Never Say Goodbye

Characters on TV and Movies don’t say ‘Goodbye’. Not over the phone or face-to-face. I began noticing this a few years back and every time it happens it becomes more pronounced to me. At first I thought it was some subliminal message like salespeople use – they never use the word ‘no’- as in:

“Do these wheels come in gold rims?”

“Hey now that would be great, wouldn’t it?

Never say ‘no’, ‘can’t’, or anything negative, they turn it around. Get the customer to say yes instead.

So I thought screenwriters were purposefully keeping ‘goodbye’ out of the scripts to keep the viewers from subconsciously turning the channel. As if hearing the word ‘goodbye’ gives them permission to look away. Turns out I was half right.

Screenwriters don’t use the word goodbye on purpose. It is considered a ‘filler’ word, not worth speaking on film, not worth the time it takes to utter the syllable. But they still show the character hanging up because the screenwriter keeps that bit of filler in.

The problem with that is this practice is becoming more noticeable. When things like that become noticeable, it takes the viewer out of the story. As writers of fiction our job is to keep the reader in the story.

What readers don’t notice are dialogue tags like ‘he said’, ‘she asked.’ The eye breezes past them, the story flows along. Putting tags like ‘they negotiated’ or ‘she objected’ gets more notice and can become a speed bump on the eyes but so long as the story flows, it’s acceptable. When the tags get silly: ‘he hissed’, ‘she shrieked’, that’s when the eyes stop, the brain goes ‘huh?’ and you lose the reader.

I’ve spent most of my writing life avoiding the boring tag ‘said’ only to now embrace it. My writing flows better and I can concentrate on the dialogue more than the tags. That’s a relief. But now I notice something else in my writing. I use ‘look’, ‘see’, ‘gaze’ and other optical descriptors more than I’d like. It’s becoming as noticeable to me as not hearing ‘goodbye’ on TV and I find my writing grinding to a halt when I try to avoid it.

I wonder if, like the unobtrusive ‘said’, worlds like ‘looked’ and their ilk are equally invisible to the reader. More importantly, are they invisible to editors? That’s the real issue. Just like movie editors clipping off the ends of conversations as unnecessary fillers, literary editors can scratch off hundreds of words to make a story flow better.

So now I have to stop beating myself up about that, get the words down on paper and let my alpha and beta readers tell me what doesn’t work. I can leave the minutiae to the professionals.



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