What I learnt this week: he said, she said.

It’s week two on my edits for Search for Truth and I’ve finished going through the manuscript once, making all the major changes. I’ve added, shuffled and deleted bits.

Now it’s time to check that I’ve added, shuffled and deleted the right bits.

One thing I’ve been conscious of changing quite a lot is the word said.

Janet said

John said

And though my heroine is Tess and my hero Jim, I hope get my drift. When I’d grown beyond the reading stage and into the writing stage at school, I remember being taught he said, she said was very monotonous. Find different ways to express it.

Now I actually call myself a writer (gulp), I feel the weight of this responsibility even more.

And there are a host of other words to choose from. Here is my crib list. I’m sure there are many more (and if you think of them, please let me know!)

Informed, told, replied, asked, whispered, mumbled, muttered, demanded, taunted, teased, mocked, grumbled, breathed, drawled, scoffed, bellowed, ventured, stated, countered, retorted 

Sometimes these work well. They really add to the spirit of the conversation. He scoffed gives a sense of not just who is saying the words, but how they are saying them. The attitude behind the words. I can often hear my husband when I use the phrase.

‘Do you really need this many boots?’ he scoffed.


[Answer: yes]

Then trouble is, we say things in a multitude of different ways and it’s not always possible to pin the emotion down to this small list of words. I can cheat and add words after said though.

He said tightly, gently, mildly, lightly, harshly, jokingly … you get my drift.

And many times I can get away with just the speech because it’s obvious who’s talking. Or I can interrupt the speech with a he frowned, he went to shut the door (other phrases are available).

But whilst I’m worrying about all this, will my reader care? I’m not sure I even notice the use of the word said when I’m reading. Is that because I’m so engrossed in the dialogue, or because the writer has cleverly drip fed the word, mixing it with a variety of others throughout the book?

Finally, I look at Lee Child.

The guy said, ‘So that’s our legal advice?’

Reacher said, ‘Noted.’

His books are riddled with saids. And it doesn’t seem to have done him much harm, does it?

So I hope, if you read Search for Truth, your focus will be on what is being said. And not on whether I actually used the word said …


  • Sally Malcolm

    Oh that’s something I’ve gone back and forward on too. I was once told that ‘said’ is invisible to the reader and is often the better choice because words like ‘murmured’ ‘snorted’ ‘muttered’ etc are more visible, especially if it looks like the author is reaching for something that’s not ‘said’. Does that make sense? (she said). I actually find I use ‘said’ more now than in my earlier writing! I guess it’s the editor’s job to decide if it’s working or not!

    • Kathryn Freeman

      Thanks so much for dropping by Sally and very interesting to hear that said is invisible to the reader. That certainly makes sense to me as I really don’t think I notice when I’m reading. Just when I’m painstakingly editing my own work!