6

Hope someone can tell me if there are any "rules" about placement of the verb 'said.'
As any avid reader knows, 'said' regularly appears before and after the subject who is speaking. Is there any real difference between the following:

"It's a nice day," Trudy said.
"It's a nice day," said Trudy.

or:

Trudy said, "It's a nice day."
"It's a nice day," said Trudy.

Does it come down to having some variety with dialog tags? Does it have to do with flow? Should you choose one way and stick with it throughout a novel?

9
  1. It is author's discretion.

  2. You can also leave the tag off, as long as the speaker is clear.

  3. You can drop the name and use 'She said,' particularly if 'she' is the only 'she' in the conversation.

Ralph looked at the rock shaped object on the plate. "What the heck is that?"

She said, "It's a blueberry muffin."

  1. You can also place an action with a period (instead of a comma) to imply Trudy. You can imply action, setting, or world building elements with this approach:

Trudy picked up the object and examined it closely. "It's a blueberry muffin."

Your usage of tags will affect the rhythm and flow.

  • +1 for "Your usage of tags will affect the rhythm and flow." – sesquipedalias Jul 6 at 18:04
7

Inversion of verb and subject or verb and subject pronoun as in said Trudy was common in Old English (cwæð hēo, "quoth he") and was often used in texts with a medieval setting such as fairy tales in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It therefore feels archaic or formulaic to us today.

Here is an example from Alice in Wonderland:

enter image description here

I would not use that sentence structure unless you write in a very old-fashioned style throughout.

6

Browne and King's Self-Editing for Fiction Writers offers this opinion:

Place the character's name or pronoun first in a speaker attribution ("Dave said"). Reversing the two ("said Dave"), though often done, is less professional. It has a slightly old- fashioned, first-grade-reader flavor ("Run spot, run" said Jane). After all, "said he" fell out of favor sometime during the Taft administration.

Personally, I agree with them that "said he" is very old-fashioned, but I don't share their conclusion that "said (name, not pronoun)" is equally antiquated. In fact, I can never bring myself to place the name before the word "said". Needless to say, this topic divides opinion.

  • Excellent commentary! My opinion was always that rhythm and flow were the most important considerations in this matter. Glad to see others agree. – Suttroper Jan 9 '18 at 15:25
5

"It's a nice day," Trudy said.

With very short dialog, this is fine. If the dialog is longer, and it is not already obvious who is speaking, a reader might come to the wrong conclusion about who is speaking, and feel jarred to discover that it was Trudy.

Trudy said, "It's a nice day."

The main advantage of this form is that it tells us right away who's talking. We don't have an opportunity to come to the wrong conclusion.

"It's a nice day," said Trudy.

To my ears, this form sounds ever so slightly more formal than the other two. The formality is even more apparent in these variations:

  • Said Trudy, "It's a nice day."
  • "It's a nice day," said she.

If the reader already knows who is speaking (because of the character's "voice" or because of the flow of the scene), the tags are not necessary for understanding.

But the use of a tag, and the the word order and the position of the tag, will affect the rhythm. So consider the rhythm of the text as you decide whether to use a tag, which form to use, and where to place it.

  • I was just about to write an answer all about rhythm. Glad you mentioned it in yours. To hear your story's rhythm, read it aloud to yourself or, better, read it to someone. It won't all feel brilliant, and one major contributor to lack of brilliance is rhythm. You'll want to tweak those parts, including varying your dialog tags. – Ken Mohnkern Jan 8 '18 at 15:31
1

Rhythm and emphasis define the usage. The first word is the most read, and is the reader's introduction to the sentence.

Trudy said, "What a nice day."

Emphasizes Trudy.

Trudy cringed, "What a nice day."

Still emphasizes Trudy, but surprises with "cringed".

Cringing, "What a nice day," Trudy grumbled.

Adds action and description, emphasized Trudy's emotional state.

Cringed Trudy, "What a nice day."

I'm miss-using verbs a bit here. Cringing does not imply vocalization, but in context the speaking is clear.

Trudy cringed with irony. "What a nice day," escaped her clenched jaw.

This is out of scope, but the dialog tags can carry a lot of freight.

There are no rules. Use what best communicates with your reader, in your writing, with your characters

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.