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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » he said, said John

   
Author Topic: he said, said John
Doctor
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I have noticed glancing through my OSC book Speaker for the Dead, that Card has a tendency to use the tag "she said," or "he said," in that order for he/she, but when it is somebody's proper name he tends to put the order like this: "said Ender," or "said Novinha," and I can't find any instances of "Ender said."

"I really hate tacos," John said. "Just kidding!"

That's how I would format it. But is it better if it is as follows,
"I really hate tacos," said John. "Just kidding!"

Thoughts? Comments?


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Robert Nowall
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I've wrestled with this for the bulk of my writing career. At some point, after a dozen or so stories (I think), I thought "said John" looked peculiar to me, like I was writing backwards, and ever since, I've written it as "John said." It was no recommendation, no writing book or writing assignment---I got it out of my head. I started writing "John said," and that's the way I've written it ever since.

But few writers do it this way. I can't speak for their motivations 'cause I've never heard any. I've wondered if I'm doing it right. But I can't say I'm doing it wrong, either.


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arriki
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To me -- just my opinion

Said John -- sounds more final. Like it is the end of John's speech. It can be followed by John's actions or even his thoughts, but not another word, not immediately.

"I've figured it all out," said John. He leaned over the bar and leered into Joan's face. "What're you going to do now? Run?"

compared to

"I've figured it all out," John said. He leaned over the bar and leered into Joan's face. "What're you going to do now? Run?"

seems the latter is not quite right. Just a touch off -- for my taste.

whereas

"I've figured it all out, John said. "What're you going to do now? Run?" He leaned over the bar and leered into Joan's face.

works better -- for my artistic sense.


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sholar
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In the writing class I took, they said most people just ignore the "John said" or "said John." It is good to include tabs since you want it to be clear who is talking, but no point stressing over it.
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JeanneT
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To me "said John" has always sounded awkward so I very rarely use it. I don't think "said John" sounds any more final and seems to me to flow better. So that's what I use. *shrug*

They are so close to invisible, I wouldn't worry about it much though.


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Bent Tree
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I never notice when reading. When writing, I tend to use

Jane said when

"I think we are being followed," Jane said, looking over her shoulder.

when there is an action following.

in all other instances I use " said Jane.


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rstegman
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A practice I learned to use early, when they were telling us "no no no" he blurted excitedly, "you are to avoid tags" he emphasized excitedly.

I mix the people doing something with what they are talking, though in actual practice, some of the action need not be there.

"I really hate tacos," [bold]John counted out a couple twenties.[/bold] "Just kidding!" and then ordered two dozen.

I've figured it all out," [bold]John leaned over the bar and leered into Joan's face.[/bold] "What're you going to do now? Run?"

I will use said at times, but usually will have the person talking also doing something. If I plan ahead, what they are doing advances the story rather than just show who's talking. I usually don't plan ahead, though.....


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Robert Nowall
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There are good reasons not to use "said John" or "John said" at all, and some writers (notably Barry B. Longyear) reject the practice almost completely. Not me, though...

Bent Tree's example might be more appropriately written as: "'I think we are being followed.' Jane looked over her shoulder." This without the "said."


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rickfisher
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Note that "said he" or "said I" sounds either silly or something pre-20th century. It isn't particularly noticeable with "said John", but I almost always use "John said" (when I use the tag at all), just to avoid any possible taint.

But, mostly, I agree that nobody pays any attention to either one. Don't worry about it.


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Lynda
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I think "said John" is actually more a British style - I've noticed it in British books I've read, anyway. I tend to use action tags a lot more than "said" tags too, but sometimes they can't be avoided. In those cases, I use "John said" instead of "said John" nearly all the time. Sometimes my ear will tell me to do it the other way, and I trust my ear's judgement most of the time.
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JeanneT
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Action tags are fine. I use them a lot. But used constantly, I think they get annoying much more so than a dialogue tag. Writers who put in an action tag every single time they have to identify a character end up with characters who remind me of bobble-head dolls.

"I'm not sure about action tags." John frowned.

"I always use them." Jane nodded.

Sean shrugged. "They're much better than those old-fashioned dialogue tags."

John had to nod in agreement. "You're right. Only fuddy-duddies use those things."

Arrrghh. Make them be still and stop bobbling.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited March 19, 2008).]


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skadder
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"But," John said, nodding to himself, "If you don't tag a line every--"

"So often?"

"Yes."

"Yes, what?"

"It can become confusing who is talking."

They both nodded sagely.

"Adverbs are bad, too," he said sternly.

[This message has been edited by skadder (edited March 19, 2008).]


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Doctor
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Thanks for all of the imput everyone, I appreciate it. It gives me a lot to think about. I agree that I prefer John said in place of said John, and I see how it will make little difference to most readers. But it's the editors/agents/publishers who make me feel like I should be consistent one way or the other.

Action tags rock, but, like JeanneT said, (or would it be said JeanneT j/k) they can be overused and become annoying.

Another thing I do is over-tag, I think I tag almost every single line, and I stuff tags in to add pauses, which, works all right but I should definitely trim it down.


