Writing tip: Don’t overdo attribution in dialogue
On December 14, 2021 | 0 Comments | Writing tips |

Attribution in dialogue—such as “Gloria said” or “David said”—is necessary to keep your readers from getting confused about who is saying what, but too much attribution can become a distraction. When it’s obvious who is talking, there’s no need for it.

I recently read two novels in which both authors regularly attributed every line of dialogue in a two-person conversation. Here is an example from each, with a couple identifying words changed:


Example from book #1, where Brian and Jenny are talking:

“Do you have siblings?” Brian asked.

“A brother,” Jenny said. “He’s married with a son, a daughter, and a mortgage.”

“Where did you two grow up?” Brian asked.

“On Long Island,” Jenny said.

“I always wanted a daughter,” Brian said. “But my wife didn’t. She’s happy with the boys.”

“Your wife is lovely,” Jenny said.

If there were three people in the above conversation, attribution for each line of dialogue would be necessary to avoid confusion. With only Jenny and Brian there, however, after the first two lines it’s clear who is saying what.


Example from book #2, where Laurie and Lou are talking about a gunshot victim:

“He looks younger than eighteen,” Laurie said.

“More like fifteen,” Lou agreed.

“It was obviously a close-range shot,” Laurie said.

“How close?” Lou asked.

“I’d say three or four inches,” Laurie said.

“Typical,” Lou said.

Again, after the first two lines I knew who was talking. As a result I found the additional attribution distracting—and annoying.

Just like food, attribution is necessary, but best in moderation!



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