Which is "right?" Bob said, or said Bob? Should you use one other the other. There is the one mindset that you should always use Bob said. Because you wouldn't say "Ran Bob up a hill." But I checked with my linguist buddy, and says there's nothing grammatically wrong with saying that. It just depends on which verb noun pairs you use that determines how "odd" it sounds to you. "Get thee to a nunnery" sound just fine, right?
It probably won't come as any surprise that I am of the other mindset that thinks you should use whatever works best for the sentence. Because sometimes said Bob just flows better, especially if you have multiple speakers and you need to tag frequently to keep them all straight.
Jane dug into the dirt under the old Buick's rear bumper. "Found another one."
"How many does that make?" Bob asked.
"Looks like twenty-three."
"All nine mil?" said Sally. "Cause I found a bunch of twenty-twos in the glove box."Bob asked here works to quickly establish who Jane is talking to. But said Sally works because it rolls off the tongue better than Sally said. The longest syllable just feels better at the end.
(Here's more on punctuating dialogue)
Flipping them back and forth also helps put the focus where it needs to go. Sometimes you want the name close to the dialog to be clear on who is speaking. Other times, you want to closer to the action or thought that comes after speech.
Jane dumped the bullets they'd scavenged all afternoon onto the table, then stalked out of the room.
"Do you think she knows?" whispered Sally.
"Yeah," Jane called back. "She knows."To me, saying Sally whispered here just wouldn't work, because by the time you got to the whispered part, the line is already over. Putting it closer to the actual dialog makes it easier to show how she spoke. I also think having two X said Y said right after each other has a more static rhythm and gives the dialog a list-like sound.
When in doubt, try both and listen to how they each sound.
"I should leave you two for the zombies," Jane said, pointing the Sig Sauer at them.
"I should leave you two for the zombies," said Jane, pointing the Sig Sauer at them.To me, said Jane works better here, because the punch is in the gun, not the text, so putting Jane closest to the gun emphasis that.
(Here's more on where to put dialogue tags)
It also depends on what else is in the sentence.
"I should leave you for the zombies," Jane said, pointing the gun at Sally.
"I should leave you for the zombies," said Jane, pointing the gun at Sally.In this case, Jane said kinda catches on at Sally and has a weird alliteration thing going. Said Jane doesn't have the same rhythm.
Trust your ear. If he tag sounds off, it probably is. If it flows, then you're golden.
Looking for tips on revising your novel? Check out my book Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, a series of self-guided workshops that help you revise your manuscript into a finished novel. Still working on your idea? Then try my just-released Planning Your Novel Workbook.
A long-time fantasy reader, Janice Hardy always wondered about the darker side of healing. For her fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her novels include The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book. It was also shortlisted for the Waterstones Children's Book Prize, and The Truman Award in 2011.
Janice is also the founder of Fiction University, a site dedicated to helping writers improve their craft. Her popular Foundations of Fiction series includes Planning Your Novel: Ideas and Structure, a self-guided workshop for planning or revising a novel, the companion Planning Your Novel Workbook, Revising Your Novel: First Draft to Finished Draft, and the upcoming Understanding Show Don't Tell (And Really Getting It).
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