Friday, April 16, 2010

He said, she said ...

I have to confess, I surely did enjoy my years as a news reporter. Excitement, comedy, tragedy, drama -- and that was just the Modoc town board opening bids for trash removal. All to be boiled down for a story in the next day's Winchester New Gazette, which was still a daily back then.

One of the reporters from the "big city" paper, the Muncie Star, befriended me and shared some tips and tricks for news writing.

She and later editors all talked about how "said" is invisible to the reader. Not only do we skim right over it, but it's neutral unlike other attributions. But I liked action words like "snorted" and "chortled," "thundered," "alleged," "snarled" and a whole lot of others that I thought really jazzed up my stories.

No one but me liked my lively style. Some editors cringed and some cussed but they all agreed that "said" was about all that needed to be said. Neutral and invisible.

If we fast forward a few years, past the Peru Daily Tribune and The Farmer's Exchange, I almost feel like I am learning how to write all over again since I am working on fiction.

Sometimes we don't even need an attribution. I have been trying to use action beats instead, as long as it's clear what's going on.

I could write, Larry the city editor snarled, "What is this stuff? Were you on drugs when you wrote this?"

Or I could say, Larry threw down his blue pencil and ran his hands through his sparse hair, clenching his fists with tufts of dishwater blond poking out. He glared at the cub reporter. "What is this stuff? Were you on drugs when you wrote this?" He lurched his swivel chair across the aisle to Mary Jo, who was just lighting up a Camel. "I need a whiff of that, MJ. Just some side-stream ... now's a really bad time to quit smoking."

As I wrote this, I thought it was about attributions. But, looking back, maybe it's also about mentoring less experienced writers as well. Later on I appreciated all of my editors' time and input and friendship. I think that's one of our strengths as a group, something I have appreciated.


  1. [Grin] Yay! from a sister drama diva. I hate plain old "said." But we can let the drama show up in the beats and description instead. One of the pluses of writing fiction!

    I, too, bless those who have led me on this writing journey. . . .

  2. Sometimes I wonder about "said"--is it true it's invisible, or is it a mantra some can't let go? Maybe my eyes do slide over it when I read, but as a writer the word drives me crazy. Yes, thank goodness for beats!

  3. It is fun writing beats. Almost like staging a play. Something I couldn't do when covering Modoc, Losantville and points in between ;-)

    Shooting from the lip here ... I think if "said" or any attribution is over-used, it starts to jump off the page because it becomes more visible. It makes a pattern and our eyes like repeated elements.

    Or, maybe not. Something to think about!