Place ‘said’ after speaker’s name

Does placing said before or after attribution – as in Thales said or said Thales – matter?

The answer in large part depends upon how it sounds in particular sentence. Given that, how a reader responds really is a matter of personal taste.

Still – and this is grounded solely in my training as a journalist – I almost always place said after the name. That’s because said is a largely invisible word that readers just need to spot, rather than actually read, to make a sense of a sentence. What’s important in dialogue, of course, isn’t said (the quotation marks show that someone was speaking) but who said it. So readability can be improved if the name is given right after the quotation marks and said is relegated to after the name, as in Thales said. The eye then can naturally flow from the speaker’s name to the next sentence.

I have yet to see any scientific evidence proving this theory taught by some journalism professors and practiced by some editors. Regardless, if most American newspapers and magazine articles follow this pattern, then most American readers likely are unconsciously comfortable with the construction. Further, with the advent of the Internet, people tend to scan text rather than read it as they would a book, meaning readers probably will prefer any writing that improves their scanning efficiency.

6 Tips on Developing Your Story’s Character

• Center on internal flaw for compelling story 
• Limit number of key characters in story 
• Select your viewpoint character with care 
• Avoid name drift with proper planning 
• Avoid writing concealed identity story 
• How to make characters three-dimensional 
• BONUS: “It begins with a character, usually, and once he…begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him.” 

How to create suspense in your story

Conflict – the competition a character faces as attempting to achieve a goal – always is the core of a story. But a good story is more than just a fight between a hero and a villain or an inner monologue in which one struggles what to do. Good storytelling involves suspense, that tension in which the reader is uncertain how the conflict will be resolved.

One good way to create suspense is to hold back information. Rather than fill the text with exposition and backstory, instead keep the reader wondering how problems will be settled.

For example, have a character pose a question – and then don’t answer it:

“Why the long face? What’s bothering you, kiddo?”

She folded her arms, looked away. “Nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”

Of course, something is wrong. Suspense is created because there is a dynamic between the two characters; one wants to know the answer to a question yet the other doesn’t want to provide that answer.

Another option is to withhold details as characters interact with objects. So, don’t write:

He slipped a hand into a coat pocket, fingered the detonator.

But instead write:

He slipped a hand into a coat pocket, pressed the tip of his thumb against a sharp point in anticipation.

In the revision, the reader is left wondering what is in the coat pocket. Later in the story, reveal that it is a detonator. Further, only use this technique if the object actually plays a key role in the plot.

Avoid answering-the-phone cliché in your story

One common way writers slow stories is with the answering-the-phone cliché.

This cliché consists of detailing all the trivial steps and dialogue that goes into answering a phone call. For example:

John’s cell phone rang. He pulled it out of his pocket, hit the phone icon. “John here.”

“Hi John, it’s Mary.”

“How are you, Mary?”

“Good.” There was a long pause.

“Good but…?”

“My car broke down again.”

John rolled his eyes.

There’s a lot of dull stuff in that passage that merely shows how John answered the phone and the courteous greetings that come with it. While the passage may be true to life, including those details isn’t necessary in a story. They leaves the story with a null that serves no purpose – they don’t ramp up the tension, they don’t reveal a character’s motivations, and they don’t set the mood.

Instead, the passage could be trimmed to read:

John’s cell phone rang.

“My car broke down again.”

Mary. John rolled his eyes.

The short version dispenses with the blow-by-blow action and the pleasantries of answering the phone, keeping the story rolling.

6 tips on how to plot your novel or short story

• How to form your story’s basic structure
• Conflict: The heart of every story
• What is an ‘inciting incident’ in a story?
• Basic guidelines for your story’s rising action
• Write your story’s penultimate scene
• Descend the mountain with falling action
• BONUS: “I don’t praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways of keeping readers reading.”

Avoid ‘organ music’ to create story suspense

Sometimes when attempting to create tension and suspense in a story, writers can undercut their own efforts by adding “organ music.”

A term coined at the Cambridge Science Fiction Workshop, organ music us providing “details that countersink an emotional response before anything happens.” An example is crackling lightning before a character is murdered.

This not-so-subtle form of foreshadowing doesn’t create suspense, as some novice authors believe. Instead, it actually gives away what is about to happen. It’s akin to the villain telling the hero, “And now I will shoot you.” Just have the villain fire his atom blaster.

Seven Super Tips on Creating a Character

• Constructing your story’s main character 
• How to create a character’s background 
• Build character by looking at his values 
• Show rather than tell a character’s personality 
• Ways to show a character’s personality 
• Use catch-phrase when creating a character 
• How to come up with characters’ names 
• BONUS: “I wanted to invent myself as a fictional character. And I did, and it has caused a great deal of confusion.”

Spunk up your writing with active, strong verbs

Verbs give sentences and books vibrancy. When too many of them in a story are passive or weak, the writing sounds drab. For example, consider this paragraph:

I dreamed that my children would all get superb grades (because I did), be good little athletes (because my husband was), sing in choir, love going to church, graduate with honors, go on missions, get married, and have beautiful families of their own.

Now compare that to a revised version of the paragraph:

I dreamed that my children earned superb grades (because I did), excelled as athletes (because my husband was), sang choir, loved going to church, graduated with honors, volunteered for missions, married, and founded beautiful families of their own.

Notice how the second one pops with more energy, if only because it uses a couple of more active voice verbs. Those new verbs carry connotations and create images in readers’ minds, engaging them far more than passive voice verbs that simply say that something exists (“I am a carpenter” is the same as saying “I exist as a carpenter”).