Avoid placing attribution before dialogue

During my years of editing, I’ve found that dialogue often gives beginning fiction writers trouble. In an effort to make clear who is speaking, the writer often ends up slowing the story’s pace and making for a clunky read.

For example, when an exchange is going on between two characters, there’s no need to state who’s speaking (also known as “attribution”) before giving their quotation. So instead of writing:

Tony said, “Where was it – we’ll cancel.” Amanda said, “It was at Southside Clinic, but they’ll charge me if I cancel.” Tony said, “I’ll call them and explain. You are seriously injured; you need to get to a hospital.”

Instead write:

“Where was it – we’ll cancel,” Tony said.

“It was at Southside Clinic, but they’ll charge me if I cancel,” Amanda said.

“I’ll call them and explain. You’re seriously injured; you need to get to a hospital.”

The exception is when a new character is introduced. In the above example, if Tony is a new speaker, entering upon dialogue between Amanda and Sarah, then we need to write that Tony is the speaker before his quotation is given. But as he’s addressing Amanda (the last one who spoke before Tony entered the conversation), we also need to state that Amanda is speaking (Hopefully, though, the lines given make clear that she is speaking not Sarah).


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.