Wednesday, January 19, 2011

He said/she said

Speech attribution can be a sticky thing sometimes. You want to make sure your reader knows who's speaking, and you don't want to get too repetitive, which leaves many writers searching for new and different ways to explain who's talking.

First, never be afraid to use the word said if you need to--it's practically invisible to the reader, so it doesn't stick out as much as trying to use something new and different on every page will. I probably use said or asked ninety-eight percent of the time, leaving a few spots for words like replied or replied. Then when I use a different attribution, it carries more weight.

Better still, though, is to find a way NOT to use a direct speech attribution. One thing I often see in new writers is the tendency to write dialogue with a speech tag, and then in the next paragraph put in what they were doing, ie:

"I'm going to the movies tonight. Want to come along?" Randy asked.

He crossed the room and picked a cookie off the plate.

"Can't too much homework tonight. And would you leave my cookies alone? Go get your own," Clyde said.

He swatted at his twin's hand.

A much better way to handle this is to use the action in place of the speech attribution:

"I'm going to the movies tonight. Want to come along?" Randy crossed the room and picked a cookie off the plate.

"Can't too much homework tonight. And would you leave my cookies alone? Go get your own." Clyde swatted at his twin's hand.

This makes it obvious to the reader who is speaking right off the bat, and streamlines your dialogue. Yes, sometimes you have to use said or asked, or some other speech tag, but mixing things up makes things more interesting for the reader.