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  1. #1
    Steven C

    "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    The other day I was reading Renni Browne’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” and in the chapter on dialogue it said this:

    Place the character’s name or pronoun first in a speaker attribution (“Dave said”). Reversing the two (“said Dave”), though often done, is less professional. It has a slightly old-fashioned, first-grade-reader flavor (“Run, Spot, run,” said Jane). After all, “said he” fell out of favor sometime during the Taft administration.

    Well, this was news to me. I flipped through some other books on writing, and while they all had the usual bit on how you shouldn’t use adverbs to modify “said” and use “said” over other words as much as possible, only one other, David Morrell’s “Lessons from a Lifetime of Writing,” mentioned it:

    Sometimes, for variety, writers invert a speech tag: “said Jill.” I do not recommend this approach. It is not idiomatic and distracts the reader from what is being said.

    Again, this was new to me, so I picked up a stack of books and began checking them out.

    These books use the proper way: “Elvis said.”

    “The Body,” by Stephen King
    “The Accidental Tourist,” by Anne Tyler
    “The Outsiders,” S.E. Hinton
    “Han Solo at Star’s End,” by Brian Daley
    “Red Storm Rising,” by Tom Clancy
    “The Brotherhood of the Rose,” by David Morrell

    These books switch back and forth between the proper and improper way.

    “Call of the Wild,” by Jack London
    “All Creatures Great and Small,” by James Herriot
    “Luck in the Shadows,” by Lynn Flewelling

    These books use the so-called improper way: “said Elvis.”

    “The Razor’s Edge,” by W. Somerset Maughm
    “Fahrenheit 451,” by Ray Bradbury
    “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” by John Berendt
    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams
    “The Wreckers,” by Iain Lawrence
    “Skellig,” by David Arnold

    Both of these last two books, published in ’98, won numerous awards, “Garden” was a national bestseller, and two others are sci-fi classics, so it’s obvious that if you don’t use the “proper” form of speech tags, you can still get published and read.

    In fact, I’ve never really noticed it when reading. As long as they don’t say, “Elvis interjected adamantly,” or “smiled Elvis,” I don’t think it really matters.

    Any thoughts on this, or experience with editors and publishers?

  2. #2
    Dave Kuzminski

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    Go with what sounds right to you for the instance in which it's being used.

  3. #3
    jim holm

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    The attribution should conform to a style so that the reader is not jared. Elvis said, would appear to be the most conventional and make the most sense.

    As you've noted, certain books violate certain rules. Rule number one is to respect the rights of the reader.

    Others seem to think that rule number one is to love thy neighbor as thyself, although our world doesn't currently embrace that concept.

    Once first book is published, then your second, and third . . . and you have established yourself . . . then break all the rules you want.

  4. #4

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    "Elvis growled."

  5. #5
    Dave Kuzminski

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    Thank you. Thank you, very much.

  6. #6

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    lol, dave.

  7. #7
    Robert Raven

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    Elvis said, "You can do anything, but lay off of my blue suede shoes."

    Elvis said, "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time."

    Elvis said, "The whole rhythm section was the Purple Gang, let's rock."

    That's what Elvis said.


  8. #8
    Keith Blount

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?


    I've got to say that in this case, Renni Browne is just *too* pedantic - "the kind of pedanticism up with which I shall not put,", as Churchill said (or something like it). Surely either work ("said Churchill"); it depends on the sentence. Whilst it's true that "said he" is out of fashion (but still used, usually for comic effect), "said [name]" *isn't* out of fashion, not by a long shot. I think this is because there is a different impact when the phrase includes a proper name to when it includes a pronoun. I can't remember where I read this, but someone gave the following advice, which makes more sense to me:

    If you're ending a sentence with "said Elvis", be aware that the emphasis is on the speaker (Elvis); if you end it with "Elvis said", the emphasis is on the verb ("said") - for the simple reason that the word on which you end your sentence will resonate in your reader's mind. So each have a different impact and either can be used, depending on the effect you want. Thus:

    "You are always on my mind," said Elvis.

    emphasises that Elvis is the speaker, and turns the reader's attention to him, and what is going through his mind when he speaks these words;

    "You are always on my mind," Elvis said.

    kind of emphasises that Elvis is "saying" rather than shouting, growling, or bawling. In this case, I think the former has more impact - it has a different tone, a different rhythm - it is more downbeat, whereas the latter is very matter-of-fact, as though it's just business. But in another sentence, "Elvis said" may work a lot better. For instance:

    "I am going to kill you with this hamburger," said Elvis.

    "I am going to kill you with this hamburger", Elvis said.

    In this case I think the sentence works better with "Elvis said", purely because it becomes more deadpan. But it's just tone and somebody else might disagree.

    "He said" and "she said" are different because they are less obtrusive - they don't draw attention to the speaker in any way because the speaker isn't even named, so the order has become more fixed. English grammar doesn't always follow logical rules (for instance, we say, "isn't it?", but rarely, "is not it?" - we would say "is it not?"). You can stultify your prose if you approach it as a mathematician, in my ever-so humble opinion (though I am a grammar-fascist and would like to shoot anyone who spells "grammar" as "grammer" and who cannot use an apostrophe).

    In short: either are grammatically correct, and who's going to argue with Ray Bradbury, Somerset Maugham and Douglas Adams?

    I agree with what everyone else has said, except that I more often find "Elvis said" more jarring than "said Elvis" (though of course it depends what Elvis is saying - ah-ha-ha).


  9. #9
    Steven C

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    Thanks, Keith. I thought the same about putting a name at the power point at the end of a sentence. Plus, I like the look of it - with the person's name like a bookend to the line.

    It's also interesting that some of the best dialogue I found didn't have a single "said Elvis" or "Elvis said" for pages on end. They used people gesturing, or thinking, and so on. It makes for very tight, stream-lined copy.

    I'll just see how it goes and check how it sounds and probably end up in that middle group, where they switch back and forth. (Kind of like my sex life.)

  10. #10
    Colenall Funch

    Re: "Elvis said" or "said Elvis"?

    I am following this and say thanks KB.
    I think "said Elvis" works in 'playful' contexts, certainly in humour.

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