Saturday, May 22, 2010

He Said/She Said--Good Or Bad?

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My critique partners and I talk about writing and what we like and don't like about particular techniques. Not too long ago we were discussing dialogue in general and tag lines (attribution) specifically. We noticed that more and more writers are omitting "he said/she said" and using either action, body language or the POV (point of view) character's thoughts in place of an attribution tag. My primary critique partners and I prefer this method. I believe the story flows better and is more natural, pulling the reader into the scene.

That's why I was surprised when a couple of writers mentioned they don't like this method. They thought "he said/she said" was invisible and they prefer pared down scenes with as little description as possible. They don't care to read body language at all. Another multi-published author friend mentioned that action such as "she nodded" or "he shrugged" annoys her. She prefers an adverb such as "he said menacingly," but tags like that annoys me.

Writing for publication constantly changes and evolves. Spelling changes, comma use decreases, and so forth. Keeping up requires study and flexibility. It appears that no matter how much a writer studies craft and technique, personal likes and dislikes shape his or her writing. Even though being a writer changes the way a person reads for pleasure, each of us was a reader before he or she became a writer. What an author enjoys reading shapes his or her perception of how he or she should write.

Keep reading good books!


debbie said...

I agree, I like the he said/she said. Without it, I am sometimes left wondering who did what.

Bookie said...

I think you can leave out he said/she said... but very carefully. I just read a new YA that was confusing for a while to know who was speaking. They started new paragraphs with no lead or direction but still same I was backing up to clarify a good deal. Not a smooth way to read...colors how you feel about the novel.

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Dawn Ius said...

I've read and re-read Stephen King's writing on memoir (On Writing) so many times I should know it by heart. He's a true believer in "said" being the only dialogue tag used throughout - and I agree. However, I do like the flow of action tags and description though, and think writers who wisely mix the two forms will keep the reader engaged.

Unknown said...

I prefer he said/she said. But sometimes know you don't need any tag at all. It depends on the action going on. I work on letting the story flow naturally this way. It's the showing action versus telling action that makes me work harder on the prose.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Thanks for your comments.