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DIALOGUE TAGS PART 2

October 13, 2011

            In Part 1, we were left with this:

            “It’s time we gathered our things and headed for home,” Jane said.

            “I agree,” Roger replied.

            “We’ll come back tomorrow and try again.”

            “I’ll have to ask if I can get off work early.”

            Weak. Could be better. If you look at most novels nowadays, you will find that rarely do authors go for straight dialogue. They’ll mix in a bit of action, often taking the place of tags.

            Jane stretched her legs. “It’s time we gathered our things and headed for home.”

            Roger nodded. “I agree.”

            “We’ll come back tomorrow and try again,” she added as she picked up her jacket.

            “I’ll have to ask if I can get off work early.”

            Notice now how the tags are basically gone, replaced by action instead. The only flaw now is in the third line where there is an as which I’ll fix next. As is a weak word that I use way too much. It is a word that should be used sparingly. Also, she added is a tag mixed with picked up which is action. You don’t need both.

            Jane stretched her legs. “It’s time we gathered our things and headed for home.”

            Roger nodded. “I agree.”

            “We’ll come back tomorrow and try again.” Jane picked up her jacket.

            “I’ll have to ask if I can get off work early.”

            We’re getting there except now I’ve created a different problem, one I warned about before with using said too much, except this time I did it with action tags. I put one action tag at the beginning and the other at the end of the sentence. As you fudge things around and adjust your prose, you have to be aware of this and watch out for it. It may take several reads to catch on to it. Also, don’t fall into a pattern trap where you have several sets of dialogue patterns that match within the same scene. Even though the words might be different, the patterns might be the same. A reader will pick up on that. You have to mix things up!

            Jane stretched her legs. “It’s time we gathered our things and headed for home.”

            “I agree.”

            “We’ll come back tomorrow and try again.”

            Roger handed Jane her jacket. “I’ll have to ask if I can get off work early.”

            One of many ways to fix that little piece. No tags at all.

            Of course, you can use tags, but they are not necessary. You can use action instead. You can imply the tags. Whatever you do, you must somehow let the reader know who is speaking.

            In conversations where more than two people are talking, it is critical that you identify who is saying what. It can be through a tag, an action, or a manner of speaking (accent used discreetly). In my Gold series adventure/thrillers, some scenes revolve around conference meetings with six or more people. I have to positively identify who is speaking. I originally did it through plain old tags, but learned the hard way that seeing all those tags over and over again made reading the dialogue repetitious. I soon cut some out with implied tags which cut a few dozen in an average conversation. Then I honed it a bit more by adding a few action tags and came up with a healthier balance. If I were to rewrite the scenes today, I might change all of my tags to actions. I’m still up in the air on that but I’m leaning that direction.

            It’s all a matter of individual taste. Some authors demand tags while others abhor them. When I read stories nowadays, I notice who do and don’t use tags and how authors use them. I prefer the minimalist approach. Maybe other readers will also, unconsciously. It easy to just add tags. It’s harder to do less with finesse. Just some thoughts to complicate your life!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011 10:32 pm

    Fred, good advice. Stick with minimal tags, no tags, or action tags. Mix and match. One thing that will tag (no pun intended) a writer as a novice is when, instead of using ‘said’, they inundate the dialogue with verb tags. “It’s time we gathered our things and headed for home,” she whined, shouted, growled; giggled, chirped, etc. The tag ‘said’ is nearly invisible. As a rule, the reader skims right over it without noticing it. It’s important to know who is speaking, but avoid excesses that slow the pace or stop the reader cold. I was guilty of doing this with my first couple of novels. I deliberately browsed through the dictionary looking for active verbs to tag onto my dialogue.

    • October 14, 2011 1:18 am

      Carol,

      That’s very good advice. Those added verbs get really annoying, and fast. That subject alone could almost make a part three. Thanks for bringing it up. I noticed it a lot with the newer writers in our group. I need to start mentioning it more at the meetings.

      Always appreciate your input. You rock!

      Fred

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