In a dialog, don’t identify the speakers over and over. Trust your readers.

What do you notice about this dialog?

“Can I go with you?” the child asked her father.
“No, not this time,” her father said.
“Why not?” the child asked.
“Because,” the father said.
“Because why?” the child said.
“Because I’m going on a business trip,” the father said.

Beginning writers often identify the speaker in every line of dialog in narrative writing.  This slows down the action and needlessly irritates the reader. If there are just two characters talking, it is unnecessary to identify someone on every line. Compare the above dialog with this one:

“Can I go with you?” the child asked her father.
“No, not this time, hon.”
“Why not?”
“Because why?” She pouted her lip.
“Because I’m going on a business trip.”

Did you have any trouble keeping track of who was speaking?

Suppose the above dialog continued for another six or more lines? You might need to write “he said or “she said,” one more time to keep the speakers clear. But maybe not.

“Why can’t I go, Daddy?”
“Because you’re five years old.”
“So—” The child folded her arms over her chest.
“So when you are grown up, you’ll go on lots of business trips.”
“Yes, angel.”
“Will you bring me a present?”

Did you notice there were no he saids or she saids?

How can you avoid over-identifying the speaker in a dialog, yet keep the speaker clear?

  • Make sure that the first one or two lines clearly show who is talking. Often both identifications can go on the first line, if the relationship between the speakers is made clear, as above.
  • Use the “voice” of the speakers, so their way of speaking—their grammar, their vocabulary, and their pronunciation—identifies them. “Because why?” is the way a child would talk.
  • Use details that identify who is talking. “Because I’m going on a business trip” would be said by a father, not by a child. “She pouted her lip” identifies that the child said the previous words without using “she said.” “Yes, angel” would be said by a father. A child would ask for a gift.
  • Make sure each character’s line of dialog becomes a separate paragraph, and the person speaking—if identified—is identified in the same paragraph with his spoken words.
  • Instead of using “he said” or “she said,” write words to let the reader “see” the speaker. “He snapped his suitcase closed. She hugged her Teddy bear.”

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