So I'm writing a story and I'm having trouble with one part. The main character says that someone will never like her because she's weird and the character's sister says something along the lines of, "Hey. Don't you dare say things like that about yourself." And I don't what to put for the, 'She said' part.

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    If it's obvious who said it, you don't need the dialogue tag. If you don't think it's obvious in your current draft, you can make it so by saying something else about the speaker's actions, demeanour etc., in a sentence before or after. – J.G. Dec 15 '18 at 22:23

I'm going to give you two answers because you seem to have a pair of questions.

It seems that you want to demonstrate that someone wants to make others happy and you want to avoid a "she said" (speech tag).

Showing not telling

This first part - demonstrating something - is a classic example of "show; don't tell". You need to use things beyond your words (and thiers) to show the truth to the reader.

There is no one right way to show. What you are aiming for is to imply the truth and let the reader work it out.

Method acting (the real deal)

When I was in college (a long time ago) I was required to study An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski. The methods in that book (and the sequels) are amazing tools for writers too. It's where the idea of method acting originated. If you get a chance, read it.

Stanislavski had this idea that to portray something authentically you needed only to reflect on a time when you felt a similar way and mimic your own body posture and actions. For a writer, this becomes a case of when you want to show something "when did I see something similar or do something similar and what were the key behaviours that were on show?"


One way to show something is the tone of voice. Specifically, that extra information imparted about how something is said. As the reader is deaf unless you describe it, you will have to do that.

Consider these two versions

Hey," she said. Her voice was soft and comforting. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

and now

Hey," she said. Her voice was friendly but stern. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself!"

Those are two entirely different reactions with the same words. That is the tone of voice.

Body language

Body language is similar. Except we now have what they do rather than what they say.


She stepped closer. "Hey. Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."


She put her hands in her pockets and turned as if to leave. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

Again, these two convey very different information about the character.

Point of view insight

This one is more direct. If - and only if - your story is written inside the head of a character (so we know what they are thinking) we can see what they see.

He studied her face waiting for the reaction. She was hard to read. There was a hint of anger that was quickly covered by a softness. That was the moment that he realised just how much she wanted to make people happy.

"Hey," she said. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

This time rather than pure showing, we told you what the character was realising. However, we lead the reader through the inner moment of the male character and show his thinking. So while we tell the reader about her, we show the reader about him.

Avoiding speech tags

This is the other thing you seem to be asking. For optimal storytelling, I would combine this part of the answer with something from the previous part.

There are a number of ways to avoid using he said / she said. There are good arguments for not doing this most of which amount to the speech tags are almost invisible to readers but let them know who is talking.

Nevertheless, here are some techniques that work.

Insert action

You do not need to have a speech tag if you also have enough action to keep who is doing and saying clear. Remember that one person speaking or acting to a paragraph so once you have "name dropped" once in that paragraph we know who you are on about.

"Hey." She gently stroked his shoulder. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

This has the advantage of adding non-verbal communication (body language). It also works to give a sense of where the characters are in relation to each other.

Just leave them out

This technique really only works when it is clear from context who is speaking. Generally when there are only two people on set.

"How are you," she asked.

"Terrible," he said with a frown. "I'm a worthless human being."

"Hey. Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

Overdo it and the reader can lose track of who is talking. But if one line just needs to stand by itself - say for pacing reasons or something - then this works too.

Don't worry about it

Sometimes, you just have to get a "she said" in there. One way to keep the flow - not end on a speech tag - is to find a natural pause and slip it in. Your example text has one.

"Hey," she said. "Don't you dare say things like that about yourself."

Put it all together

This part is up to you. It is your story. Combine the show and speech methods that best show the full range of emotion you want to portray.

I would suggest that if people pleasing is a wider plot issue for this character, that you give her more scenes where she can show this trait. Showing how it deepens, changes, or withers throughout the story depending on the character arc.

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