>Just say ‘He said’

>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.

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3 Comments on “>Just say ‘He said’”

  1. Brigid says:

    >Love this! I just had this conversation with a friend a few weeks ago.

  2. >Sue,Great post. This is the first time I’ve visited. I enjoyed this post and the one about putting the punctuation in the correct place when quoting.I was just considering working with an editor who wanted to make ALL of the said(s) in my novel into phrases like he said pensively, or he said, whining.It didn’t suit my style. I stood my ground. She said I was an idiot and would never get anywhere. LOL NOW I’M VINDICATED. (insert evil villian laugh here.)Thanks. I’ll be back.Karen 🙂

  3. >As a follow up…..Last night I took out hundreds and hundreds (did I say hundreds yet?) of “he said” or “Bill said” or “Harry said” out of my WIP.I went through my novel with an eye toward finding the places where it was already clear who was speaking and took out the labels.There were some labels that had to be left of course because it wasn’t clear who was speaking otherwise, but it SHOCKED me how may were superfluous and could go.It’s amazing what you can learn from one article.Thanks Sue.Karen 🙂


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