Thursday, September 20, 2012

Put Said to Bed

Last week my daughter's teacher sent out an e-blast letting us know what the children would be learning the upcoming week. As I scanned the e-mail I noticed in their Writing lesson they were going to learn how to "put said to bed". The image I kept getting was of poor little said, being sent to bed with no supper. I wondered if said would be the type of word who kept looking for ways to stay awake, rubbing its eyes, asking for water and maybe needing an extra blanket or two.

I was impressed because I don't remember learning something so fun in my own fourth grade class. I remember doing a report on the natural resources of Alabama.

But then I thought, is this really the right lesson for a writer? 

Said gets a bad rap, doesn't it? Use it too much it gets redundant and boring. Don't even think of spicing it up with an adverb (shudder) because the literary police will actually come knocking on your door and ticket you for lazy writing. "Then of course there are using other words in its place," she scoffed. 

Just the other night I had a conversation with my daughter that went something like this...

G - "Mom, what's another word for said?"
Me - "What do you mean?"
G-"You know, what can I use instead of said?" 
Me - "Um, hmm, well, you see..." 

No, really, try and answer that question easily. It wasn't that I was stumped, but I had to ask her what was going on in the scene. And then suddenly I was getting into dialogue mechanics* and the tone of the scene and what point did she want to get across and really all she wanted to do was finish her work, watch some Phineas and Ferb and then go to bed herself. 

To be clear, I don't have a problem teaching fourth graders to find different words for overused ones. I get it. This is for creativity, not creating a Printz-worthy masterpiece. It expands their minds, makes them think. As I revised some of my own writing this week, that little phrase kept going through my head. And while I didn't put said to bed on every page, I did give it some warm milk and made the suggestion on quite a few. The result was tighter, more concise dialogue.

Maybe not a bad lesson for writers after all. 

So how about you? Do you have trouble putting said to bed? 

*For a great lesson on dialogue mechanics and the word said please refer to the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.


  1. Oh, my daughter's 5th grade teacher did this, and it drove me crazy! She sent home a list of synonyms from "advised" to "zinged" and told the kids they would only be able to use the word "said" twice per page. My daughter already knew this was bum advice, and asked me what I thought.

    I said she'd have to follow the teacher's instructions, but that professional writers use "said" quite a lot, and that outside of this assignment, so should she.

    It just made me wonder if the teacher read much published fiction herself.

  2. Marcia - I feet the same way. I like that the kids are getting to think outside the box, etc, but no, people cannot "laugh" sentences, no matter how happy they are!!

  3. I definitely saw this when I was a teacher. And yes, it drove me crazy. "Said is dead" is a fun phrase and it seems to make sense (if you're not a writer) that the more word variety the better.

    When I taught Writer's Workshop, I always tried to teach writing to my students as one writer to another. Sharing what I had learned so far and what my most important writing teachers-- great authors-- had taught me. But most teachers are not writers. So it is challenging...

    I think it is awesome when teachers get to participate in programs like the National Writing Project-- I got to do Connecticut Writing Project and it was wonderful! Also, books about writing by teachers who write like Nancy Atwell-- In the Middle-- Lucy Calkins, Ralph Fletcher and Barry Lane-- can be wonderful guides for teachers. They certainly were for me!

  4. Agree it's nice to broaden horizons for students, but yikes, this gives kids the wrong idea.

    Let's hope it's one lesson they soon forget!

  5. Aw, c'mon - tell them to give said some cred!

  6. Great practice for young writers, frustrating for parents. Especially parents just wanting their teenagers to GO TO BED!