This is one of the problems most writers face within the first couple of manuscripts they produce…the “he said/she said” problem. Now most of you are wondering if this is a column about dialogue and it is but it is more to the point about “saying”…
We have all read those books where the author feels the need to tell you who said what in every line of dialogue. I am here to tell you that you don’t have to do that. If your story is well written, you’re your reader should be able to follow a simple conversation without all the handholding. The only time a writer should have to point out that he said or she said is in the very beginning when you are defining who the conversation is between. Then using he said or she said leads the reader to the characters part of the conversation. After that, in a conversation with just two people using he said and she said is adding words to your word count that you don’t need and it makes your story sound like it was written by a 2nd grader.
Having said that, let’s talk about another closely related dialogue issue…using the word said ALL….THE….TIME. There are hundreds of words that a writer could use to convey that there is a conversation going on and many of those words serve the dual purpose of also setting tone. You don’t want your characters to always just “say” something…sometimes you want them to acknowledge, add, admit or affirm something. What about allege, agree, announce, argue, articulate, ask, assert, aver, avow, bark, beg, bid, bluff, bluster, boast, brag, butt in, challenge, chant, chime in, chirp, cite, claim, command, comment, communicate, concede, confess, confide, contest, continue, contradict, convey, correct, declare, defend, deliver, demand, deny, disclose, divulge, echo, emphasize, encourage, enquire, exclaim, explain, express, gripe, groan, grumble, grunt, imply….whew…we could go on forever. You can say something but wouldn’t it be more fun to growl it or convey it?
I understand that we have all been conditioned to he said and she said but at the end of the day when your reader is turning those pages you want him/her to be drawn in by the excitement of your story and that includes how your characters communicate. So go back over that manuscript…are you he saiding and she saiding too much? Use the hundreds of other ways to convey how your characters are speaking and bump it up a notch. Your readers will thank you and your manuscript will sound like it has been written by someone other than the author of the Dick and Jane series.
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