When writing fiction, you want to ensure that readers clearly know who is speaking dialogue. If a reader loses track, then the wrong impression about a character’s intentions and motivations may be formed, which makes understanding the rest of the story difficult. Perhaps worse, a reader will realize her confusion about who is speaking and be forced to re-read the passage, which breaks the fictional dream. If this problem reoccurs, the reader simply may give up on the story or decide not to read other titles by that author.
To ensure there’s no confusion about who is speaking, apply attribution in the appropriate places. Attribution is telling who speaks. For example, “Thales said” is the attribution in “Go on now, I mean it!” Thales said.
You can employ a number of techniques to ensure proper attribution occurs.
First, directly state who is speaking. In the same sentence as the dialogue, add the speaker’s name and the word “said,” as in the “Thales said” example given above.
Secondly, show the speaker in action. In the same paragraph, have the speaking character do or observe something: Thales glanced at the toys and harrumphed. “I’ll never make good on my promise with those pithikos around.” There’s no need to add “Thales said” here because the speaker is implied. Don’t have a character do something and then start a new paragraph in which that character speaks, however, as this implies someone else is speaking.
A final note: In long exchanges of dialogue, even if two characters speak every other line, add attribution every few lines. Readers easily can lose track of which character is speaking after just a few sentences.
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.