He Said, She Said

How to use attributives

Sal Glynn, Writing for
3-minute read
Episode #120

Creative Attributives

Simplicity is the rule in attributives. Many writers try to think for the reader by replacing “said” with words like grunted, growled, demanded, bellowed, cooed, roared, squalled, and simpered. If the tone of the dialogue is not immediately apparent, rewrite the dialogue and not the attributive.

This goes double for adding adverbs like belligerently, arrogantly, haughtily, angrily, coquettishly, happily, slavishly, and jokingly. Before using any of these or others, ask yourself how someone would sound if they spoke in that manner. When the answer comes back, “I don’t know,” rewrite the dialogue until you do.

Writing for Readers

Many writers rebel at the idea of “he said, she said.” They complain of the blandness and they are right. “He said, she said,” is transparent on purpose. The writer’s job is to put the dialogue into the mind of the reader (2). With too much information, readers have no room to make the story their own. As Kurt Vonnegut wrote in comparing films to novels, “There are tens of thousands of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, since each reader has to cast, costume, direct, and design the show in his head (3).” The simple attributive makes for a livelier scene.

Now that you understand attributives, remember the quick and dirty rule is keep them simple and where they belong.

The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish

Also, thanks again to Sal Glynn, author of The Dog Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish, which won best writing /publishing book at last year's IPPY awards, for writing this week's podcast. Find out more about Sal at his blog, http://dogwalkeddownthestreet.blogspot.com.


1. Lukeman, Noah. The First Five Pages. NY: Simon & Schuster, 2000.

2. Piercy, Marge and Ira Wood. So You Want to Write. Wellfleet, MA: Leapfrog Press, Inc., 2005.

3. Vonnegut, Jr., Kurt. Between Time and Timbuktu. NY: Dell Publishing, 1972.


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