Steven Donzinger is a New York lawyer who has been working to fight American oil companies pollution in indigenous lands in Ecuador and elsewhere …What we learned this week
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Following on from the well known and still, though not now so frequently, asked question whereby who can either recall where they were or what were doing on the day Kennedy was shot or man took his first step on the moon, can now be added a more recent one. I am referring of course to the furore caused by the award of the 2016 Nobel prize for literature to the well known, Beat Generation, folk singer and hero, Mr. Bob Dylan, thus sparking a major debate amongst literatiii as to the inclusion of songs as literature. A topic still much discussed today.
The coach trip was over. Unable to get the song out of his head he gathered all the bottles he could find, he even put up a fence in case of accidents, sadly none were green.
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For the month of October, Books & Such will again be featuring Bad Moon Rising! If you’re an indie author of horror, thriller, or paranormal books and would like to be featured, send me your info. Free publicity, book sales (hopefully!), new authors to follow, and more books to buy – what’s not to like?
Each post will feature one of your releases, a blurb, author bio, social media links, buy links, and a short interview. If you’d like to include a giveaway or have alternative ideas for your post, I’m open to suggestions.
This is the fourth year of Bad Moon Rising and spots tend to fill up fast, so if you’d like to be included, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you search for alternative dialogue tags to use in your story, you’ll find many lists. While some synonyms for ‘said’ read naturally (such as words conveying volume like ‘whispered’), others come across as overwritten and forced, particularly in the wrong context.
Here are 5 simple ways to avoid clunky overuse of ‘he said/she said’:
1. Decide if dialogue tags are necessary
Sometimes we say ‘she said’, ‘he said’ or ‘they said’ when we don’t need to. Just because it’s a writing device commonly used in dialogue doesn’t mean you have to use it. When you get to the end of a line of dialogue, ask yourself:
- Is it clear, from context, who is speaking at this moment?
- Do preceding narration and formatting (such as line breaks) help clarify who is speaking?
If you answered ‘yes’ to either of these, you don’t need tags.
For example, you wouldn’t need to use dialogue tags in the following example. The narration beforehand makes it clear who’s speaking, and the details of the characters’ speech give away who says what:
She picked a bit of fluff off her top, looked out the window. He wondered whether he was boring her.
“You seem distracted.”
“Hmm? You’re being intense again, Guy.”
It’s clear from the narration, description and actions who is saying what in the scene. The girls’ actions make it clear she’s the addressee of ‘You seem distracted.’ Her response also gives us a sense of how her date says this.
2. Favour unobtrusive tags
The stranger the tag, the more colourful and quirky, the more it will stick out in your dialogue.
Ideally, your reader is getting as much clarity from what characters say as they get from howthey say it.
The infographic below (via The Puppet Show) has some good alternatives. Yet it suggests words such as ‘enunciated’ as a synonym for ‘said’. However, if you were to use this tag randomly in the middle of dialogue it would seem arbitrary.
“You seem distracted,” he enunciated.
Because ‘to enunciate’ means ‘to say or pronounce clearly’ it doesn’t completely make sense in this context, since there isn’t a clear reason for the boy to ‘enunciate’.
However, if clarity of speech were relevant to a scene, you could use this word as a tag as it would fit. For example:
“Speak slower.” The speech therapist’s eyes were stern.
“The w-wascal wabbit wan-” he enunciated, wishing each ‘R’ could be clearer.
However, you could achieve a similar effect other ways, too. For example, using ellipses, i.e. punctuation, to show concentration; pauses:
“The w-wascal … wabbit … wan … ” He wished each R could be clearer.
This shows the effort the character is putting in, thus you don’t need a dialogue tag necessarily.
When in doubt, a simple ‘said’ is often enough. Instead of letting different ways to say ‘said’ do heavy lifting, remember this sage advice from Toni Morrison:
‘I never say “She says softly.” If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear it’s soft.’
3. Use physical gesture and motion instead of ‘said’
Other ways to say ‘she said’ avoid dialogue tags entirely. You may draw attention to the character who has said a line by immediately following speech with that character’s actions.
