The Dialogue Protector


Fin woke early the next morning, and decided to explore the Narrator's house. She crept about, upstairs, opening this door, and that. All the rooms were empty, except one. Standing in the middle of the floor was an elf. He was a cheery looking fellow, and he waved at her, then put a finger to his lips.

Fin went into the room, closing the door carefully and silently behind her.

''Who are you?'' she said.

The elf disappeared. Then slowly rematerialised.

''Said'' he said, then disappeared and reappeared again.

''Sid?'' she asked.

''No, Said,, I said'', then did his disappearing/reappearing trick again. ''I'm magic.'' he said, then disappeared again.

''Well, I can see that.'' she said, as he was there again, briefly, before going again, and coming back. ''You keep disappearing. It's very clever. But I don't get why you're doing it.''

''That's what I do.  I'm here to protect the Dialogue.''

''What are you protecting it from?'' asked Fin

Said walked to a cupboard in the corner of the room, unlocked it, and opened the door a crack. ''Them.'' he said, doing his trick again. Fin peered into the darkness. She saw faint movement.

''I can't see. What's in there?'' asked Fin.

''Hold on.'' said Said, briefly, then reached in with his hand, and withdrew it, holding something which was squirming. ''This is one of them. He's a Bad Speech Tag, also known as a Said Bookism. Actually, he's one of the worst offenders. We have to keep him under lock and key. Tell the girl your name, little one.''

Fin looked at the creature. It was a tiny goblin-like entity, with sharp, clawed hands and an angry expression.

''You know very well, Said, I exclaimed.'' exclaimed the creature. Said flinched, and Fin felt a pain in her head.

''Ouch!'' said Fin. ''What just happened?''

''I'll put him back, and show you another example.'' He opened the door, and threw the little monster in. ''Now, where are you, Urged?'' He thrust his hand into the depths of the cupboard, and brought out another tiny goblin.

''Put me back, I urged.'' urged the newcomer. Said flinched again, and Fin felt the pain in her head.

''That's terrible. Put him back. I don't like him.'' Said opened the door, to put the goblin back, and Fin was dismayed to see two other little monsters bolt out of the darkness and scurry across the room, into the opposite corner, where they huddled together.

''Quick!  Catch them.''  said Said.  ''The Narrator will be furious if he finds out they've been out. I'm not even supposed to show them to anyone.''

Fin walked into the corner, where the two ugly things seemed to be having a conversation.

''Free at last, I ejaculated!''  ejaculated the first.  Fin clutched her head, in agony.

''Yes, that'll show him, I sneered,''  sneered the other.

''Ow! Stop! Please put them back. '' said Fin. ''I can't bear it.''

Said appeared next to them, with a small fishing net. He brought the net down over the chattering creatures, and scooped them into his hand, with a swift, deft movement, then threw them back into the cupboard, this time, locking the door. He rubbed his hands.

''You see why I have to guard them so carefully. If you don't watch them, they creep into every fictional conversation, ruining good writing.'' said Said, vanishing again.

When he reappeared, Fin opened her mouth to ask him again why he kept doing that, but at that moment, the door opened and the Narrator walked in.

''Ah, Fin.  I see you've met my right hand man.'' he said.  Fin looked at Said.  His face was bright red and he was looking down, sheepishly.

''Have you been showing Fin our prisoners, Said?'' asked The Narrator, with a conspiratorial grin in Fin's direction. Said nodded slowly, twice. He looked as if he was about to burst into tears.

''I'm sorry.'' he said, fading from sight, rather more slowly than usual, and reappearing just as hesitantly. ''I didn't think it would matter, just this once.''

The Narrator looked at him, his expression stern. Then his face broke into a broad smile and he chuckled.

''Never mind, Said. No harm done. I'm sure Fin found it... educational.''

''Yes, I did. Very.'' said Fin. ''Are they locked up the whole time?''

''Not all the time, no,''  said the Narrator. ''We let one or two of them out for good behaviour, once in a while.  But they must never, ever be unguarded, or they will run riot.  There is one who is allowed to come and go, more or less as she pleases.  Her name is Asked, and she's Said's sister...  In fact, she's around here somewhere. But, like Said, she's very good at staying invisible. As he said this, a female elf, smaller than Said, materialised next to her brother, and patted him on the shoulder.

Two others are Trustees, and we let them out for long periods, as long as they are on their best behaviour. Their names are Shouted and Whispered.''

''But why does Said keep disappearing?'' asked Fin, noticing, as she said it, that the female elf had vanished. ''Oh! I understand now. Said becomes invisible. The readers don't notice it!''

''Yes, Fin, that's exactly it. And that means...''

''That the Dialogue is protected?''  asked Fin.

''You're a very fast learner, young lady.   It's protected  because the invisible 'said' allows readers to concentrate on the content of the Dialogue, rather than being distracted by the way it's said.'' explained the Narrator. Fin waited for the pain in her head. It didn't come, and she looked at the Narrator. He laughed.

''They're fine in moderation. Later, I'll show you the Adverb cupboard. They creep out, too, and act as Speech Tag Modifiers, which are almost as pernicious as these fellows.'' he said, wisely. This time, Fin felt a slight stab in her forehead.

''See what I mean?'' asked the Narrator.

Fin laughed. ''Yes, I do. Can I visit Said and Asked, sometimes?''

''Yes, of course you can. I hope they'll be your friends.''

He walked out of the room, leaving Fin with her new pals.

The End

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