>Just say ‘He said’Posted: May 12, 2009
>In the book I’m currently editing, the attributions are driving me nuts. It’s a novel, but some of the same issues apply in writing freelance articles. When you’re quoting someone, especially in a back-and-forth dialogue, it’s definitely important that the reader knows who’s speaking. You must let them know where the information is coming from.
However, too many writers go overboard with the attributions. For example, “‘Who’s responsible for this?’ he asked suspiciously.” We already know he’s suspicious from his question. How about, “‘I really don’t want to discuss this,’ she evaded, clearly reluctant to share her secrets.” Hello, she already said it. The writer doesn’t need to repeat it. Likewise, “‘I disagree,’ he stated emphatically.” “Stated” is stodgy and if we can’t tell his mood from his words, try showing what he’s doing as he says it. “‘I disagree,’ Smith said, slamming his notebook shut.” Doesn’t that paint a clearer picture?
Then there are the physically impossible attributions. “I’m tired,” she yawned. That’s one talented yawner, able to put words out as she yawns. It makes me think of the kids who try to burp words.
In most cases, the best word to use is simply “said.” Readers are so used to seeing it that they don’t notice it. Any words that take their attention away from what is being said should be deleted. If it’s clear who’s speaking, you don’t need any attribution. If you need to say something to avoid confusion, go ahead and slip in, “Smith said” one in a while. “Asked” is fine, too, if he’s asking a question. But don’t say, “Smith queried” or “Smith inquired.”
In a future blog, we’re going to get into how to punctuate quotes because clearly a lot of people don’t understand it.
Meanwhile, keep writing. Let me know how you’re doing.