Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Common Problems (Part 15 of 50)

Use the natural sound. During the past few years many writers have begun putting the verb (said, replied, answered) before the speaker. "What do you want?" asked Mary.

It's not wrong, but it's not a natural way of speaking. I enjoy children's stories because of the rhythm.

For example, the Little Red Hen asks who will help her bake the bread.

"Not I," barked the lazy dog.

"Not I," purred the sleepy cat.

"Not I," quacked the noisy yellow duck.

This works in the read-aloud story "The Little Red Hen" because it propels the story and listeners get caught up in the rhythm. But as the great theologian Paul wrote, "Now that I have become a man, I've put an end to childish things" (1 Corinthians 13:11b CEB).

"What do you want?" Mary asked.

"I don't know," Kelly answered.

Sounds natural and it flows. Good writing is natural and keeps readers focused on the dialog and not on the writing style.
The more natural my writing, the easier it is for readers.


  1. My writing coach doesn't like it if I use attributions other than, "asked," and "said." It frustrates me since I prefer more descriptive words such as, "answered." Thank you for using that word instead of, "said." I get very tired of "said."

  2. I agree with you, Anonymous, that I get very tired of the plain attributions & really like the more unusual ones. Too many at a time, though, can become distracting & even irritating to a reader, but varying them I think is the best way. One thought about putting the name before the verb: it immediately clarifies who is speaking. If this is in doubt, the reader doesn't have to go all the way through to the last word to figure that out! Again, I think variation is the key & I personally prefer not to see any attribution unless it is necessary, as it breaks up the rhythm of the dialogue. But that's just me!


What are your thoughts?