Bringing Out The Animal In Me…?!

snarlI read a short story last week in which the main character snarled – not just once, but twice – and no, she wasn’t a werewolf or a dog: it was a person doing the snarling (an annoyed person, admittedly).

The very next day, I spotted a ‘snarled’ in the book I’m reading (Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith) and last week, when I was flicking through a Jilly Cooper novel, Harriet (oh-so-1970s, but oh-so-good!) – all in the name of research – another ‘snarled’ jumped out at me!

There’s a name for that, by the way – ‘frequency illusion’ (‘the illusion in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards’).

The main reason I noticed ‘snarled’ in the first place though, is that I don’t LIKE it!

Although the definition of ‘snarled’ is ‘to say something in an angry, bad-tempered voice’, so it’s not actually wrong to attribute it to someone’s speech in writing, it just sounds wrong to me, like something an animal would do.

‘Snarled’, I would go as far as to say, is a ‘said bookism’.

You know, the words that some (dare I say it… novice) writers employ to avoid using the word ‘said’ too much. ‘He expostulated’, ‘She expounded’ ‘He rejoindered’ ‘She shrieked’ and so on.

‘Said bookims’ detract from the dialogue, they can be unintentionally funny – and I will always remember the writing tutor who told me that it’s impossible to ‘smile’ words, so you should never write something like, ‘I promise,’ he smiled.

There’s nothing wrong with using the word ‘said’ time and time again. The reader will barely notice it: instead, they’ll be concentrating on the dialogue, which is what you want them to do!

I don’t think one of my characters has ever ‘snarled’ or ‘barked’, or ‘growled’ or ‘whimpered’ and never will, unless he is a dog of course, hmm, or maybe a vampire…

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19 Responses to Bringing Out The Animal In Me…?!

  1. Downith says:

    My characters have a really bad habit of snorting too much…( just air, not drugs)

  2. That made me laugh! and what kind of animal does that remind me of…? Yes, a little piggy wiggy, I’m afraid!

  3. On the other hand we are told to avoid using adverbs. ‘He said angrily’ etc

    • that’s true. So no ‘said bookisms’ and no adverbs. I think the dialogue -and any actions – should convey the tone. So instead of ‘he said angrily’ you could say. Martin slammed the book on the desk. “What the hell are you doing?” That should – hopefully – convey anger without having to actually spell it out. (sorry. the lesson endeth here!)

  4. You make some good points, Helen. But that mention of Jilly Cooper’s ‘Harriet’ immediately took me back to my teenage school days. We used to pass those books all round the class – we adored them!

    • Sally, I still adore them! Have recently re-read Octavia and Harriet and while they are SOOO dated (everyone smokes, uses politically-incorrect words and phrases and the men are BEASTS!) they are still a great read. Jilly Cooper is, to my mind, a very underestimated writer!

  5. I have a character who snorts. She is rather posh and it suited her – that’s my excuse!
    My husband pointed out that I’d used the word ‘grimaced’ twice in my novel. Grounds for divorce?

  6. Sara Kellow says:

    As a child I read too much Enid Blyton and copied her style which led to the use of the word “ejaculated” instead of said. My teachers must have been in hysterics!

    • Goodness me, yes, Sara, you are right! (I Googled ‘Enid Blyton..ejaculated’ with some trepidation, I must admit but it was a word she used – along with ‘queer’ and ‘fag’ – but of course, they all had different meanings in those days!). If anyone’s interested in finding out more about EB, there’s a whole society devoted to her. Ah, looking at those book titles really takes me back… happy days!

  7. I started writing (and copiously reading) children’s fiction this year, and the rules seem different as far as I can tell. To begin with, I winced at every, “‘you’re bonkers,’ he smiled”. But I realised that, not only is it prevelant in kids’ fiction, it is actually possible to smile and talk, especially if you’re six! Also my 6yo is learning adverbs at school, so her writing is littered with them (at six?! I didn’t know what an adverb was until I was ordered to expell them from my writing).
    So I agree with you completely, while at the same time my writing is full of grimacing, hissing, sneering, jeering and smiling. I might even have to sneak in a snarled! 😉

    • Amanda, I will allow you a ‘snarled’ – particularly as children’s fiction seems to have different rules! I suppose it makes it more animated/lively for children if the characters are described in that way.

  8. Graham Cowley says:

    Sorry Helen this is unrelated to your “Animal” blog but your may remember or not I did a course with my daughter with you some years ago. Since then I have subscribed to the Writing Magazine and I spotted an article of yours “Dear Diary” . It inspired me to send a letter and to my big surprise it was published in the November edition. That day I certainly had something to write in my diary. I always look out for your articles – keep up the good work.
    Graham( and Sian)

    • Graham, of COURSE I still remember you and Sian – how lovely of you to comment! Yours was the class, I always tell people, in which I had a father and daughter (you two!) and a mother and son, which I’ve never had before or since but always struck me as a lovely thing for a parent and child to do together. Glad to see you’re still writing!

  9. Wendy Clarke says:

    I still think of all the time spent as teachers getting the children to think of interesting words to replace the ‘boring’ word ‘said’… and the teaching of adverbs. “Waste of time,” she snarled, angrily.

  10. Tracy Fells says:

    “Really enjoyed this post, Helen,” she smarmed. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. Have to agree with everything here. Nothing beats ‘said’)

  11. Thanks for this timely reminder, Helen. I’ve just changed a ‘growled’ to ‘said’.
    I do try to stick to ‘said’ – and the occasional ‘asked’ – but I get bored with said… said … said … when writing a longish conversation. In my stories for adults I can get round this by changing some of the direct speech to reported speech, adding some action, or trusting the reader to understand who’s talking without me having to explain all the time.
    The ‘growled’ slipped into a children’s story I’m writing. Four characters are talking together so I need to have ‘A’ said, ‘B’ said, attached to each speech for clarity. It seemed a bit too repetitive to me, so I let one of them growl. Well, he was getting cross with the others!
    But, taking your advice, I’ve changed it. And, yes, it works.

  12. rosgemmell says:

    Great post! For some reason ‘snarled’ makes me think it should just apply to male characters, if at all (I haven’t used it!). Laughed at the Enid Blyton memories – I can’t even remember any of those words being used. Much prefer ‘said’ as we don’t notice it.

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