I am writing a novel. I'm not sure if the below sentence structure is correct. I have not used any word like said/replied/asked.

He was looking at the painting. “You do not have to believe me. I will bring the guns. You will bring money. Simple.”

He left the room once the conversation was over.

In most novels, I see excessive use of "said" and asked, is my structure correct or do I have to use those words? An example from any novel would be a bonus.

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    You don't have to use those words. You just have to make clear who's saying what. I think (obviously a judgment) David Foster Wallace is wonderful with dialogue; look at Infinite Jest.
    – Xanne
    Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:03
  • You might want to show us a bigger example with more people talking. Then we can know exactly what you mean, and how you're accomplishing things, currently, hopefully. How many characters you have that could be speaking, and how much alike they are in the way they speak matters. How likely a character is to speak also matters. You need contextual cues if you don't want to use words like that or such, unless you don't care if the reader knows who is speaking. You normally should care, IMO, but there are situations where it might be appropriate. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 20:48
  • Questions about "writing techniques, style, usability/readability, planning and organizing, research techniques, publishing, and related topics" are welcome on Writers.SE. This is a matter of style rather than language per se. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:24
  • I would, for clarification. Some readers (teens) can't comprehend when someone starts or stops speaking, I may be a teen myself, and I can say that sometimes not using "said," and "asked," is really confusing. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:33
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4 Answers 4


No. They are often left off, if the context makes it clear who is talking. If I only have Mike and Nancy in a scene:

"I had ice cream at lunch," Mike said.

"I thought we agreed we would have it together?"

"I just forgot."

"Okay," Nancy said, "Thanks for thinking about me."

Typically don't go too far without attributions, no more than two or three lines of dialogue. Even with just two characters speaking, a reader can get confused as to who is speaking, and you do not want them to have to stop and count, like "this is Alan, then Betty, then Alan, then Betty, ... oh this is Alan saying 'No' and Betty says 'Yes you will' ..."

Another way to make attributions is by camera focus. If a character does something, and speech follows, the reader assumes that character spoke.

Betty rolled her eyes. "You have to be kidding me."

John stopped at the top of the stairs and stopped to lean on the wall and catch a breath. "When I was a kid I'd run up these stairs three at a time."

That said, readers are so accustomed to "Alan said", "Betty said", "Charlie said" that these register to anchor speech to character nearly subconsciously, the text does not bother them. So you should always put it anywhere the speaker isn't clear, it isn't going to interrupt your reader's attention or imagery. If there are more than two speakers in the scene, that is on every utterance.

If you have just one person speaking, like telling a story, you can break that into paragraphs without any "she continued" or "she went on" or anything at all.

Just leave the closing quote off of a leading paragraph, and add a new opening quote on the next, and that means it is the same speaker. Do the same thing to start another paragraph with the same speaker. Add the closing quote to the final paragraph.

  • Typically don't get too far into counting, no more than two lines with no attribution. Otherwise, readers are so accustomed to this, they pay no attention whatsoever. Could you clarify what you mean by this? Is it that the reader loses track of who's speaking and gets confused, or that they stop paying attention to the story?
    – sudowoodo
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 9:49
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    @sudowoodo Yes, that is what I meant, even with just two characters it can become unclear who is talking if you have, say, a whole page of alternating dialogue. That was poorly written by me, I will clarify.
    – Amadeus
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 9:54
  • @Amadeus : The line "readers are so accustomed to "Alan said", "Betty said", "Charlie said" that these register to anchor speech to character nearly subconsciously, the text does not bother them" has reached me. Thanks. I was looking for the something like that. Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 16:45

This is entirely a matter of preference. The choice of how and when to convey information to the reader is important, and will help to clarify your Authorial Voice.

Personally, I agree that it's too easy to overuse. It can be a crutch for some writers, and makes the work feel repetitive. It also forces weaker writers to Google synonyms for "said," as I just did, just so they can inject it into their work to add variety.

  • It can and is widely overused, but it is extremely beneficial. Sometimes there are replacement words such as; breathed, hissed, replied, hinted. So many more can be used, these are a few examples. Commented Oct 19, 2017 at 21:36

It is necessary to use them, yes. You should, I think, use them - sometimes. It will be tedious if you use them too much.

So, use them. Use them where you think you should, leave them off where you don't want them. Go away from your writing, come back days later, and see if you can follow who is speaking.

I would avoid too many alternatives to 'said' (exhorted, complained, yelled, etc) because they become tedious. I know a writer who tries to use a different one every time and we all tell him to stop it. None of us like it. But, some are very useful. I like 'interjected' (a lot) but wouldn't use it more than once or twice in an entire novel.

  • I only use them when I feel like it is needed to enhance the dialog. There are some strings of dialog where I have 2 people talking with just quotes and no other addons until something is needed (adjusting posture, moving around, thinking stuff like that). Saying said after every dialog feels really repetitive to me.
    – ggiaquin16
    Commented Oct 20, 2017 at 14:54

I like what you did there. Looking at the painting made it clear in the relevant paragraph that "he" was speaking. I'm a big fan of this approach myself.

A whole bunch of "he said", "she said" looks excessive quite soon, and trawling for different ways of saying "said" can look contrived and possibly comical - Conan Doyle and Rice Burroughs were buggers for this (eg. ' "Holmes!" Watson ejaculated, ').

Apologies for the image.


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