About Attributions

editor/publisher of CommuterLit

Copyright is held by the author.

A trend in literary writing circles is to go very plain Jane with your dialogue attributions, i.e. Mary whispered, He shouted, Marvin demanded, etc… Many editors will not tolerate anything but “he/she said” and think that it’s redundant if you put “he/she asked” when you’ve already punctuated the line with a question mark. You will be pegged as a novice writer, if you end a line of dialogue in quotation marks with “he smiled” or “she laughed.”

And I see their point. A person says — not smiles — a line of dialogue. Better, I think, to change the attribution to “he said with a smile” or “she said and then laughed.”

As well as seeing a lot of “he smiled” and “she laughed” in submissions to CommuterLit, I encounter many “he continued,” “she interrupted,” “she shrugged.” Often these lines can be rejigged — “he said, continuing his story,” “she said, interrupting him,” “she said with a shrug” — or, if you think about it more, gotten rid of altogether.

I’m not as rigid as some other editors on this point. I can accept that a person can whisper a line of dialogue, can scream a line of dialogue or call out something to someone. Beyond that though, weird attributions will jar me and I will edit them.