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Thread: Dialog Tags

  1. #1
    Jillian Eaton
    Guest

    Dialog Tags

    Dialog Tags

    I have trouble with these in my writing. I try to use the traditional ‘he said, she said’ but I find that I am always slipping other words in there. Sometimes I don’t use dialog tags at all. Someone in the forum said this was a major no-no. So I glanced at some of the books on my own shelves and this is what I came up for as examples.

    An excerpt from Tears of the Moon by Nora Roberts
    Page seven, chapter one.

    “Christ Jesus!” He scraped his chair around, thumped a hand to his heart as if to get it pumping again. “What’s the matter?”

    “Nothing.” She continued to sneer. “Butterfingers,” she said sweetly and picked up her dented toolbox again. “Give you a start, did I?”

    …….

    “I didn’t hear you.” He blew out a breath, scooped his hair back, and frowned at her. “Well, here’s the O’Toole come to call. Is something broken, then?”

    “You’ve a mind like a rusty bucket.” She shrugged out of her jacket, tossed it over the back of the chair.”


    Only once in this brief excerpt does she use the word ‘said’. Is this grammatically correct? Are there strict rules governing this, or is it a matter of opinion and/or if it reads well, use it? I flipped briefly through my Harry Potter books and found that JK Rowling always uses proper dialog tags. Her style of writing is obviously different than Roberts’, but I enjoy their books equally and they are both international best sellers. In all of their books, dialog plays a big part.

    Thoughts? Comments? Suggestions? Are there any websites or books that would explain this further? Thanks!!



  2. #2
    Keith .
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    Sometimes I don’t use dialog tags at all. Someone in the forum said this was a major no-no.

    I disagree with whoever told you this. I say the fewer the better, as long as it's crystal clear who's speaking. As far as how often you use them, it's just a matter of style.

    Keep in mind this is a public forum with no entrance exams. For all you know advice (including mine) could be coming from an experienced writer, an eighth grader or just some freakin' idiot with no knowledge whatsoever. For nuts and bolts stuff, read Stein on Writing or another qualified guide. Janice or Jeanne or someone here often posts an excellent list of resources. Use the search function and good luck.
    km

  3. #3
    Cindy Kay
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    Jillian, I think the "rule" on attribution is simply that you put in as many as you need. We've all probably had to back up in a long section of dialogue while reading to sort out the chain of a conversation and see which character was talking. You want to include enough attribution so your readers don't have to do that, but no more than are necessary.

    In a two-person conversation, it's much easier for the reader to follow who's saying what so you often need fewer tags. When multiple people are speaking, you'll need more.

    In your example, Roberts is using a backdoor kind of attribution most of the time. She is sandwiching a sentence with the character doing something between quotes. This works equally as well to identify the speaker because of our convention of giving each speaker a separate paragraph. A great way to avoid too many saids, especially in dialogue with more than two speakers.

    The more you give each character a distintive way of talking and follow paragraph-break conventions, the fewer attributions you'll need.

  4. #4
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    Right. Those aren't dialogue tags Nora Roberts was using. And her treatment is just fine.

  5. #5
    Josh Lemay
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    In the Peep Show Girl thread, you're the one who said something like that would be awkward, Gary(using a sentence to explain who's talking as opposed to a dialogue tag). You might have meant something else was awkward, but in the context of your post it looked confusing.

    If you did mean writing dialogue and then a sentence showing who's speaking is awkward, I'd be interested in hearing your reasoning behind it. From everything I've read, that's what you should do(along with using said and asked on occasion, with an even smaller amount of other things like whispered, screamed, etc.). I'm not trying to corner you or attack you in any way, but your posts seem contradictory and I, personally, could use some clarification on what you meant.

  6. #6
    Gary Kessler
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    I said that particular one seemed awkward to me, Josh. I didn't say that the use of that technique was thereby forever and always awkward.

  7. #7
    Ronda Hamilton
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    I thought I was confused before..... I changed all those tags in my Peep Show story and didn't like it anywhere near as well after I'd done that. I think I might change them back.
    I wish writing was like math. Stupid ambiguity...

  8. #8
    Josh Lemay
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    Ok, that makes more sense, then. I thought you meant it the other way around(the technique was awkward, not just that one particular sentence).

  9. #9
    Don Daffron
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    In times past, people like Hemmingway used nothing more than “said” for a tag. The use of “snorted, bellowed, cried, screamed,” and the like, seems to be frowned on. It’s similar to using the exclamation point too many times in a story. Also, many writers seldom use any tag. If there are only two characters in a scene, only the first speaker needs a tag, after that it is: The first speaker, then the second, and then back to the first – no need for more tags. And the fewer the better as far as I’m concerned. I posted this before not long ago. I don’t remember anyone posting that all dialog should be tagged.

    The use of a character’s action to “tag” the speaker is a great way to avoid too many “saids.” Writing teachers say not to worry about too many “saids” though. Use as many as you want, because readers pay no attention to the repetition of tags. Personally, though, I use tags only when necessary and use action of the character as the tag when identification of the speaker is needed.

    Just my two cents.

  10. #10
    Busy Lizzy
    Guest

    Re: Dialog Tags

    >sigh<

    It's "Hemingway".

    If the poor man turns in his grave everytime somebody spells his name wrong, he must be continually rotating.

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