Don’t over-egg the pudding.
“We have had quite enough of very,” she uttered.
Writers sometimes strain to use different words when plain and simple is just fine. A common error is to seek desperately for a range of ways of indicating speech: I shouted / he screamed / she bellowed / they wailed / we whispered / he ejaculated (!) …
None of these is wrong, but too many in one piece of writing (especially the more elaborate), can distract from the dialogue. There is nothing wrong, and plenty right about the humble ‘said’ The reader can concentrate on what is being said, whilst remaining clear about which character is speaking.
Alternatively, the speech can stand alone, and the follow up phrase can indicate who is speaking, and the tone in which it was spoken. For example: “I see you have thrown out my mother’s photo.” Only the almost imperceptible clenching of his jaw, indicated John’s anger.
Instead of struggling to find alternatives to said, maybe we should expend our energy on tracking down words that slip into our work on a regular basis without us noticing. Like ‘nice.’
Jane Austen had plenty to say on the over-use of this word, as when Catherine, in Northanger Abbey, says to Henry Tilney “… but it is a nice book, and why should I not call it so?” “Very true,” said Henry, “and this is a very nice day, and we are taking a very nice walk and you two are very nice ladies. Oh! It is a very nice word indeed! It does for everything. Originally perhaps it was applied only to express neatness, propriety, delicacy or refinement: people were nice in their dress, in their sentiments, or their choice. But now, every commendation on every subject is comprised in that one word.”
Another word that crops up too often in a lot of people’s writing is very. Even with the likes of Henry Tilney (though I suspect in the extract above he was just being sarcastic). Again, the constant repetition of the word shows a lack of imagination and can get boring. There are plenty of alternatives to using very before a word. Here are a few examples:Very rich – wealthy / loadedVery poor – destitute / impoverishedVery loud – noisy / deafeningVery quiet – hushedVery often – frequentlyVery rarely – seldomVery short – briefVery long – lengthy
Alternatively, the word on its own can be be more powerful. Some years ago my husband took our French friend’s son to a cricket match. Asked how he found the experience, the boy replied, ‘long.’ Enough said!
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This is an amended version of a post that appeared in October 2017.