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"He Said" and Variants


Have you every wondered what the author will use next instead of the plain and simple 'he said' as a speech action word?

We could make a list of just some of them:

Some folk use all of them. Some manage to find even more! They think variety is needed. Instead of variety we readers need a bit of peace and quiet. Please don't show us how well schooled you are in word choice by regurgitating a thesaurus. Instead show us how good you are by cleanliness of your writing.

I'm doing that last one right now, yawning. There are shedloads more words people try out. But let's cull the list to just two. Let's delete all except 'said' and very occasionally 'asked', and do the deed in the dialogue instead.

I want to add one variant, that of nothing at all. Instead I want you to show us the event by clever use of dialogue and interposed descriptive prose.

  1. "You've let me down again, Tommy," Peter said.
  2. "You've let me down again," Peter said to Tommy.
  3. "You've let me down again." Peter was looking at Tommy [as he spoke].
  4. "You've let me down again." [here the context says who is speaking, and often the tone of voice]

There's no right answer for which of these is best for your situation. Only you can tell, but it's worth testing them, finding what works best for you.

As well as this, don't over use the words. Read what you write, and edit it down. Look at this lot:

"Peter?" John asked.

"Yes?" said Peter.

"Are you coming over tonight?" he asked.

"I have to ask my mum," he said.

"When will you ask her?" he asked.

"When I get home from school," he said.

Get a grip! Obviously almost none of these speech action words are needed. If this were school I'd ask you to write it out again in a way that made it flow better. Hint: the first two are needed, the rest can be absent completely. And the second one is optional depending on the context.

Do avoid silliness, too! In school, at the age of 11, we were asked to tell the teacher was was wrong with this item:

"No!" he hissed.

Try to hiss the word 'no'!


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