Writing dialogue: Who said what?

Mary, Jack, and Andy sat on a bench.

“What time is it?” asked Mary.

“Who cares?” said Jack.

“Well, I do,” said Andy.

“Me, too.”

“I don’t know what time it is.”

“But you’ve got a watch on.”

“Yeah, look at your watch.”

“My watch doesn’t work.”

Mary and Andy look at the watch on Jack’s wrist.

“Oh, wait. It does work.”

“Let me see. It’s 3:23.”

Who said what?


I don’t know. I got lost after “I don’t know what time it is.” Maybe some readers could figure it out by going back and reading it a few times, but … no writer wants that.

Attributes are simple little things that writers forget sometimes. We forget that readers cannot see inside our heads. Everything may be clear to us but not for the reader.

He said, she said—maybe you think those attributes look kind of bored, sitting there on the page. Then maybe you need to replace those attributes with some character expressions and action:

Andy looked at Jack and rolled his eyes. “But you’ve got a watch on.”

Maybe you want to give the dialogue that rapid-fire feel, and you think the attributes slow things down. Truth is, they’re barely noticed. They’re little markers that keep the reader on track and the dialogue sorted out—kind of like the center line on a long highway.

Can you leave an attribute off a sentence? Sure, but only if it’s obvious who is speaking.

Also, remember to give each speaker his or her own paragraph.

To give your manuscript a polish, check out I Spy Edits.

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