He Said, She Said, They Said

A quick peeve-in-passing, and a word or two of advice:

You really, honestly, truly don’t need to strain your brain thinking of and deploying synonyms for “said” in dialogue attribution.  As somebody (I forget who; possibly several different somebodies) once observed, “‘said’ is effectively invisible.”

You don’t actually need that much dialogue attribution in your fiction, anyway.  If you’ve only got two people talking, you can go on for quite a while with only an occasional reminder for the reader about which character is the speaker at any given moment.  A good first reader is helpful here; they’ll tell you at what point in the long stretch of back-and-forth dialogue they had to go back to the beginning and start over, this time keeping track with a finger in the margin.  The more different from each other your speakers sound, and the more like themselves, the fewer dialogue attributions you’ll need.

It was a great loss to writers of dialogue when smoking quit being something almost everyone did.  The various rituals of pipes and cigarettes furnished writers with all sorts of bits of stage business that could be used to break up stretches of dialogue, or to give characters something to do which could get them referred to by name.  In a lot of 19th-century literature, the fire in the fireplace served much the same purpose — characters were always having to stop talking in order to put coal on the fire, move the logs around on the fire, stir up the fire a bit with the poker, and so on.  (This was also realistic, as anyone who has heated with wood can tell you.  A fire in the fireplace has to be fiddled and tinkered with constantly if you don’t want it to go out.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.