___WORDS FROM ME_____________________________________

so i asked and she replied


It’s a funny thing, dialogue attribution. One of the greats, and therefore not to be ignored lightly, Elmore “Dutch” Leonard, suggests there are only two valid ways of writing it: “he said”; “she said”.Stephen King says pretty much the same on this in his book On Writing, and it’s advice well worth following. Like out friend Dutch, he knoweth of what he speak.

But you have to be a bit careful following to the letter what writers tell you is sound advice, the kind of thing that later gets set in stone as rules. You can read Jeffrey Archer’s advice and consider that. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing is worth taking a look at and considering carefully. But sometimes you’ve got to break the rules. Elmore Leonard’s rules are good for Elmore Leonard, and for writing Elmore Leonard books. They might not be good for you. Or me. Or for the books we’re writing.

But, for the most part – and I say most part because rules are meant to be broken now and again – I’m with Messers Leonard and King. He said. She said. Keep it simple. Let the characters talk. Overhear what they’re saying.

When dialogue attribution gets out of hand - all that “he retorted, she returned,” stuff - it turns the page into a sparring ground. Worse, it distracts from what the characters are actually saying. Ink clutter. It’s like static. Remember, you’re reading with your eyes, listening through your eyes. Put too much clutter either side of what’s being said and you can miss what is being said.

Jane Austin hardly used dialogue attribution at all. You’ll find the odd bit here and there in her work, but for the most part, she just lets you listen to the dialogue with your eyes. It’s a nice trick if you can pull it off. Jonathan Carroll, in his earlier, first person books, does it elegantly and without fuss.

Surprisingly, so does Martina Cole, in her East End gangster novels. Which is sort of what I’ve been getting around to. And the main thrust propelling this blog post forward.

Recently people were invited to send Martina some questions via Twitter. She’d answer some of the questions sent on a video on You Tube.

I asked her about her use of dialogue attribution, the s/he said stuff, and the fact she rarely uses it. She replied here.

But she didn’t really answer my question.

Maybe there was static in it somewhere.

But it was nice of her to spare me the time and talk a little about her writing.

Gary Fry –(27 October 2012 at 00:27)

No good can come from speaking from cockney villains, mate. Do me a favour up your apples and pairs, innit.

Mark –(2 December 2012 at 15:19)

Ay up, lad. Methinks thiz it nail ont ed.

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