f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n: Day 1 of Dialogue - He Said, She Said – Attribution in Dialogue

f a i t h * i n * f i c t i o n

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Day 1 of Dialogue - He Said, She Said – Attribution in Dialogue

Dialogue attribution (I’ve also seen it called dialogue tags) are those markers in fiction that help readers keep track of who is talking.

“That’s nonsense!” she said.

Exactly. Well, actually, it’s not nonsense, but the above is an example of dialogue attribution. At their most basic, this is their sole purpose—to help readers realize who’s talking.

Yesterday I mentioned using an unattributed form of dialogue. I’ve seen this done two ways. First, it’s simply open and closed quotes with no attribution. The other way is to skip quote marks and use an em-dash to set off dialogue.

— Huzzah! A fine idea, and it saves wear on your SHIFT button, too, not using so many quotes!

Right. Settle down now invisible voices I’m conjuring to make lame points about dialogue.

With unattributed dialogue, both reader and writer need to work a bit harder. The reader, frankly, needs to pay pretty close attention. No skipping around or you’ll have no idea who’s talking. The writer needs to hone her dialogue. Left with only the very words being spoken, these words must bring forth the character’s voice in the readers’ mind.

In fact, even plainly attributed dialogue must do that. “He said” doesn’t do any extra work for me, except possibly alert me to whose voice the last words were spoken.

A much larger topic is raised when we begin looking at the issue of modifying attribution. And my 2005 goal is to keep these posts shorter and get home on time more, we’ll tackle that tomorrow.

“Tomorrow! You didn’t give us nothin’. You suck, jerk,” he growled.

“Yeah, what a waste of time,” she interjected angrily, shouting at her computer monitor.

You see, I assume, what we’ll be dealing with.
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Continue to Day 2 of Dialogue.