Dialogue Attribution – Pt 1 ‘Said’

When writing dialogue one of the aspects to consider is ‘attribution’ which is also known as ‘tagging’. This is usually a simple cue to alert the reader to who is speaking and sometimes how a line of dialogue is delivered.

Dialogue conventions of any given genre aside, there are still some core issues worth looking at.

Said

In some genres, ‘said’ is the preferred method for dialogue attribution. “He said/She said/Character’s name said” is just about all that’s used, which means the dialogue itself (and scene context) has to do the heavy lifting when it comes to conveying tone and subtext in a conversation.

However, overuse of the word ‘said’ can be its own problem, snagging the eye. In terms of the pacing of a conversation – dropping ‘said’ or all attribution can work just as well.

Compare:

“This way,” Lisa said.
“Sounds like a bad idea,” he said.
“Trust me, can you?” she said.
“Love to but your track record isn’t exactly great,” said Robert.
“Dad would have agreed with me,” she said.
“Yeah, yeah. You’re the favourite. I remember,” he said.

With:

“This way,” Lisa said.
“Sounds like a bad idea,” he said.
“Trust me, can you?”
“Love to but your track record isn’t exactly great.”
“Dad would have agreed with me.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re the favourite. I remember.”

The pace of the first is slower, and quite repetitive, whereas the second example reads smoothly. Of course, there’s even more variety and subtler means to create rhythm in a conversation – but more on that next time!

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