The idea of writing, it seems to me, is to express oneself. That is, as the brilliant and far-too-absent Tom Lehrer once said, "If a person can't communicate, the very least he can do is to shut up." Gets you right here, doesn't it?
What I like about writing fiction is not, as some will tell you, that there are no rules. There are rules; you just don't have to follow them. As I tell my students (when I have students), if you break the rules after learning them, you've made a choice. If you don't learn the rules and you break them, that's a mistake.
So given that creative writing is just that--creative--I'd like to know exactly who decided which words I can use and which ones I can't. (Or is it "whom"?)
There is a school of fiction that insists no word but "said" can follow a line of dialogue. "You don't say," he said. (It's called an "identifier," which I don't think helps at all.) And so on. No other word is acceptable: They're showy, they take you out of the story; they're the mark of an amateur. (Some people say you can't use semi-colons either; I love 'em.)
Balderdash. (I could have said "bullshit," but I made a choice. Writing is a series of choices.)
I love writing dialogue. I don't think I'd write fiction at all if I couldn't write dialogue. I love making up conversations and hopefully making them entertaining. So I write a lot of dialogue in my books (read one, or nine, and you'll see what I mean. Seriously. Read them.). And I absolutely refuse to restrict myself solely to the verb "said" after every word one of my characters might care to utter.
No "asked" after a question? No "rasped" when a character is stunned, or has a sore throat? No "gasped," or "cried," or "hollered," or "pointed out"? I thought the whole idea here was to convey an emotion, a feeling. Reading "said" all the time, even when it's being done by a master like Robert B. Parker, who was addicted to the word, is like being hit lightly over the head with a hammer every few seconds. It's like listening to a story being told by Sgt. Joe Friday. Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts. If I want to only hear the facts, I can tune in The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. (I don't envy that writing staff its job today!)
Now, I'm not insensitive to the complaints some of the members of the Word Police might voice. There are indeed some speaking verbs (sorry, identifiers) that are distractions, flowery affectations that are evidence of a writer showing off rather than immersing him/herself in the situation and living the scene. Words like "noted," "expostulated," "brayed," "mentioned," "interjected" and "sobbed."
I've used them all. Except "expostulated." Guy has to draw the line somewhere.
Each such word conveys an idea. Next time you have a conversation with someone, see if perhaps the way each of you expresses thoughts--the tone in your voice, the sound of the words--carries a message, a conscious message that would not be evident if a transcript of the talk were printed up and handed to your nosy family or the neighbors who appear to have a spyglass on your house day and night, and never seem to understand that a little privacy...
Sorry. One gets caught up.
The point is, without inflection, some meaning is lost. And if the only choice the writer has is the verb "said," inflection is not going to be heard in the reader's mind's ear. It is the author's job to tell the whole story, not just the incidents in the plot. Restrict us, and you insist on tying one hand behind our backs. Try typing like that sometime. 80,000 words or more.
I'll often gets notes from the copy editor on my books because I actually go too far with my speaking verbs, and say things like, "'Get out of town,' Maxie enjoyed herself." Now, I know that technically "enjoyed herself" doesn't describe speech, and in almost every case, I've been shouted down, but the point is, that's what I'm thinking when I write the line. And if I believe it evokes the moment properly, I'll argue to leave it in.
George Carlin said there are 400,000 words in the English language (although I doubt he counted them all--I think he was quoting an unnamed source, like Webster's Dictionary), and that seven of them couldn't be said on television. You know which ones.
But I think the writer should be allowed access to all 400,000. Whether Stephen King thinks it's a good idea or not.
P.S. Glen Duncan? Go pleasure yourself.
I could have said something else, but I made a choice.