He Said, She Said

Here’s a worthy bit of advice–only use speaker tags when needed. Too many writers feel they have to put “he said” (or worse: “he quipped, interjected, exclaimed”) every time any character says something. However, most of the time the reader knows who is speaking. If you are writing a conversation with just two people, you only occasionally need to mention the speaker’s name just to keep the reader clear. But alternating with a narrative tag instead is a good idea. Don’t use both.


John shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” he said.


John shook his head. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Be sure that when you do use an action (narrative tag) to identify who is speaking, you keep the action and speech together in the same paragraph to avoid confusion. Too often in the manuscripts I edit, I get confused as to who is speaking because the writer will put a line of speech on one line, and then that character’s action in the next paragraph along with a different character’s speech.

And it always sounds more natural to say “John said” rather than “said John.”

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  1. Glad you posted about this. Just been having a discussion with fellow critiquers about using chortled, snickered, chuckled instead of laughed. Those words irritate the dickens out of me when misused.

  2. I too have found myself making the comment in critique drafts to keep the action and its associated speech together. In every writer’s group I attend, the battle of the adverbs breaks out! Adverb use with speech tags can be a heated debate, but I think it boils down how much a person has studied and applied the craft of writing. Less really is more.

  3. Seems to me, minimal speech tags should be workable when there are just two characters in the scene mainly because with good character development, the reader can “hear” who’s speaking. But it gets a lot more tricky when you have more than two.

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