1. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    He said/she said

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by yagr, Feb 20, 2014.

    When can one refrain from attributing a character to a quote? i.e.

    "Let's go to the store, Harry," Melody said.
    "What do we need?" I asked.
    "Nothing. I just want to go shopping."

    Note that I don't attribute the last line to Melody, but it does seem obvious. What are the rules surrounding this issue?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    When it is clear who is speaking to whom, you may feel free to omit the attribution. There's no set rule. For example, while my first statement is true, an A - B conversation can go on for a while and logic might dictate that you could omit the attributions altogether, but that proves unwieldy for the reader. You can't let it go overlong. How long is overlong? Depends. :)
     
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  3. Storysmith
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    Storysmith Member

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    If it's clear who's speaking, then you can drop them. As Wreybies says, it can get hard for the reader if left too long, but that partly depends on whether they say things that remind the reader who is speaking. And you probably want to add some actions from time to time, which can tell us the speaker, e.g.:

    "Nothing." Melody picked up her purse. "I just want to go shopping."
     
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  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Clarity is the yardstick. Use enough dialogue tags and beats so the reader doesn't have to back up and count paragraphs to figure out who said what, and not so many that you're in the land of "Duh!"

    Even if you have more than two speakers, there are times you can skip explicit attribution. Here's an example Table Talk: A Dialogue Exercise
     
    Last edited: Feb 21, 2014
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  5. Who
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    Who Member

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    I agree with Storysmith. If it's clear who is speaking, drop it. Though, I find, if a conversation is taking place with more than two people it is advisable to tag most of the lines for clarity. Add in some action here and there. Dialogue is interesting, but the reader can't get everything from that alone. Add in details of facial expressions or quirks or transitional actions like opening a door (when necessary).
     
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  6. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Pick a novel from your shelf, Yagr--one in first person POV (as that was the example listed).

    Read and observe. Pay attention to the use of dialogue tags. When they're used and when they're not. How does the author use context, action, content of the dialogue, etc. to convey who's speaking? Take notes. Pick up a novel by another author. Read and observe just as before. Take notes, and possibly identify differences in style and how that author attributes dialogue. Maybe try a third novel.

    You'll start to get the idea. Then apply what you leaned to your own story and writing style.

    Note: The reason this may be a question to you, is that the authors you read do it so well that you, as a reader, don't notice the dialogue tags or have to ponder who is doing the speaking. It flows naturally to the reader. That's what you should shoot for.
     
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  7. Bjørnar Munkerud
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    Bjørnar Munkerud Contributing Member

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    If there are only two characters, A and B, I'd recommend attributing the first line from each ("he" and "she" are okey by themselves without a name if there's one "he" and one "she" (the same also applies to "it", in which case you can technically have three characters doing this, except you need to appropriate each and every line)) and then just separate the following back and forth lines using punctuation. It's not like it makes much sense to do this without giving the characters every other line anyway (use ellipses or one or three hyphens in a row or something to mark a pause in speech or thought). As mentioned by others above, it's clarity that's important, and being overly elaborate with attributing lines can backfire and actually obfuscate the situation, and also annoy the reader.
     
    Last edited: Jan 12, 2015
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  8. lostinwebspace
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    lostinwebspace Active Member

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    My rule of thumb is don't use a dialog tag unless you have to. Instead, have the speaker scratch his nose or look in the distance. That way, you convey an emotion or action other than just a "placeholder" tag. But then again, simplicity is also good and less is more. Sometimes the "he said" is all you need, in fact better than an action. And if it's just two people talking and the speaker is obvious via alternation or speech mannerisms, you'll need nothing. It's up to you to know. The bottom line I use is use "he said/she asked" when you need it, and use some other tool whenever possible.

    I'm a little brain dead right now. Ask me to clarify if this explanation is vague. (I can't believe I just said that as a writer. :p)
     
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  9. yagr
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    yagr Contributing Member

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    I thought this was a good idea myself and tried it. What I found was variations in approach and style which only confused me more. My educational background is mathematics and physics and so I come from a world in which 2+2=4 always. One cannot get overly creative or stylistic in math. So seeing stylistic variations always brings me back to, "which one is right?" The concept that they're both correct and 'it's a personal thing' occasionally causes blood to flow freely from my ears.

    But I shall keep plugging until I find the formula....heh, there's a math joke in that last line. :)
     
  10. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    That's what
    - She
     
  11. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Might not that experience, finding varying methods that 'successful' authors utilized in relaying dialogue, tell you that there isn't a single 'correct' formula to employ?

    That's why I also suggested:
    There are rules and structures (such as placement and punctuation) to learn--formulas, if you would have it that way. Apply those rules in such way that feels right to you and will appeal to a reading audience. If needed, find an author whose dialogue and ways to attribute it closely approximate yours, as they are now.

    There are aspects of formulaic writing, such as certain types of romance novels, but even within them, there is a certain variability.
     
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  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    There is no right. Would using food or cooking as an analogy help at all? There is no "right" amount of salt to put on food, for example, only the amount that the cook or eater chooses to use. (Yes, I realize that the common phrase "season to taste" may also cause ear-bleeding. :))
     
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  13. JayG
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    JayG Banned Contributor

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    My reaction is a bit different. As I see it you're asking is a very basic question, one whose answer can be found in most books on writing technique. Nothing wrong with that, but it demonstrates that you've not made a deep study of the craft. I mention it because an important question is that if you're asking about basic issues, how many questions are there that you should be asking, but don't know you should? As Mark Twain put it, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

    My point is that while you can ask your questions here it might be a lot faster to look into the craft of the fiction writer and get a batch of it at once, from people who made a living either teaching writing or selling their work (preferably both)

    One name that comes to mind is Jack Bickham, whose book Scene and Structure can be found in a good many library systems.
     
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