The point of writing is to snag the reader’s attention and get him/her interested in your character and story. Once you have them hooked, you want them to identify with the main character, hero, heroine, villain, and so on. The way to do that is by using dialogue.

Unfortunately, dialogue can be either very confusing and unclear or very annoying if it’s not done right. Why is that? It’s all thanks to the “he said, she said” tags.

Importance of “He Said, She Said”

When you’re reading a passage of dialogue, you have to know who’s talking in order to know what’s going on. One of the weaknesses pointed out to me in the first draft of In the Days was that it was hard to know who was saying what.

Here is a passage from the first draft:

“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian? Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

“The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature, I do admit. I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So, we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege.”

It’s not entirely clear who is saying what and when. The exchange–between the Empress and her Historian, the main character Deucalion–kinds of flits back and forth between characters without really making it clear who is speaking.

That’s why the “he said, she said” tags are so important. If I were to use them above, it would make it easily apparent who was talking:

“Do you even believe that the gods exist, Historian?” the Empress asked. “Is it possible that mankind is truly controlled by a higher being—either male or female—that forces them to submit and do as ordered with no argument?”

I responded after a moment of thought. “The gods provide mankind something to aspire to.” My logic was simple and sound—or so I thought.

“But is it really necessary to aspire to become something that destroys, maims, or kills?”

I had to agree.

“The gods of Atlantis are sanguinary in nature,” I admitted. “I have always preferred the Oriental belief in reincarnation according to one’s actions in life.”

“It does seem much more humane, Historian. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to submit to the practices made popular by the masses. Those promoted by that repulsive creature, Orgas.”

She shivered in disgust at the thought of the corpulent high priest. I had to admit that he was no favorite of mine, either.

“So,” I continued, “we are left to follow the polytheistic teachings of the masses, and the empress must be a devout follower for appearance’s sake. And yet, I question what is truly in the heart of the Immortal One when she is alone.”

“That is for your empress to know, and her Historian to wonder.”

“My liege,” I said with a mocking bow.

With the addition of just a few words, it’s suddenly so much clearer who is saying what. Adding those “he said, she said” tags makes dialogue easier for the average reader to follow.

Avoid Repetition

One reason many people have stopped using the “he said, she said” tags is because it gets annoying to have it after every sentence. I know I get tired of seeing it all the time, but that’s why the gods invented hundreds of different verbs to use.

Here’s a great link you can use when writing if you want to avoid “he said, she said” over and over:

219 Words to Use Instead of “Said”

You want to avoid repeating that “said” verb too many times, but don’t be afraid to sprinkle it around liberally either. You’ll find that the verb blends into the background, and you stop noticing it after a few pages of reading. However, the “he”, “she”, “they”, “the Empress”, and all the other pronouns before the “said” make it SO MUCH easier to know who is saying what.