The non-rule Rule

While I don’t intend to teach anyone a full course in grammar or punctuation, I sometimes come across a quirk or issue that bugs me. So, today let me run one by you. He said. Said she. The rule that isn’t a rule.

Said is a simple word to explain who is speaking. A few other uses for it exist, though it’s sometimes used unnecessarily. It’s most usually a dialogue tag. Sharon said, “Don’t overuse dialogue tags, but if you need one to clarify who is speaking, said is the most invisible word to choose.” This tells you, I am speaking to you. As for dialogue tags, maybe I’ll mention those in more detail another time. Here I want to address whether said should go before the name or after it.

Should one write, James said, or said James? Should that be Suzie says, or says Suzie? Neither is strictly wrong. It’s all opinion, so I’m not about to argue with anyone, but let me explain why I and many editors prefer the first.

It’s a simple matter of cause and effect. To explain it simply, a person speaks. You don’t speak a person. Until a character opens his or her mouth to speak, no one has spoken. Logically then, it’s much better to write: “The name should always go before the action,” Andy said, than to write: “Writers not getting this simple logic drives me crazy,” said Andy. I share ‘Andy’s’ opinion on this. Whenever I see the action before the name, it always pulls me out of the story.

But, as I’ve told you, it’s not a ‘rule’. The choice is yours. Simply keep in mind that not all readers and editors like the second option. Granted, most will set this annoyance aside if they enjoy your work enough, but why take the risk when some readers and editors dislike ‘said Sharon’? No one objects to ‘Sharon said’.

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