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Let's say my character is Alex, a young man and an actor. I'm describing a long dialogue of him and another person. I need to specify he is a person speaking quite often so the reader is not confused who said what.

I refer to him as "Alex", "an actor" and "a man". It feels like I'm repeating these words way too often. How can I make it clear to the reader what is happening without repetitive descriptions?

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  • Pretty sure there are a thousand duplicates of this question, but I am looking and I have yet to find a single one! – Nai54 Feb 17 at 19:33
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    If we already know his name is Alex, it'll probably sound weird to keep calling him 'the actor' and 'the man' – DM_with_secrets Feb 17 at 20:58
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You need to post a sample so we know how you're failing this task or whether you're imagining yourself failing it. If there are only two characters it should be very simple:

Alex sipped his coffee. "Why are you here?"

"Because you told me to come before noon."

"And what if I'd told you to jump off a bridge?" Alex asked. "Would you have done so?"

Jim narrowed his eyes. "No, because that would hurt me."

"You don't think I can hurt you?"

"You can," Jim said. "Not as much as jumping off a bridge."

Alex plucked a poking stick out of the fire and began to laugh. "Oh really?"

As long as the dialogue goes from person 1 to person 2 and then person 1 again, we know who is talking. Just sprinkle in reminders to ground us.

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It's totally ok to use "NN said" as in.

"Why did you do that?" Alex said.

In fact, it's recommended not to use such constructions as "NN laughed", "NN hissed, growled, opined, exclaimed, etc etc."

And in the example above I'm not even using "Alex asked" because both the sentence form and the question mark already tell us that.

That's also how hissing, growling, exclaiming, etc works.

"Are you totally fucking deranged?" Alex said.

An exclamation? Growl? Or? Do we really need to know exactly what? The man is mad and we'd better be cautious around him for a while...

However, when showing the volume of dialog, you can use some words like yelled, called, etc. But they shouldn't be too common. So:

"Are you totally fucking deranged?" Alex yelled.

...or:

"Are you totally fucking deranged?" Alex whispered.

...mean different things of course.

And no, Alex did not hiss. Stand in front of the mirror and try to hiss out some words... ("My precious?"—comes out as a whisper or just "said"... perhaps "with a hoarse voice", and no! not "rasped"—what did Tolkien use to tell Serkis to use the voice he does in the movie?)

Try laughing or growling?

Not gonna work.

"NN said" is great because the reader won't really notice it.

This is the key to not using things like growling, rasping, etc. They break the "trance" the reader gets into and interfere with the reading and the creation of their inner world representation of your text.

But you don't need to use "NN said" all the time.

You can use action followed by dialog. Since the very firm rule is to have only one character's dialog per paragraph you can do things like:

Alex opened the broken window. "What did you do?"

This is also how you add things like characters hissing or laughing:

Alex laughed. "You're mad."

Which reads as:

Alex laughed and then he said, "you're mad."

If you need a character to opine:

"You're mad," Alex said.

He always had these opinions he had to share with everyone all the time.

You can also use character voice and goals to show who's saying what:

"You broke the window," Alex said.

"Nah, not me," Bob said.

"I saw you throw the bloody rock at it!"

"Nuh-uh, never, not me."

"Are you kidding me? I saw you do it. Stop this charade!"

"Man, you're intense. Cool it, right. With yoga. Or weed. Hm? Or both?"

"He" and "she" can also be used when there are only two people. "I", "he" and "she" would work if it was a first-person story with only three people. But the personal pronoun can of course work with the paragraph rule or even across paragraphs when it's clear who he/she is.

Expressions like "a man" or "an actor" are never used after the name of the character is known. Unless perhaps in statements along "he was a man/an actor".

Maybe, "the man" and "the actor" could work but I think voice and goals are way better markers for who says what. Of course after "NN/he/she said".

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If Alex is speaking to someone of the opposite gender, then using pronouns will help a lot.

However, regardless of who Alex is talking to, try to have slight variations - use of different words to call out to Alex.

For instance,

Alex was disturbed. He called John and spoke about his problem. He explained "This is has been harder than I anticipated. It has been three months and still no auditions." He could hear John sigh on the other end and continued "To make the situation worse, I need to travel to the other city for the loan. I have no idea how this is going to work out." John had still not spoken but Alex knew his friend was listening.

You could obviously add 'the actor' or 'the man' in between. Try to make dialogues getting separated by some emotions and then you need not refer to him every time. Just continue the next sentence of the dialogue after the emotion. That helps at times.

Best of Luck!

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