of saying “said.” You know, those dialogue tags where one character says:

“Hey, Joe,” Bob said. “How are you?”

In my eagerness to write fabulous dialogue, I figured I needed amazing words to describe how my characters spoke. So I created “the list.” Here it is:

Answered, announced, asserted, affirmed, argued, alleged, appealed, articulated, acknowledged, blurted,  blasted, bellowed, brought up, chirped, clucked, claimed, cited, confessed, cried, cried out, cheered, contended, clarified, declared, disclosed, described, divulged, disputed, expressed, echoed, howled, hooted, inquired, insisted, imparted, mentioned, murmured, muttered, notified, pronounced, pointed out, pled, piped, proclaimed, professed, quipped, quoted, retorted, replied, revealed, remarked, recited, recounted, rumored, returned, responded, said, stated, spoke, swore, specified, stressed, shrieked, shouted, screeched, told, uttered, voiced, whispered, whooped, yammered, yelped

Did you notice they are in alphabetical order? In my actual list, they are also set out in tidy columns and separated by letter of the alphabet—i.e., all words beginning with “a” are grouped together. I’m so utterly left-brained. I’m surprised they weren’t color coded.

I mean, really—how many times will one of my characters “hoot” something to another character who will then “whoop” his response?

It didn't take me long to realize my list was silly. By that time, I had revised my book to delete all the clucks, hoots, chirps and yammers. My characters were people, after all, not animals.

I finally understood that “said” is an invisible word to readers. It’s not boring if the characters do all their talking using “said.” It’s comforting. Other words are simply distracting.

Before long however, a writing group discussion developed over whether a writer should say, “he said” or “said he.” What? Oh, dear, now the order is important? 

Not really. Consistency is more important, I decided. Use “he said” or “said he” but try not to use both. Keep it invisible by keeping it consistent. Now we were getting somewhere.

Ultimately, my writing journey has taken me to a place where I prefer not using “said” at all. Rather, I prefer action tags to clue the reader into who is speaking. For example:

Bob extended his hand. “Hey, Joe, how are you?”

When I opened that “words for said” file today I cringed and then smiled at the realization of how far I’ve come as a writer; how much I’ve grown; how much I’ve learned. And that’s just looking at one single word and understanding how to use it. The dictionary is filled with words. And the writing life is waiting to be filled with lessons learned.

Nonetheless, in writing, as in life, you never know how far you’ve come until you look behind you and see the distance you’ve covered.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, thank you for the journey you take us on in life. Thank you for lessons learned and lessons yet to be learned. Thank you for making us teachable. Amen.

WHAT ABOUT YOU? Do you have a lesson to share that you learned about writing?


Nona King said...

EXCELLENT post. :) Loved how you weaved in the lessons learned with a smile after the initial cringe. We should never be ashamed of where we have come from as writers. Everything is part of the journey!

From Carol's Quill said...

@Nona--true. Will we ever reach the point where we don't cringe? Probably not.

Debra Ann Elliott said...

I love it!You captured the true essence of a writer's journey.

TraciB said...

Great post, Carol. Some of my earliest explorations in writing included creative ways to say "said." :)

From Carol's Quill said...


Thanks for your comments, gals. So glad it sounds like a universal experience

Tracy Krauss said...

Interesting. I saw a similar list in a classroom the other day ... (Grade 7, I think ...)Isn't it amazing how something we thought was perfect at one time can look so very flawed only a few years (or months) later?

From Carol's Quill said...

@Tracy - You're right. Then again, some lessons seem to take forever to learn, don't they?

E G Lewis said...

Great post. I can sympathize, a personality profile once showed me to be an analytic analytic. Some writers stick to said and nothing but said, however there are rare oocassions when something else is appropriate. As they say, anything is Okay if it works. The key is knowing when it works and when it doesn't," he exclaimed gleefully.
Peace and Blessings

Victor Travison said...

One dialogue tag I used to love, though I can't imagine why now, is "he wanted to know." Shoot, if he didn't want to know, he wouldn't be asking the question at all, would he? Yeah, I can definitely identify.

~ VT

Adam Collings said...

Great to be able to look back on the journey and see that progress has been made. When I was in grade 3 my teacher had a similar list on the wall. It was titled "Instead of said".

TheWriteChris said...

So what did happen to that 400 page MG book? Will it someday become a series?

Sheila said...

Answer to your question: Something I still struggle with is getting rid of filters. Not:
I think this post is wonderful.
This post is wonderful.
"I think" is not necessary for I am the one putting my thoughts in writing.

Thanks for sharing!

From Carol's Quill said...

@ E.G. Glad to know another analytical analytic. No doubt you're an outliner, too, she yelped excitedly. :-)

From Carol's Quill said...

@ VT - Yes, why did you use that tag, I want to know. I love it!

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Adam - so Tracy saw the list in a 7th grade class and you saw one in 3rd grade. Alas. It's time to grow up. At least in our writing. Never in life! Never, I say. Never, say I? Never, never, I yammer.

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Chris - 11 years later the 400-page MG novel is just over 100 pages. Now it's too trim and needs fleshing. My story is now as old as my protagonists!

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Sheila - *I think* you're wonderful!

lynnmosher said...

Carol, what a great post! Excellent blend of thoughts on your journey. I still cringe at some of my writing! Blessings as you continue your journey.

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Lynn - Thanks for the comment. We've just GOT to stop cringing. What if our faces freeze that way?

Sarah said...

Funny! I use to have a lot of different word lists. Verbs, adverbs (cringe), and even the replacement for "said" word list.

Looking back on my old work is actually encouraging. I have to go back every once in awhile, when my new work has me cringing, to prove to myself that I can, in fact, learn and improve.

I'm not sure I will ever stop cringing. Lol! But, I've heard that smiling keeps those muscles from freezing. So, smile after every cringe and you should be good! :D

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Sarah -- adverbs? Oh, Sarah "how could you?" LOL. Once I actually counted the number of times JK Rowling used the adverb "incredulously" in a single book. It was an incredulous number! So I suppose we can use a few adverbs, too. Yes, let's smile.

Jan Christiansen said...

I love going back and reading some of my early writings...they're always good for a laugh! Enjoyed your post.

From Carol's Quill said...

@Jan - laughing instead of that's a good idea!

Anonymous said...

Carol, that was absolutely a JOY to read! Every single word of it! Thank you.

From Carol's Quill said...

@ breathedeeply - Thank you, Cindee.

Scott Fields said...

Thank you, Carol. You've finally given me the courage to stop my characters from "piping" their dialogue. . . .

This made me laugh, mostly because of its relatability. Why does a strong, healthy writer's journey always end in the embarrassment of our early work? I guess it can't be an altogether bad thing, since it's something we all experience. I just wish it could be a little less . . . awkward.

Thanks for your post, Carol.

From Carol's Quill said...

@ Scott - thanks for "piping up" and telling us what you think! It's good we can laugh -- especially at ourselves.