“No I absolutely will not!” She banged the pitcher of water down on the counter so hard Sarah was surprised the bottom didn’t crack open.
It’s clear from just this line that a female character is in the scene with Sarah, and she’s furious.
The advantages of showing who said what via movement and gesture are:
- You can bring in scene setting elements (where the conversation is taking place and the objects surrounding characters) subtly. This adds detail and mental imagery.
- You can ground your characters’ conversations in a sense of place. This avoids dialogue that resembles heads in vats chatting away without bodies, movement or direction.
4. Use ways to say ‘said’ that add atmosphere
Using gestures and actions such as the following, as outlined above, helps to lend character and emotion to dialogue:
- She gazed out the window (this suggests being lost in thought, or perhaps longing)
- He turned his away (suggesting withdrawal or retreat)
- They elbowed each other and jumped up and down (suggesting children vying to be heard above each other)
Also think about ways to say said that convey volume and tone, i.e. atmosphere. Although Toni Morrison’s advice above is good (creating quietness using the spaces around characters’ lines), the occasional ‘she whispered’ has its place, too.
Synonyms for said that show volume include:
- Quietly: ‘Mouthed’, ‘whispered’, ‘hissed’, ‘mumbled’, ‘muttered’, ‘said, under their breath’
- Loudly: ‘Yelled’, ‘shouted’, ‘bellowed’, ‘screamed’, ‘roared’
The above words remind us that tags that indicate volume and tone are typically reserved for extremes – of tension, emotion or environment. A kid protagonist might whisper in a creepy graveyard, a pranked neighbour might ‘bellow’ in pure outrage. Yet these are suitable tags for climactic moments. Make characters bellow or whisper every other line and the device loses its effect.
5. Switch to a narrator or other character’s reaction
Because dialogue is relational, an exchange between two or more characters, it also works to switch to another character’s reaction instead of focusing on the character who’s just finished speaking.
For example, read the following brief dialogue:
“You wouldn’t believe what happened next. I was-”
“John, can we pause this for a second, I really need the bathroom.”
When I returned, I couldn’t believe he was still going. Something about what not to do in an avalanche. As if he were the only one at the party who’d ever had any adventures.
Here, because the second character addresses John by name, we know who’s been speaking. Because of their interruption, as well as their shock that John is still speaking when they return, we also get a sense of how John speaks. It’s a one-way street, John holding the floor (and holding his listeners ransom).
As you can see from the above, there are many ways to show who is speaking in dialogue. Other ways to say said can avoid dialogue tags entirely. Use gesture, movement or reaction to show your reader details of character and setting.
Need help improving your dialogue? Get help with everything from formatting to context when you enroll in our four-week writing course, ‘How to Write Dialogue’. Or join Now Novel for constructive feedback on your writing and help brainstorming ideas.
22nd. March 1832 and one of the greatest thinkers of the age dies at the age of 82. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe , whose last words are reputed to be, “More light.” A poet, novelist and philosopher he was probably most famous for his work, “Faust,” written in two parts the second of which being completed in the year of his death and published posthumously.
So we boarded the Northern train
in howling winds and stinging rain.
The guard, with duties now performed
gives one last cry of all aboard.
Green flag raised, his whistle blows,
checks the carriage doors all closed.
Whilst stowing cases overhead
released our snorting fiery steed
With metal and mesh racks overflowing
four bare round lamps, all gently glowing.
As we settle back on the velour seating
Our ankles warmed by piped steam heating.
So leaving the station far behind
we catch the rhythm of the lines.
Windows sealed against the chill
the rhythmic, rocking motion will
enfold us in it’s gentle arms
as we succumb to it’s lazy charms
After eight long hours the race is run
to our right the rising sun
our destination close ahead
reluctantly our journey’s end.
So sadly we depart the Northern train
Counting the days till we ride it again
son of Isis and Osiris
by the wearing of me may you live long and prosper
illuminates one tree
and silhouettes in stark relief
the ravages of Autumn’s dessicating wind and warmth