Writers (and publishers) are a fickle lot. We change according to fad, fashion, and the vagaries of a public with bullying tendencies. Pick up a book from classical literature and compare it with the tripe passing as “bestsellers” today and you’ll see what I mean.
That’s not to say that all bestsellers are tripe, nor are all classics timeless. Culture changes and with it what is trending. The one thing that often puzzles me, however, is the rabid arrogance of a segment of authors and publishers who limit the scope of writing.
Take the much maligned “said,” for instance. The controversy over whether or not to use “said” runs the gamut from those who insist on nothing else to those who avoid the word like the plague.
One of the reasons I choose to write in English (beside the fact that it’s my native language—I could as easily write in Spanish), is the variety and beauty of the language. English nouns have multiple synonyms: House, cottage, residence, dwelling, abode, domicile, shack, apartment, cabin, hut, quarters, lodging, etc.
Adjectives are equally delightful: Brilliant: shining, blazing, dazzling, impressive, vivid, luminous, radiant, coruscating, etc.
But where English really shines are its verbs.
Take the simple, understated, and misunderstood verb “to say” or in its past tense form “said.”
Like much of English’s overused and overworked words, said has the tendency to fade into the background, become white noise, the placeholder when writers can’t think of a specific word.
English verbs, like other parts of English, have nuance. The texture and taste of a verb changes with the word, coloring emotions, enriching sensations, adding complexity with one word instead of wasting the reader’s time trying to “show” the same things with 50 different words.
I’m not undermining the need for writers to “show” instead of “tell,” but using vivid verbs instead of said is not “telling.” It is masterful use of a complex and rich language. At what point does the writer use “shouted” instead of “cajoled?” What’s the difference between “scream” and “yell?” There is a subtle difference in the same manner that there are differences between azure and cobalt. A talented writer knows the difference, while an amateur uses them interchangeably for “blue.”
Instead of limiting writers out of fear of “telling,” we ought to be teaching writer to become masters in the art of subtlety.