Nature, She Said; Nurture, He Replied

My AP English teacher in high school stressed any word other than “said.” My professor in my junior year of college told me to never use any word other than “said.” There seems to be a schism between educators in the creative writing field, split by the notion of which dialogue tag to use – the monosyllabic simplicity flexible in expression, or the perfect specificity?

This rift reminds me of the Nature vs. Nurture debate. Do individuals grow and become the people they do because it’s in their nature, or did their environment shape them? Do sentences grow with specific words, or do these tags distract? It seems to me that “said” is the “Nature” side of the debate, while a more specific tag is the “Nurture.”

So I say, why not both? In my own writing, I use “said” the most; however, I do not shy away from specific tags. My characters question, exclaim, answer, declare, blurt, laugh, mumble, mutter, murmur, lead, confess, bark, comment, snicker, stutter, swear, and wonder, but they also say. Every word has a place in language, and sometimes while one character says something, another might shout their words, or sneer, or giggle. Why can’t the natural “said” share the page with the nurturing “whispered”? It is my understanding that science has determined that development is a matter of both sides; how are dialogue tags any different?


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