TAG! How we know who’s it

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When I finally went back to re-read my first ever completed rough draft, I noticed there were a whole hell of a lot of he said, she said going on. Literally. Not to mention: she whispered, he grimaced, they yelled and we sang. Needless dialog tags were everywhere.

I guess the initial instinct when writing, is to label everything so there’s no confusion to your reader, but I think I discussed once before about trusting the reader to get it.  They don’t need everything spelled out. You’re able to let them know who’s doing the speaking by the actions and sentences before and after the line of dialog.

Tags, like adverbs, should be used sparingly. Sometimes they are a necessity, so go ahead and sprinkle them in, BUT try to stick with said and ask. All that gasping and whimpering and exclaiming should be shown by actions. We’re supposed to show, not tell, remember? Again, I don’t think it’s wrong to use them on occasion, but don’t be surprised if someone in editing tells you to ditch them.

Another way to help get across who’s doing the talking is by the character’s voice. Like real people, your characters should have different personalities and different quirks to their speech.  Those things will help the reader understand right away who’s speaking. If one of your characters is little Miss Prime and Proper, frequent church going virginal teen who thinks a blow job is when someone gets their hair straightened at the salon, you know the line of dialog chock full of cursing and sexual references will not be coming out of her pristine mouth.

Once again I’m going to suggest reading your dialog out loud to make sure it flows well.  If you’re constantly hearing yourself saying he said she said or stopping the flow of the conversation to read the tags, then you should probably edit some more of them out.  In this instance, you may want to bring in a friend to help portray the different characters. Exchanging lines of dialog aloud with another person makes the conversation that much more realistic.  It’s always helpful to have an additional set of eyes and ears going over your work as well.

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9 responses »

  1. You know, I can't stand the dialog tag said. It sounds awkward to me, in other books, in my own works, I just hate and I dunno if you noticed MB, I will avoid it. (So that means if you change a bunch of dialog tags in my WIP I will probably ignore that suggestion. lol)

  2. I hear you. I can't stand the overuse of dialog tags. We recently listened to a best seller on CD and every, I mean every, line of dialog ended with he said, she said. I 'bout lost my mind.

    That said, I have a reader in my crit group who cannot follow a two-person dialog without being told who' speaking. I figure she's not representative of the reading public. I hope.

  3. A best seller like that? I'm surprised…and I hope that persona is a minority. They really can be distracting.

    PL, you have a lot of inner monologue that goes on so far, so there's no real need for tags..BUT, if I go through the whole book without learning a name, I may have to come kick you 😛

  4. When they first said not to mention names, I thought Hmm that could be interesting if you could keep it up throughout the whole thing, but what a pain in the ass that must be for you! 😛

  5. I did write the first draft w/ barely a name but I knew it would be too confusing later when Tommy's family started growing in various ways so I came up w/ an idea about nicknames that he was comfortable with and I hoped could be seen a progression of his evolution.

    I totally know what I'm doing… I just need to make sure the readers get it! XD
    How far are you in the story btw?

  6. Heh thanks. Once that draft is done I'll be spending a lot of time catching up on reading. Finishing Being Human is first in line 🙂

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