Said Terence or Terence Said

I’m having trouble figuring out which form of dialog tag is preferred under which circumstances. In fiction dialog, should I write:

“I’ll call a car to take us to my studio,” said Terence.


“I’ll call a car to take us to my studio,” Terence said.

Which flows more naturally under which circumstances? I’ve tried googling it, but if the answer is out there I can’t find the right search terms to describe the question.

There are, of course, many other ways of indicating the speaker. For instance, if there are only two named characters, you can use the name of the other one in the dialog:

“Jenni, I’ll call a car to take us to my studio.”

You can add an action before the dialog:

Terence motioned to the door. “I’ll call a car to take us to my studio.”

And sometimes you can omit the dialog tag completely:

“I’ll call a car to take us to my studio.”

But sometimes you just need a simple “NAME said” tag, and I can’t seem to figure out when I should use “NAME said” and when I should use “said NAME”. I tend toward “NAME said” in most of my fiction to date, but in a recent dialog heavy novel I read I noticed that “said NAME” was used about 5 times as often as “NAME said” and it seemed to work.

OTOH with pronouns, it’s almost always “he said” or “she said”. “said he” and “said she” seem to appear primarily in verse and young children’s literature.

Any thoughts?

3 Responses to “Said Terence or Terence Said”

  1. Capt TickTock Says:

    I was taught at school (too long ago) that the verb should be in between the subject and the dialogue:

    “I’m hungry”, said Alice.
    “I’m not”, said Jim.
    Then Fred said, “Stop arguing, you two!”.

    J.K. Rowling usually uses NAME said, even after the dialogue spoken, which bugged me when reading Harry Potter:

    “I don’t like this”, Harry said.

    Maybe the convention has changed because so many people ignore it.

  2. John Cowan Says:

    “X said” is the safest form of dialogue tag: no copy editor, however badly brain damaged by the shibboleths of his profession, will complain about that. It will be boring for the reader, but what the hell, she’s already paid for the book.

  3. Juli Rew Says:

    I like James Alan Gardner’s Skill List Project for hints about how to write: He has an entry about dialog attribution.

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