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I normally stick with "he said" and "she said" to keep things simple and transparent to the reader but wondering about questions. Is "she asked" and "he asked" appropriate when a character asks a question? Can "he said" and "she said" be okay attributives for questions?

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4 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

'Asked' is generally not considered a said-bookism by most editors and readers AFAIK. In fact, I always use it when a character is asking a question. Because something like "'But how can that be?' he said." sounds wrong to me.

An aside related to comments on @LaurenIpsum 's answer: I only use the following:

  • said - always
  • asked - always for questions
  • yelled, called - only when the scene won't work if the character delivers his line at normal volume
  • interjected - when one character cuts off another mid sentence, but even then, rarely.

Edit: I also use "replied" occasionally.

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BTW -- that is a fantastic article you linked to, far better than any of the answers here. –  Slick23 Jan 6 '12 at 23:00
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"He said" and "she said" are definitely fine when used with questions as well as statements and exclamations. When used with expressive dialog that speaks for itself the attributive may even be unnecessary, especially if there is other action text which makes it clear who is speaking. When the attributive is necessary or useful with expressive dialog, it tends to disappear, which I as a reader view as a good thing.

I think the occasional use of "he asked" and "she asked" is still fairly transparent, but it would be easiest to tell in a snippet for critique. More expressive language such as "she mumbled" or "he grunted" should be used with an intent to call attention to itself, because those attributives will make themselves obvious and catch the reader's focus.

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Sounds fine to me. But then, I don't object to a judicious use of synonyms for "said," either. (grumbled, snarled, sighed, snickered, hinted, etc.)

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You should be concerned about the OVER-use of anything. It's a judgement-laden term. But I agree with Lauren that the JUDICIOUS use of any words, including descriptive dialogue tags, has its place. So, another vote for "nothing wrong with 'asked', when appropriate". –  Kate Sherwood Jan 3 '12 at 18:36
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Yep, consider them peppercorns in a basket of melons. One every now and again livens up the joint. Too many overwhelm the palate. –  Lauren Ipsum Jan 3 '12 at 19:05
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Yeah, but ... they're never necessary. They're never a "better" choice than a transparent attribution that doesn't call attention to itself. If it is necessary, then it's just shoring up weak dialogue. –  Slick23 Jan 3 '12 at 20:04
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I just find "he sighed" to read better than "he said with a sigh" or "he said, sighing." In fact, the latter two indicate "he spoke, then he sighed," while the first indicates he was breathing out gustily as he spoke, which isn't the same series of actions. Just as adverbs are not always evil, neither are attributives. (And Stephenie Meyer's problems go far deeper than attributives.) –  Lauren Ipsum Jan 3 '12 at 21:42
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And there's some descriptors that can't really be conveyed via dialogue. "He mumbled," for example... what are you going to do, spell the mumbling phonetically? There's also times when the descriptive tag helps clarify dialogue that is NOT, in fact, being spoken in the way that one might normally say those words. "'I hate you,' she crooned." –  Kate Sherwood Jan 3 '12 at 22:54
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They're fine; they certainly aren't an error. If a particular use sounds awkward, don't hesitate to drop attribution entirely (it's often still quite clear who's talking, because most conversations are dialogue, so it's whoever wasn't talking the previous paragraph), or to move the attribution up to earlier in the line:

"But why would any of all that," he said, "explain how late you were to the party?"

This removes the incongruous sense of using "said" for a question, because it puts distance between the attributive and the question mark.

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I don't think this was the question, and it already assumes that the use of "he said" and "she said" are okay, the OP is asking if considering them the standard, is "she asked" or "he asked" appropriate? –  Ben Jan 3 '12 at 20:07
    
OP asks Can "he said" and "she said" be okay attributives for questions?. Clearly doesn't consider them the standard. I could be wrong; if OP clarifies otherwise, I'll revise or delete. –  Standback Jan 4 '12 at 5:26
    
He's right ... I was asking specifically if he said and she said are appropriate attributives for questions, because technically the character isn't saying, they're asking. They're obviously standard dialogue tags otherwise. –  Slick23 Jan 8 '12 at 23:39
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