Never say “shared” and other tips for quoting people

If you write articles, blog posts, or books, you’re going to quote people. I recommend the tried and true “said.” Avoid other dialogue verbs, especially “shared.”

“Shared” makes you sound like a total novice

Does this impress you?

When I interviewed her on Zoom, she was very excited about the new idea. “We expect this to spread like wildfire, because we’ve tapped a universal need,” she shared.

I have no idea why “shared” is suddenly so popular with the writers I edit, but let’s shut it down now. You may think you are communicating the intimate interview session you just conducted, but all you’re actually doing is revealing that you don’t know how to write dialogue. And that’s not a massively difficult skill.

Any of the following would work (and note that we don’t need to know you did a Zoom interview either, that’s probably not relevant).

“We expect this to spread like wildfire, because we’ve tapped a universal need,” she said.

Why will this be popular? “We expect this to spread like wildfire,” Johannsson said, “because we’ve tapped a universal need.”

She expressed broad enthusiasm for the idea. As she put it, “We expect this to spread like wildfire, because we’ve tapped a universal need.”

Decent fiction writers already know that “said” is fine for direct quotes, and there’s generally no need for “exploded,” “whined,” “ejaculated,” or “mumbled.” They’re allowed to use the occasional adverb (“she said slowly” or “she said slyly”). In fiction, occasional colorful prose is forgivable. But in nonfiction, it isn’t. If you have people whining, blurting, drawling, or droning their direct quotes, you’re coloring their statements with your judgment. Please allow us readers to judge them based on what they said, not how you described their method of speech.

Add variety with sentence structure, not different verbs for “said.”

You may get sick of all the “said”s in your prose. Believe me, they are pretty much invisible to your reader. While word repetition is distracting for most words, a reader is not going to notice the repetition of the word “said,” any more than other commonly repeated words like “the,” “and,” or “of.”

Even so, you can vary how you express direct quotes.

You can put the name and “said” at the start or the end of a sentence.

You can quote someone at length in a block quote (an indented paragraph or two indicating an extended quote).

You can include the “said” tag in the middle: “That,” she said, “is unacceptable.”

You can use a colon, as in “Here’s how she described the software: ‘Solid as a rock, never goes down — if the internet is up, it’s running.’ “

You can imply a quote without actually saying “said”: “He was adamant that he’d never vote against the filibuster: ‘Over my dead body.’ “

Pay close attention to writing you find interesting. You’ll find dozens of ways to quote people and make their speech come alive in the reader’s imagination, even if you limit yourself to one verb for speech: “said.”

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

One Comment

  1. Writers can do editors another favor and avoid backward construction. The word “said” fades into the background until you see “said Smith” instead of “Smith said.” You would never write “walked Smith,” so don’t write “said Smith.” End of public service announcement.