H is for He said, he said

My A-Z Challenge this year contains posts about writing adult content in fiction – you will not find any adult fiction within the parameters of the challenge, except for illustration purposes.

I’ve spoken to many writers who have a hard time with dialogue. Making it realistic can be a challenge for some, but for me the main difficulty is apparently writing, “he said,” too often. I work hard on editing it out of all my first drafts. The only thing I don’t have a problem with, it seems, is heterosexual sex scenes. There is often little need for speech.

Where there are some other aspects of sex-scene writing that are awkward in terms of grammar and flow, they tend to be that much harder when the scene involves two (or more) people of the same gender. For the purposes of ease in demonstration, I’ll stick to two males. “He said,” and “he said,” is only part of the problem. The rest of it involves the fact that they both have the same body parts. When a scene is written with breasts and chests for instance, it’s obvious who the writer is talking about when these attributes are mentioned. In the case of two men, well, you get the picture without me describing it for you.

Of course one can use names, but saying, “George’s hand stroked Marvin’s cheek,” and so on gets quite annoying for the reader after a while.  So what to do?

Really the only solution lies in the details. Mentioning that one is older and the other younger is a common way to differentiate in any situation. Taller and shorter, darker and lighter skinned – many things will work – even speech patterns. All things to think about when developing characters from the start.



10 thoughts on “H is for He said, he said

  1. Oh man, I’m going to write a bunch on your blog again. Sorry.

    I had several very, ummm, opinionated English teachers all with their own pet peeves. One such teacher loathed “he said.” And, like most of my English teacher’s pet peeves, I picked this one up as well. I still write it but I hear her voice every time I do. Her voice was kind of whiny so I make sure I can justify it’s use to her voice in my head.

    I’ve been told I do dialog very well and I attribute it to practice. I sit down and write a scene using as little description as possible, telling as much of the story as I can through dialog alone. It’s tricky because the characters can start to run together. You have to give them unique voices to make it readable. This is where the discussion from your F post becimes so very helpful.

    Just brain storming here but in your George/Marvin example above, it could have been previously established that George never calls Marvin by his real name, always by a term of endearment where Martin always calls George, George. “I love when you stroke my cheek, sweetie,” needs no further description because we know who speaks that way.


    • When I write dialogue I see it as though I’m watching a movie. That doesn’t necessarily help with who said what though, which is why using pet names is an excellent suggestion and one that works quite well in my experience too.
      I like your detailed responses, no need to apologize. 🙂


  2. I hate writing he said all the time, it’s boring. I’d rather use a descriptive word with it, like he said sweetly, or something like that. I like reading it that way better, too. I wonder if anyone ever added up how many he saids were in a full length book?


  3. I really wouldn’t worry about using ‘said’ too much – it’s actually much better than using a string of dialogue tags that seem forced and end up reading as if you’re using them just to avoid using ‘said’. It’s better to stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ for the most part 🙂


    • 90% of the time I do use “said” rather than, for example, having my characters murmur all the time. I read somewhere, probably in Stephen King’s On Writing, that if you just stick to “said” the reader will start skimming it – which is a good thing. I must still do it too much though if my readers are noticing it. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

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