Saturday, March 26, 2011

DIALOGUE TAGS

Okay, we’ve all heard it in classes. No one should say:
He growled
She snorted
He admonished
She chided
He murmured
She whispered and on and on . . .
I’ve heard it explained only he said/she asked.
Recently I heard the move is going a bit further and only
he said and she said are considered the most
acceptable modes with respect to dialogue.

What do all of you think? Do you dislike reading dialogue with
all kinds of tags? Or is a good story the most important thing?
Is it distracting or does it add to the story?
How do you write, with or without different tags?
Would love to have your feedback…
Happy writing, she mumbled.

14 comments:

  1. When I read aloud to children I almost always leave off the tags because it slows down the story.

    As a writer, I find it challenging to think of an original tag! Oh my kingdom for a boat full!

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  2. There I go again with exclamation points!!!!!! she yelled!!!!

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  3. I like the mix of both. I think it adds to the story to have the different tags as long as they aren't too long or repeated too often. I think when one tries too hard to come up with something different it often has the opposite effect, pulling you away from the story.

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  4. I'm with Kym -- I prefer a mix. If I find I've used tags too many times, my writing feels unnatural to me.

    My favorite "tag" jokes are the old ones we called "Tom Swifties." Tom, in the old books, never just said anything...he always did or said it with an adverb, which as we now understand, are Not Permitted.

    My favorite Tom-tag: "I'm very keen on camping," said Tom intently.

    Hyuk-hyuk.

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  5. Good topic, Linda. I'll jump on the "mix" bandwagon, as long as it's light on the tags. Mostly I prefer to follow the dialogue with an action.

    "I'm done with this conversation." Carrie flipped her auburn hair and stormed down the hall.

    I don't think tags are taboo though, she opined.

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  6. Thanks everyone for the input. "Susan, I think I tend to avoid them as well. Feels like I'm coming out of the POV's head, so I use action as well or use them only when it makes the speaker clearer. But now and then I toss one in. But, again, only if it makes it clearer for the reader," I reiterated. "Karla, you're hilarious!" I cried. "And Kym, you're so diplomatic," I inferred. "Deb? I love your example," I said sweetly.

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  7. I think it's like anything else- if it's not crucial to the story, adding to it, why is it there? If a specific dialogue tag isn't going to tell me something I wouldn't have understood (and needed to understand) about what was said, then leave it off, opt for the he/she said.

    And what Susan did there- flipping the hair and walking away-- that's an action tied w/ the dialogue which for me is more useful than 'she quipped' or similar.

    But, I'll admit I'm horrendously guilty of the clever tags and have to edit them out regularly.

    It's one thing to have the rules of writing well stuck in my head, and quite another to comply.

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  8. Totally depends on the editor. I took 90% of them out for Barbour; the editor put them all back in. My latest: I had a telephone conversation going, and one of my readers had a hissy fit about not being able to follow the conversation although I put in the names occasionally and it was obvious who was mom and who was son.

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  9. Several commenters have already stressed the point: tags are fine if not done to excess. The fact is that most people, when speaking, don't snarl, whine, purr or any of the other sounds that come from the animal kingdom. They just talk, often in a rather understated and even deadpan way. There are exceptions, of course -- a few people do tend to speak dramatically. But in American English, at least, this is rare. "He said, she said" would be descriptive of how most people actually converse, even if there is an emotional undertone or overtone to the exchange. The content of the utterance is enough to suggest to readers the corresponding tone of voice. A few "beats" here and there keep the scene before the reader. Another consideration is the POV. Any utterance by the POV character is unlikely to be strengthen by a tag, if the writer has adequately conveyed the POV character's attitude through other means. Especially if a scene is told in the first person, a tag attached to the "I" character's utterance sounds ludicrous. “Just my opinion,” he muttered, though his strong feelings on the subject were made obvious by the intensity of his countenance.

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  10. Great feedback, all. I appreciate it. I find the "rules" are so often broken and badly by extremely well-pubbed authors and it causes so much misery for new authors. Glad to see everyone has an opinion and most line up well one with the other. Thanks all.

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  11. Wow! Lots of comments here, Linda. I'm a little behind the eight ball here, but I'll add my two cents. (cliche, cliche, cliche!!)

    I use action tags and no dialog tags. I know, I'm weird. : )

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  12. I think someone made up some rules that readers don't really care about. But that's just me. I do think tags slow things down for those who know the rules or who are more literary readers.
    But I'm personally really partial to "she hissed".
    *grin*

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  13. And don't forget your fave, he snarled. hehehehehe

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  14. Linda,

    I'm late coming into this, too. I was taught to use "said" and "asked." Period. Then the rules were amended to "don't use 'asked' because it's redundant with the question mark." Use only "said." I try to write my dialogue so I can cut as many dialogue tags as possible. If the reader can easily figure out who's talking without using "said," I go for it. I'm more of an action tag user like Cheryl.

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