How to use speech attribution

Speech attribution:

“Don’t sweat the speech attribution thing too much,” Nelson said helpfully. “You know–the ‘he said’ part.”

Thoughtfully, Pearl opined, “I’ve read that the current trend is to avoid it as much as possible, and never to use adverbs. I’ve also heard you should only use simple tags, like ‘he said’ or ‘she asked,’ instead of, for example, ‘he bloviated,’ or ‘she threatened.'”

“Okay,” he said. “I agree with the adverb rule, mostly. And regarding speech tags, one should avoid verbs that convey the speaker’s attitude. That’s better done in an extra sentence before or after the statement. But they’re fine when they give information about the speaker’s voice, like ‘whispered,’ ‘muttered,’ or ‘shouted,’ or if they’re very simple synonyms for ‘said,’ like ‘answered’ or ‘replied.'”

Pearl wondered how she could work in a simple narrative statement to let the reader know she was about to speak, and not Nelson. Maybe she could look at him beseechingly, or push her hair back, or notice another customer walk in. Maybe the waitress would bring their coffee just then.

Oh, the heck with it, she thought. Manufacturing pointless little actions to avoid speech tags interrupts the dialogue and distracts the reader. On the other hand, I don’t want to be so minimalist that the reader loses track of who’s talking. I guess I’ll just have to throw in another “she said” occasionally. Those words are practically invisible to the reader.

“Going forward,” she said, “I’ll be conservative about speech attribution. But I think there’s some room for individual taste.”


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