Today’s post is part of the monthly blog chain with ChristianWriters.com. 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?