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skadder
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Just for your information, the word 'said' was used thirty-nine times in the posts on this topic....err, that's forty times now.
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Doctor
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Time spent counting is timebetter spent writing.
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KayTi
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Doctor - as someone else has said recently, give yourself permission to write as crappy a first draft as you want, complete with action tags out the yin yang and adverbs and other things. Then make a list of your 'bad habits' - and use your first editing pass as a chance to exorcise your bad habits from your MS. It can be liberating to write that way, as you can often get the bones of the story down very quickly if you're not trying from the get-go to avoid excessive dialogue tags or limit use of adverbs.

I have found that as I go, I am doing better at automatically writing less from my bad habit list, but it's freeing to write withtout worrying about that list too. I strongly recommend it.

Good luck, she said with a smile.


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Tiergan
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I was re-reading the most hated book in my library, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, last night and found this on page 91.

quote:
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.

PS-The reason I hate it, is nearly, sorry, -ly word. Almost half the books he uses as written by “hackers” I have read, most I have enjoyed, and all seem to be selling very well.


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oliverhouse
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I first noticed this problem when I was listening to a podcast where an author read his short story. There came a point where the dialog was something like,

"blah blah blah," said Jim.

"etc etc etc," said the man.

It sounded so awkward that I was surprised I never noticed it before while reading. Since then, in my writing, I've always uses he said and its equivalents. The fact that I didn't notice it until I heard it means that it probably doesn't matter as much as I now like to pretend it does.

If you want to throw another rationalization on the fire, natural sentence structure would suggest that "he" is the subject of this little phrase and "said" is the predicate, so "said he" makes as little sense as "threw he" or "ate he". That may just be a rationalization, though.

Regards,
Oliver


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Sara Genge
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It doesn't matter.

Stop angsting about trivia and get writing.


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JeanneT
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What? And give up the fun of discussing this stuff? Nah...
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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quote:
It sounded so awkward that I was surprised I never noticed it before while reading.

Hearing your work read out loud can be very painful, but if you can talk someone into doing it for you (so you can listen), you may be amazed by what you learn about your writing.

If you can't talk someone else into reading it out loud to you, the next best thing might be to try reading it out loud to yourself. Of course, you know how to say things and where to pause and where to put the emphasis, but you may still hear things you hadn't realized were there.


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rstegman
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Reading my work out loud, especially to another person, is one of the final editing methods I use. If I trip over a sentence, even if I read it right the second time, is a sentence that needs to be fixed. It did not read as I expected to read it which was why I tripped over it. Other mistakes stand out brightly.

Without someone around, You can read to a recorder of some kind, there are even software to record your voice on the computer.

When I talk about adding action to the discussion, I would not consider the tags as JeanneT used as action tags.

JeanneT

quote:
"I'm not sure about action tags." John frowned.

"I always use them." Jane nodded.

Sean shrugged. "They're much better than those old-fashioned dialogue tags."

John had to nod in agreement. "You're right. Only fuddy-duddies use those things."



***
"I'm not sure about action tags." With a grunt John pulled the tent stake out of the hard clay.

"I always use them." Jane's hand deftly slipped the rolled tent into the tent bag.

Dousing the fire, Sean shrugged "They're much better than those old-fashioned dialog tags." He then backed away as the steam and smoke billowed up into his face.

Setting the stack of tent stakes on the hood of the car, John had to nod in agreement. "You're right. Only fuddy-duddies use those things." He watched the hammer slip over the other side of the car. He turned to take the tent from Jane, planning to get the hammer next.
***

This is what I mean about using action to point to who is talking. Preferably, the action described would advance the story, in this case, they leave the hammer behind. In some other scene, it might be to give scene detail or personality traits of the people.
Of course, one has to plan for that and I usually don't so a lot of my action really accomplishes nothing other than to avoid saying John said, Jane said


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skadder
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You can also download software that will read out loud anything you have written--not sure from where. You would need to google it. You can adjust the read back speed which can be a laugh when you hear the smurfs reading your story.
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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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But a computer is not going to tell you how a reader would read your writing, and that is one of the reasons for having someone else read it out loud to you.
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smncameron
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That's what she said!

Sorry, I really couldn't resist.


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JeanneT
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You may well have more cooperativer readers than I do, Kathleen, because mine aren't willing to sit with me and read an entire novel out loud.

I use yRead which you can get at spacejock.com. It is a good way to minimize the errors during editing before something goes to readers. I find it more useful than reading it out loud myself because I can still end up reading what I know should be there instead of what is. Listening to it while looking at a printed copy, I find a lot I had previously overlooked.

[This message has been edited by JeanneT (edited March 25, 2008).]


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Ah!

Okay, that makes sense. Thanks, JeanneT.


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JustInProse
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Man...

This place always reminds me that the more you know, the less you know. Every time I read a thread on this forum, I end up realizing something exists, but having absolutely no idea what to do with it. This was all a subconsciuos thing to me...

Now I'm going to start watch for it lol
Having said that, I preferred the action scenes, with no "said" at all.

JustInProse
Justin Armstrong


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Darth Petra
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I don't even like the word "said", and don't typically pay attention to order of the words...

But I like "Said Bob" better than "Bob said". But that's just me.


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Jake Talahan
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Great, now my brain hurts. It was subconscious for me, too!

I wish I had more time to read these forums tonight! LOL. Interesting stuff, here.


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