René Penn

Aspiring author writing about the journey.

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…And Then I Saw ‘Lady Bird’

charles-deluvio-466054-unsplash.jpgI’ve been behind the writing schedule I set for my novel-in-progress. I should have already sent out my third draft to two beta readers. They may have even provided feedback by now, if they were completely riveted by the story. (Or not.)

As the dates slid, I decided not to wag the finger at myself anymore for being off-schedule. It was my own schedule, not one set by Random House (or any house, for that matter). It was okay to be “late.” To think otherwise would have been silly, counter-productive, and, in a way, self-destructive to the process.

I shook it off, plugged away, kept going. I said to myself, in the New Jersey accent I wish I still had: “Finish the freakin’ thing, already!”

Finally, I got the first half of the book over to two beta readers last week. I was revising the rest. I had only 20 pages left to the end, and two more new scenes to add.

…And then I saw Lady Bird.

It’s a fresh, coming-of-age story about a non-Catholic, Catholic high-schooler who has cool hair, likes snacks, falls in love, carries unrealistic expectations about a myriad of things, feels too big for her little-big city, and has Mommy issues. The script has a scrappy feel to it. And the actors deliver the snappy lines perfectly.

I loved it. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it afterward.

Creative ideas were crowding my writer-brain: I should write a script again; maybe a coming-of-age film. Dare I?

But wait, I still have those 20 pages to revise and the two scenes to write with my WIP.

I was getting ahead of myself, ready to follow the next shiny-penny-writing idea, when the finish line was right there, so close. Thankfully, yesterday, I finished that third draft. The beta readers have the whole book now. I can start working on my Lady-Bird-inspired screenplay-that-will-be-only-a-fraction-as-good.

Yet, I still need to research agents that I’ll want to contact when the book is finally ready to shop around. I have to write a query letter. The WIP is still a work-in-progress.

What is a lady to do? What would Lady Bird do? She would be inspired. She would have a snack. I’ll start there, and will keep you posted on what follows.

Photo by Charles Deluvio 🇵🇭🇨🇦 on Unsplash

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He “Said.” But What If He Scowled?

my_tweet-4The word “said” seems like such an innocuous word. But when you’re writing a book, those “said” uses really start to stick out.  Now Novel talks about dialogue tags and mentions that other words for “said” can indicate emotion, tone, and volume. How many times do we see the word “said” in a novel? It varies, obviously. But out of curiosity, I pulled a few books from my shelf and did a quick “said” count for their first 25 pages.


  • Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen—12 “said” count
  • Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert—11 “said” count (including one “saying”)
  • The Human Stain, Phlip Roth—14 “said”/”saying”/”say” count

For my manuscript, the “said” count is 22 by page 25. Seems a little high based on the three books above. During my third draft, I am going to work on lowering this number. Below is a short list of words that can be used to replace “said.”

  • muttered
  • scoffed
  • continued
  • pointed out
  • pronounced
  • cut in
  • nodded
  • asked
  • remarked
  • sobbed
  • murmured
  • quipped
  • suggested
  • replied
  • relented
  • chortled
  • answered
  • added
  • shot back
  • exclaimed
  • frowned
  • spoke up
  • put in
  • echoed
  • interjected
  • amended
  • admitted
  • scolded
  • mused
  • pressed
  • returned
  • admonished
  • announced
  • repeated
  • scowled
  • explained

Looking for a longer list of words to use other than said—one that’s like 300 words long? Check out this article. Another option for “said” is to describe facial expressions.

What have you done to rise above, or tone down, the he “said,” she “said” in your novel?