How Often To Use 'I/He/She Said'


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Thread: How Often To Use 'I/He/She Said'

  1. #1

    How Often To Use 'I/He/She Said'

    Hi all

    I've been working on a new detective novel set in 1942 Los Angeles as part of a series and I'm curious how people go about approaching the use of 'I said' (or 'he/she said) within dialogue scenes.

    My story is told in the first person voice and so it's of course something which will come up a lot. I'm trying to make sure it's used sparingly so as not to become jarring. I've read other advice (Stephen King's On Writing for one) which suggests never to use any other word to replace 'said' (e.g. 'he groaned' 'she roared') unless really necessary, but I wondered what other people thought of this particular issue?

    TIA

  2. #2
    as little as possible...to many small words make for a fast never ending monologue read....
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  3. #3
    Hi C.Lee and welcome to WF!
    This, to me anyway, is a hard question to answer. If you are writing a conversation between two people, I feel it isn't always necessary to identify who is speaking. Sometimes that can be accomplished by setting. Here's what I mean.

    George and Fred walked into the diner together and sat in the booth closest to the door.

    "What looks good to you George?"
    "I dunno. I'm not really very hungry."
    "How come?"
    "Fred, I just feel a little low today. Nothing looks good."

    You see two men sitting in a booth, and because Fred uses George's name in his conversation, we know that Fred is the one speaking first. Then we know George is the one replying.

    I try very hard not to use he/she said unless necessary. I try to use other tools, like name use within the conversation to make that clear.

    Hope this helps!
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  4. #4
    At a guess I would say I use it in about one line of dialogue in six. The rest of the time I might have maybe one "other" vivid dialogue tag (seethed, tittered, etc), one other standard one (replied, murmured), two with nothing at all, and one with some body language; eg: "What?" She folded her arms. "What do you mean?"


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  5. #5
    As much as necessary and no more. The main idea of dialog tags is to let the reader know who is speaking. If it's obvious who is speaking, none are necessary.

  6. #6
    Use said/replied/asked etc. only when it's not obvious who is speaking. You can also use action tags to indicate the speaker. As in: Mary smiled/frowned (you have to be careful with these though because if over used your characters can seem 'twitchy'.

  7. #7
    One tip you can do is to read it aloud. If the "said"s start grating on your ears, that's a good sign you have too many. I agree with the poster above who said to intersperse them with more vivid tags (being careful not to overdo it) and actions. To use Sue C.'s Fred and George dialogue above, you could do this:

    "What looks good to you, George?"
    He contemplated the menu without enthusiasm. "I dunno. I'm not really very hungry."
    "How come?"
    "Fred, I just feel a little low today," he said. "Nothing looks good."

  8. #8
    Good advice here, especially from Sue C, but if I could add anything, I would say that instead of using the verb "said" or anything like it, put it in noun form, such as with, "My response was..."

    Mixing parts of speech like that would help avoid monotony.
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  9. #9
    Kinda depends on how many and who are talking, and if they always alternate, or if one tends to go twice in a row.

    It’s mostly about clarity, at least when the “I said” isn’t simulating a verbal pause.

  10. #10
    Then you can add in the occasional "said", just to vary the rhythm.

    "What looks good to you George?"
    "I dunno. I'm not really very hungry."
    "How come?"
    "Fred, I just feel a little low today. Nothing looks good."
    "Right," said Fred.




    (Been waiting all day to do that )


    Hidden Content Monthly Fiction Challenge


    Beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and are awed,
    because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke, "Elegy I"

    *

    Is this fire, or is this mask?
    It's the Mantasy!
    - Anonymous

    *

    C'mon everybody, don't need this crap.
    - Wham!





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