A great deal is made of the use of ‘he said’/’she said’ and the many alternatives. Truth is, there are times when none of them are necessary. Authors love their characters’ names and tend to over-use them at the drop of a speech. But that can become tedious for the reader.
When there are only two characters in the scene, rein in character names; and judge whether ‘he said’/’she said’ is required at all. The tone, context and choice of words should indicate who is speaking, particularly if there's verbal fencing going on.
Here’s an example from an early chapter in Blood of the Dragon Trees – and ‘said’ is only used once.
Story so far: Laura finds a broken ivory figurine on the floor and knows there’s an intruder. It's her POV; she guesses who it is, too.
Perhaps she should have felt threatened as Andrew Kirby stepped out from the bathroom. He was, after all, a virtual stranger. But she was remarkably calm.
He was dressed in a pale green shirt and chinos. Laura pointed to his desert boots. ‘A few grains of soil gave you away, Mr Kirby.’
He shrugged. ‘Ironic, really. I’m into earth preservation and here it goes, giving me away!’
‘It’s no joking matter, you know.’ She was serious, despite his smile. ‘Breaking and entering – it’s a serious offence in Spain, too.’
He nodded sombrely. ‘Indeed it is. If the culprit is handed over to the authorities, of course.’
‘Have you any explanation for being here?’
‘Selling encyclopaedias, but couldn’t find the door?’
Laura shook her head.
‘Chasing my pet cat–’
‘No.’ She wondered if that stray was his, then shook her head.
‘Hopelessly in love with you?’
She felt the colour rise in her cheeks. ‘No, I don’t think so.’ She leaned back against the desk, fingering a broken fragment of ivory. ‘This piece would have been valuable to sell, I’m sure – if you hadn’t dropped it.’
His mouth gaped open. ‘A thief? You think I’m a common thief!’
‘Are there any other kind of thieves? Is a common thief somehow worse than a gentleman thief?’ She shook her head. ‘I would never have believed I’d be discussing semantics with a burglar!’
‘Now I’m a burglar!’
‘If the cap fits–’
He walked towards her.
She edged away.
He lifted his arms wide, palms open. ‘My intentions are honourable, Miss Reid.’
‘What? Towards me or–’ she said, holding out the ivory piece, ‘– towards poor Felipe’s broken fisherman?’
There was a strange intensity in his eyes, something she had not noticed before. For a moment she feared his presence, his musky nearness. But only for a moment.
He reached out to the ivory in her hand and she anticipated his touch.
- Blood of the Dragon Trees (p43)
* – Write a western in 30 days.