Who Said What? - Identifying Dialogue Speakers

Who Said What? – Identifying Dialogue Speakers

Who Said What? - Identifying Dialogue SpeakersDialogue is one of the most interesting and useful parts of any story. As readers, we all love a witty conversation, but what we don’t love is when we have no idea which character is saying what.

Why Failing in Identifying Dialogue Speakers Is Sure to Give Readers a Headache

Having just finished a memoir in which the author used speaker attributions only once or twice throughout his long dialogue sections, I can attest the most likely reaction from readers will be their banging the covers shut and smacking themselves on the head with your book.

By the time I was four or five lines into a conversation, I inevitably lost track of who was saying what and had to retreat to the beginning of the scene and count down lines to figure out who was speaking.

Frustrating? Oh yeah.

Identifying Dialogue Speakers 101

Fortunately, giving readers this confusion-induced headache is an easy enough pitfall to avoid.

All you have to do is insert speaker attributions (he said or she said) or action beats (he took a swig of coffee, she opened the mail) every few lines to keep readers oriented.

The word “said” is almost invisible to most readers, so it won’t interfere with your dialogue in the least. And pertinent action beats will keep readers grounded in the scene and prevent talking-head syndrome, in which characters aren’t doing anything but sitting around talking.

Even more importantly, your readers will be much less likely to use your book as a self-imposed blackjack, and you can be sure they’ll thank you for their lack of a headache.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What’s your go-to method for identifying dialogue speakers? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. The video posts feature the lessons I’ve learned from my own reading, hence the books you may have noticed sitting on the shelf beside me in some of the videos.

  2. Interesting. I noticed the books, just didn’t make the connection to the vlogs. You must get a lot of reading in during the week! (lucky)

  3. I read about 100 books a year. I believe reading abundantly is crucial to a writer’s learning, so I make the time for it.

  4. Belle L. says:

    As a reader, I very much dislike having to go back and find who was talking at a certain point of the story because it was made unclear. Excellent post!

  5. And, as writers, we definitely don’t want to be alienating or annoying readers!

  6. I love action beats because they keep readers interested and they’re clues to the character’s emotions and their surroundings.

  7. All the good comments are said. I have a WIP with a good amount of dialogue. I received a critique that I used ‘said’ too much. So, now there are more beats to keep the reader grounded.
    I have given up reading books in the past that required I go back to figure out who is talking very often. Lately, most of my reads are revisions of my WIP except for some favorite bloggers.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Of all the writing commandments, “confuse not the reader,” is probably the most important. :p

  8. Great blog! Short and to the point! My manuscript is fast paced and full of dialogue, so I’ve researched and written a lot on the subject. I agree with you, nothing is more frustrating than losing track of who is talking. Also keep it simple. If you have your characters expostulating, disconcerted or ruminating, you are going to pull the reader out of the story as they attempt to visualize every action. It brings the story to a halt. Stick with he said, she said 🙂

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