Using ‘Said’ Does Not Make You A Bad Writer

I don't understand. I chose big words at random, why am I not a famous author yet?
I don’t understand. I chose big words at random, why am I not a famous author yet?

I peruse the internet a lot, and as I do a lot of writey and editey things, I’m in a lot of writey editey circles and communities. There’s a lot of talk about how to improve your game, write more gooder, sell more books, brainstorm and all sorts of things. But there’s one thing going around that I’ve been puzzled by, and it’s this idea that you shouldn’t use words that are too ‘plain.’

There are graphics that scold you for using the word ‘said,’ saying that you can’t even use it once in your entire book. Just forget it. You can’t use words like ‘good’ to talk about how your characters are feeling, not even in dialogue. There’s also a lot of vitriol over people using the word ‘sad.’ Apparently that word just isn’t good enough for some people anymore.

Upon discovering that I was a terrible writer for daring to use such words, I sought out help. I thought that sometimes simple words were appropriate. Sometimes you just feel ‘sad’ instead of morose or bitter or bereaved or gloomy or forlorn or melancholy or morbid or sorrowful or pensive or troubled or wistful or doleful or distressed. Sometimes your character ‘said’ something, they didn’t articulate, sound, tell, utter, voice, cry, shout, scream, mutter, bellow, sing or wail. Sometimes your character feels ‘good,’ not splendid, acceptable, favorably, marvelous, previous, satisfied, reputable, superb, wonderful or honorable.

But that’s just coming from me, and as a writer and editor, I am obviously unqualified to make any point on this subject. So I called in a friend. Please welcome our special guest, Captain Thesaurus.

DK: So you’re Captain Thesaurus. What is your job?

CT: My occupation is to intercede scribes by manifesting them with more sophisticated substitutions for elementary and facile designations.

DK: Those are some impressive words there. So what do you think about people using words like ‘said,’ for example, instead of words with more letters and syllables?

CT: I postulate that I would require a perusal of the literary components in question before embracing a scrupulous culmination of my conjectures.

DK: …what?

CT: I need to read it before I can say for sure, dude.

DK: Oh, okay. So are you saying that it depends on the work in question?

CT: Not entirely! You see, bibliophiles hold many contradistinctive and incommensurable predilections when it comes to materials they select for their scrutiny. I posit that individuals should appropriate paraphernalia that coincides with their individual predisposition rather than attempt to necessitate that everyone abide by their illusory precepts.

DK: Sorry, try again?

CT: Read and write what you like, don’t force your ideas on other people.

DK: So it’s all down to preference, and occasionally using more basic words doesn’t make you a bad writer?

CT: In a word, correct. In more words, appropriate, equitable, factual, faultless, flawless, free of error, impeccable, legitimate, perfect, precise, righteous, right, undistorted…

Aaaaand that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you for joining us, and I hope this helps clear a few things up. From my perspective, I think everyone should broaden their vocabulary, because having a command of the language you write in is extremely beneficial. But the idea that you can’t ever use more basic words because they’re wrong or bad is just silly. Use what is appropriate, and don’t think that you have to use something that sounds more complex just because.

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12 thoughts on “Using ‘Said’ Does Not Make You A Bad Writer

    1. I think this is a good way of putting it. Sometimes writing is very purposefully not conversational, but a lot of times if you want writing to be invisible, if you want the message to flow and people to focus on the story more than the words, using words that people are more comfortable with tends to yield better results. Every word has a place!

  1. Very nice. I like to think that story telling (in whatever shape or form) should be just that. A lot of those “big words” don’t seem entirely tangible to me, but we’d want to use words that make it easy for the reader’s mind to enter “the zone” of imagining the world and the characters of a book, no?

  2. I’ve been discovering this. It’s interesting that they proclaim those words to be so horrendous when in reality they are not plain, but normal. Most life is normal, and when telling a story, something has to be normal or the exciting won’t seem thrilling, the sad won’t seem morose, and the exciting won’t seem ecstatic. Not to mention it makes things much more simple when trying to write a compelling story.

    1. That’s the point someone else brought up on another site, and I like it. If everything is extreme or special, then that’s the new normal, so nothing can be special.

    2. Agreed. Generally the characters should have a ‘normal’ starting point for their journey, and using simple language can help build a contrast.

      Also giving your characters ‘normal’ emotions can help make them more relatable.

  3. Strongly agree with this.

    Often a character will feel a basic emotion, so the basic word to describe it is the best.
    I don’t totally agree with the idea that the simplest communication of an idea is ALWAYS the best (sometimes the poetic description works best) but often it is.

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