He Said, Said He

After a fellow blogger kindly critiqued a few chapters for me, I realized there was another thing for me to learn.

Dialogue tag subject order.

In other words, after the quotes, do I put John said, or is it said John? I googled it and couldn't find anything to help, picked up books on my shelf but had the hardest time finding dialogue tags in the novels I looked at. Despite my lack of findings, I agree with Eileen that the subject sounds better coming first.

But is there an industry rule about the order? What have you been taught about this?


Jessica, I believe it was in "Self-editing for Fiction Writer's" By Browne and King that I learned the rule that the subject is more important, so they come first.

But I've also read that when a question is posed in dialogue, you shouldn't say "He asked" after, but rather "He said" as the question mark says it all. That one I'm not so sure about. I still read lots of published novels with "He asked" as tags after a dialogue question. And it makes sense to me.
Jessica Nelson said…
Yeah, I'm not sure about that question mark one either. Hmmmm.

Well thank you for your advice on the other though! I hadn't even considered the right way until you pointed things out. LOL
Jody Hedlund said…
I read the same thing as Eileen in the same book. According to Browne, it makes us look more professional to have the MC said, rather than said MC. I figured it was an easy thing to change. I'm sure it won't make or break a novel in the eyes of an agent or editor, but anything can help, right?
Jessica Nelson said…
That's how I see it Jody. LOL It's not hard to change at all, either, like you said. :-)
MeganRebekah said…
I remembered reading a post on this topic on Janice Hardy's amazingly helpful writing site. Here's the link to that specific post, but be sure to check out a lot of her other posts - she is full of great tips and examples!

Jessica Nelson said…
Thanks Megan! I haven't heard of her (I don't think) so I'll def. check it out.
I was just reading about this in Noah Lukeman's "The First Five Pages." He thinks it better to have the "MC said" after the dialog. He has a great chapter on common dialog mistakes.
Genny said…
I go with John said, instead of said John. I also try to include dialog without tags where possible to make it flow more like real conversation.

Have a great day!
AngeliStarr said…
I dont know anything about writing books or the industry itself but I am very observant about details of the sort when reading them. A lot of books use the subject first (John said) rather than after. Not saying I havent seen it done, but the majority is subject first. Mostly I remember children's books is where I would read the subject used after (John said.) (maybe it has to do with the target audience??)

The question mark, for the most part I have seen that if there is not one used before the closing quotation there is "John asked" afterword. ("Could it have been different" he asked.)

Just my 2 cents, Steph
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Angeli (or is it Steph?),
Thanks for the input. I don't even remember what kids' books are like. Guess I should look at the ones around here. LOL
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Jen,
Oh yeah, I definitely think the tag should go after the dialogue too. If it goes before it just sounds funny to me.
I've heard alot about that book.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Genny,
I try not to use tags either, but sometimes I can't resist. LOL!

I hope you have a good day too, and thanks for chiming in. :-)
anita said…
The only "rule" that I think applies is consistency. Whatever way you choose to do it, be it subject/said or said/subject, should be consistent throughout the book. That way the reader comes to know what to expect and won't think a thing of it after awhile.

Also, it depends on your voice, I would think.
Stephanie Faris said…
I may be wrong about this but it seems putting the subject last is more of an old-fashioned thing? I've seen it that way more in classic literature. I always do subject first and I definitely do 'asked' instead of 'said' after a question mark. I can't bear it the other way...I've gotten too used to seeing 'asked' in more current novels.
Jessica Nelson said…
Uh-oh. LOL Then my consistency is way off because I looked at the chapters and sometimes I used said first and sometimes not. LOL!
You're home!!!!

But now I'm going to the gym. I'll talk to you later. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi Stephanie,
I sure had no clue. Based on everyone's comments though, it sounds like you've been doing it right. :-)
Katie Salidas said…
I was always taught, John said. Seems like that's what the majority of us learned.
AngeliStarr said…
LOL it is Stephanie but theres a lot of Stephanie's around here so I use my pen name, Angeli. Sorry about the confusion.

Definitely should check out the children's books. Their layouts are much different, maybe to keep simplistic for their target audience. I've always wondered why the dynamics between the types of books are so different. Were all people reading them, why the change? =)
For me it's always been subject first. It seems awkward to do it the other way around.

"Thanks for the info," Donna said. LOL!
Tana said…
I prefer, she said. I don't mind the tags if they are not too repetitive and I like mixing in names once in a while. I always refer to my go to novels for help in this dept. when I write.
With that particular example, I prefer "she said."

