Writing Dialogue: To Said or Not to Said

Writing students tell me that their crit partners insist that the new way of writing dialogue is to always place “beats” around the spoken words that identify the speaker. Is it ever OK to use a simple attribution, such as, “he said?”

Writing Tip for Today: New writers often learn that creative and varied attributions are unnecessary and actually weaken the work. “Always stick to the simple ‘said,’ teachers advise, “said is invisible to the reader.” Now, writers are going further and suggesting that attributions should always be replaced by “beats” (sentences) of action, body language or inner thought. My take? Using these beats, especially in adhering to the famous Rule of Three in dialogue will likely pump up your prose and make it much more compelling and vivid. Yet there is a place for the simple said.

  • Use said if you don’t want the perceived pacing to slow.
  • Use said to vary your dialogue.
  • Use said (or asked or screamed, but not expostulated, neighed angrily or smiled) at times to show how the words were delivered.

Don’t forget that quotation marks always go outside the puncuation, and that each new speaker gets a new paragraph.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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