Wednesday, August 05, 2009

When To Use Speaker Attributes


Bottom line, I use speakers attributes (e.g., he said, she said) as little as possible.

Some writers argue that readers skip right over “he said,” so why worry about using it? They say the phrase informs us who is speaking, and other than that, readers just don’t notice it. My response? Would you rather use a technique whose sole raison d’etre is to inform, and otherwise adds nothing to the dialogue, or would you rather use one that heightens the passion of the scene?...

Continue reading in my
Making a Scene column for this month's Christian Fiction Online Magazine.

9 comments:

Pam Meyers said...

Not true about it not being noticed, especially if it is overused. I listened to an audio book a couple years ago where the author must have used he said, she said a million times. It was especially noticeable listening to the reader say over and over again, she said, she said, she said. Only on very rare occasions do I use it in my writing, usually when there are more than two people in a scene and nothing else works for that point in the dialogue.

Nicole said...

My opinion is virtually worthless on this because I color outside the accepted lines in my writing. Depending on the writing, I enjoy the modifications of speaker attributes and find "said" boring. Sometimes necessary, sometimes not, I think there are times when said is insufficient, when tone cannot be implicated by the scene or discussion without add-ons, and what the hey, I'm a rule breaker. Variety is essential to my tastes. Otherwise it all becomes formulaic for me.
However, it does depend on genre and style and how well an author pulls it all of in their story. JMO.

Nicole said...

Off not of. Sorry.

Myra Johnson said...

Oh, goodness, Brandilyn! Would you believe a couple of nights ago I actually dreamed about you and "said" tags??? This bit of advice has stuck with me ever since I listened to a recording of one of your ACFW workshops a couple of years ago.

So the other night I dreamed I was visiting with you while you worked on a book, and you looked up at me and said, "Oh, no, I can't believe I just wrote 'she said'!"

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Pam, I'm with you--I don't buy the argument that SAs always go unnoticed, either. They CAN, if used correctly, but when overused, I find them irritating.

Myra--LOL. :]

Daniel Smith said...

The Twilight Saga, anyone?

Admittedly, it's loaded in tags but you can't argue with the sales numbers. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince has at least a few in it too.

Brandilyn, where does this advice fall for you along the continuum of writing craft? Surely other rules and guidelines like having a good story are more important to observe than the proper use of tags.

Daniel Smith said...

One more thing, does anyone have or know of the whereabouts of a list of alternate tags for option #3 (in the column article)? Words like whispered, shouted, etc. Two lists - one with acceptable words and one with words that are never acceptable - would be very much appreciated.

(P.S. I know I can reread Twilight for this but...) ;)

Sheila Deeth said...

Sometimes I notice the absence of "said," and sometimes I notice its presence. Presumably the best is writing where neither intrudes.

~ Brandilyn Collins said...

Daniel, I don't know of any list of "acceptable" tags. Don't think there is such a thing. I do reiterate the best way to avoid problems is to use alternate tags very seldom. If you police yourself, you'll be less likely to overuse.

As for your first question--story structure and characterization rule. But dialogue is an important part of a story, and tags are an important part of dialogue.

The main thing I want to get across in this post is to THINK about tags--question whether using one is the best way to go. Many authors just use them without thinking about them because they're easy.