Writing Dialogue – he said, she said?

Do you use he said and she said when writing dialogue?

Or do you use some of the alternatives given in the diagram here?

I have my own opinion and that is there are some very valid alternatives given here but they should be used sparingly and only to enhance the speech. In my own way of writing I try to be as spare with any he said‘s and she said‘s as possible. I don’t want too many elaborate verbs to get in the way of my dialogue.

Let’s take an example using a couple of the suggestions given:

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ Tom thundered.

‘I was only taking a quick peek. Please don’t shout, you’re scaring me,’ Emma quaked.

‘Put them back,’he commanded. ‘I don’t want you prying through my things.’

How did that sound to you? Amateurish? Just what I thought. Try reversing one of them to read: Emma quaked, ‘I was only taking a quick peek. Please don’t shout, you’re scaring me.’ How genuine does that sound compared to, Emma said, ‘I was only taking a quick peek …’? Oh, you get the idea.

Trust your reader to know what tone is being used

I would suggest that if you are using any of these alternatives that you are overloading your reader and not trusting that they will know how your character said something. You may already have described the scene and the characters to the point where your reader knows there is friction between Tom and Emma.

What do other authors use?

Check what you’re reading at the moment. What does the author use? Check some of the classics and best-sellers and see how they mark dialogue.

The advice I would give is that anything that comes after the speech marks should disappear so the reader hardly knows they have read them. It is the dialogue that is important; it should sound natural and free-flowing with nothing getting in the way of it. After all, in real life you don’t think Tom thundered at me when he sounds angry – you know he’s angry by the way he says it.

Show your characters emotion and tone of voice

The words used by your characters should imply the tone being used. It’s similar to show don’t tell.  We know that Tom might be angry because he uses the words, ‘What the hell …’ We also guess at Emma feeling nervous when she says, ‘…you’re scaring me.’ And ‘Put them back.’ is definitely an order – we don’t need you to tell us that.

Now compare it with the following:

‘What the hell do you think you’re doing?’ said Tom.

‘I was only taking a quick peek. Please don’t shout, you’re scaring me,’ said Emma.

‘Put them back, I don’t want you prying through my things.’

I don’t even need to tell you who is speaking by the time Tom tells Emma to put them back (it’s a command in itself – you don’t need to tell us that). The word said is short and tells you what it needs to – who is speaking.

Don’t go over the top

Words like respondeddemandedsobbedgiggled, will either sound out of place, unnecessary or over-the-top.

Consider this:

‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ Emma marvelled.

Tom knew this was his moment. ‘Will you marry me?’ he inquired.

‘Oh Tom, I thought you’d never ask.’ she giggled.

Corny? In my humble opinion, yes, it is. And yes, they must have made up.

Now, how about this?

‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ Emma said, her voice quiet and full of wonder.

Tom knew this was his moment. He’d loved her since they were children. ‘Will you marry me?’ he said.

Emma looked up and giggled in that endearing way of hers. ‘Oh Tom, I thought you’d never ask.’

Hmm. Slightly better.

Personal preference

I think using said in dialogue is very much alive still. Of course, it comes down to personal preference and I definitely prefer said to other alternatives. That’s not to say I won’t use an alternative when it seems right. I’m just particular about when I use it.

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