Tony’s Writing Tips: That’s what he said

I stumbled across a blog the other week. I won’t tell you who it belonged to, but they were giving a writing tip on ‘using alternatives to he said / she said’. They gave quite an impressive list of adjectives and managed not to include any adverbs (-ly ending words). It was well thought out and presented.

But that’s not why I’m here. I’m here to tell you exactly the opposite:

He said – she said is absolutely fine.

Seriously – don’t worry about it and don’t look for anything else; most people are reading the dialogue and not overly wondering how your characters are saying it. Give them a context and they’ll be happy.

The only exception to this is rule I would suggest are asked and replied. Feel free to use those as much as you need.

Let’s do an example and see which one you think works the best:

 Adjectives

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I hissed.

“Sorry,” he whispered.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he inquired.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I breathed.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he wondered.

Nothing wrong with that, you might think. Works, doesn’t it?

Yes, it works…but I think you’re over-egging the pudding. Give your readers some credit for their intelligence. The context tells them your two characters aren’t shouting, doesn’t it? They know when one of them has asked a question, don’t they?

He said – She said

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!” I said.

“Sorry,” he replied.

I waved him to silence and peeked over the rock again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?” he asked.

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them,” I said.

Jack rose beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?” he asked.

Just for another idea, here’s the way I would write it. Strip out the said and dialogue attributes as much as you can – fillet your dialogue down to the bone. This has the effect of speeding up the pace as well –the stripped dialogue drags you through the story.

Filleted

I sprinted to the boulder and dived behind it, so close to the stone that it radiated cold back against my cheeks. I waited a second longer, then when I didn’t hear anything, I dared raise an eye above the marbled edge of the rock. The S’loths hadn’t moved from the fire, not even stirring to look in our direction. So far so good.

I looked back over my shoulder. Jack still stood at the edge of the forest, hesitating. I waved him towards me, but it was another long minute before he sprinted towards me. He mistimed his dive and smacked into the boulder with far too much noise, not able to hold in a cry of pain.

“Quiet!”

“Sorry.”

I waved him to silence and peeked over the boulder again. A S’loth yawned and stretched, but nothing else was moving.

“What do you see?”

“They aren’t moving…just sitting there. We might be able to go around them.”

Jack moved close beside me, peering over my shoulder, his mouth a centimetre from my ear, his breath close enough to stir the hair. “Are you sure?”

Give your readers a clear enough scene and they’ll know who said Quiet! And who apologised for it – without you having to lead them through it.

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One thought on “Tony’s Writing Tips: That’s what he said

  1. Great blog post, this is really inspiring. I frequently use the third variant. It depends on the story and on the respective situation; to underline the importance of a dialogue, the first variant may be used sparingly.

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