News | 2007 | He Said, Said He: Little Things to Remember

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King

I've been reading Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King lately, and I've just come across two little rules I wished someone had shared with me a long time ago.

The first concerns dialogue speech tags: Browne and King suggest placing character names (or pronouns) first in a speech tag (Isabel said / she said). The reverse (said Isabel / said she) is less professional. While they admit both forms are often used, they argue you run the risk of sounding like an old-fashioned first-grade reader ("Run, Spot, run," said Jane) if you put your name last. They hammer home their point by mentioning that after all, "said he" fell out of favour sometime during the Taft administration.

The second little gem I wish I'd known is to only refer to a character one way within any given scene. If you don't, your readers will have to stop reading long enough to figure out who, exactly, you're referring to (i.e. to understand that Mrs. LaCroix is the same person as Isabel and that the old lady is not a third character who has just materialized from out of nowhere). Browne and King say that you don't have to stick with a single form of address throughout a long work, just as long as you don't mix things (and readers) up mid-scene.

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