I'm sure there's a technical answer somewhere, but I really feel it depends on the writer's voice and flow of the story.
^ As far as dialogue tags and their structure, in general, that's how I feel.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Katie! I didn't learn it but I skipped around schools a lot and I haven't studied the books how I should've. *mental slap*
Jessica Nelson said…
Hey Angeli/Stephanie,
Hahaa, okay, thanks for letting me know. :-)

My kids have lots of children's books but they're older ones. It would be interesting to find out if newer ones are different craft-wise.
Jessica Nelson said…
LOL Donna!

"Thanks for the comment," Jessie said.

Jessica Nelson said…
Hey T. Anne and Janna,

Wow, everyone seems to know the right way except me (until Eileen clued me in). That's so funny!

Thanks for stopping by!
Victoria Dixon said…
Not only should it be "he said," but I've heard editors wail and grind their teeth about the other.
Keli Gwyn said…
Jessica, my thoughts went immediately to the same book Eileen and Jody mentioned, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown & Dave King. Chapter five, "Dialogue Mechanics," does a great job of not only presenting the "rules" but also explaining the reasons behind them.'

Here's the paragraph from page 91 that answers your question:
Place the character's name or pronoun first in a speaker attribution ("Dave said"). Reversing the two ("said Dave"), though often done, is less professionals. 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.

What I read somewhere that made sense to me is that if the name were replaced by a pronoun, most writers would use 'he said" rather than "said he." The first sounds natural, the second odd.

I highly recommend Browne and King's book. It's one of the best editing books I've seen.
Katie Ganshert said…
I also think subject first!
Danyelle L. said…
I am grammatically impaired, but I vote for John said. :) Possibly it is a stylistic thing?
Diane said…
I am not an expert, but I think mixing it up gives it some variety and a different rythm than just "he said" 50 times over.
Jessica Nelson said…
Hi ladies,
Thanks for your input! I kind of like mixing it up too, but at the same time I don't want to be out of touch. LOL!!!
Well, Dang, I never thought about it .. let me think what I do...hmmm, I'll just start typing dialogue and see what comes out:

"I hurt my finger," kat said.

I said, "I sure hurt my finger."

I hurt my finger," Kat said. "But my toe hurts worse."

"What?" Kat asked her finger. "You think you hurt worse than my toe?"

Kat asked, "Toe, are you hurt?"

That's what I do.

Now I'm going to try it the other way and see if my fingers will do it....

"I hurt my finger and my toe," said Kat.

That doesn't come naturally to me.

So, personally for me, I'd do it subject first.

I do agree with being consistent. But I think to that the "said Kat" sounds like a kid's book or something.

Hi Jess -

While I don't use a lot of dialogue tags, I generally go with, "said John." Maybe I need to re-think the order.

Thanks for bringing up the subject.

Susan :)
Tabitha Bird said…
Well, there you go. I did not even relaise there were rules. I have always used 'said John.' But I can see the point about the subject being more important. What happens when you are writing in the presents tense and using 'says'? Is it 'John says'?
That just sounds wrong. I really don't know Jess, sorry.
Jessica Nelson said…
Don't worry Tabitha. I think it may be more of a preference than a rule. :-)

Hi Susan,
Well, from what I'm hearing, if you're consistent it doesn't matter. Though Victoria said she met editors who hate it, so I'm not sure...

Hi Kathryn,
LOL! Are you as funny in person as in writing? :-) Cute excerpt of your writing. LOL
Karen Hossink said…
Ah, rules, rules, rules!
I guess I think subject first, too.
Because "Said he, said she" just doesn't sound right! *grin*
Jill Kemerer said…
I just read a terrific little gem of a book on sentence structure. It recommended the following two tags: she said and she asked. Subject comes first. Use asked for a question. Also, the Self-Editing book mentioned earlier? It's my fave!
Interesting question. I think that I usually use "she said", but I don't think that "said he" would necessarily be wrong.
Debra E. Marvin said…
Somewhere I lost track of what was right or normal. When I first started this historical I would never have used said John. But the other day I noticed I'd slipped a few in. Again, it's a historical and my characters aren't speaking like contemporaries of us but more to what I feel they would said in their time.
Well, you know they are just talking and I'm listening . . .

But said John is feeling more natural. I do vary it. I don't want to look unprofessional but I think I'm going to stick with a few of them.
Jessica Nelson said…
Debra, the link MeganRebekah provided above was really good. Basically the author said that we should go with what flows better in the sentence. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Thanks Kate, Jill and Karen for commenting!
I'm having a crazy busy day today but I hope to pop by your blogs later tonight! :-)
Pen Pen said…
I ALWAYS write with about 4 books around me of a similar format that I can thumb through to look for examples of just this kind of thing. It's weird-I've read SO much, but still sit confused about how dialogue and structure needs to go--And ur right-I've never seen a helpful on-line guide. If you find one, let me know!!!! :)

Popular posts from this blog

No One's Perfect

Very Naughty Blogger

Formulaic can Rock