Monday, January 31, 2011

Helpful Hint #3: Dialogue tags

Limiting the variety of dialogue tags, a "rule of thumb" in the literary world, was very difficult for me to accept. As a second grade writing teacher I often encouraged my students to think of other words to describe their characters' dialogue other than 'said'.

Yet during the production of my first novel, my editor suggested that using more flowery dialogue tags were unnecessary. I remained unconvinced, but took her advice half-way...meaning I deleted some of my tags but kept many of them. Even after reading some well written posts on the subject I couldn't bring myself to agree with what was essentially the opposite of what I had been teaching my students.

However, I began to pay attention to tags used in other books...those by prolific, best-selling authors. As you might have guessed, there was little variation from the word 'said'. And when the speaker was obvious, there might not be a dialogue tag at all.

So I have tried to scale down my use of 'commented' and 'reproached' and 'moaned' (etc).

In addition to that is the overuse of adverbs hooked to tags such as 'she said joyfully'. This is a particular weakness of mine. I am learning, however, that if I take more care in what my characters are actually saying, I don't have to tell my readers how it was said. I can assume they are smart enough to know.

Take for example, "I'm so excited!" Sara shouted gleefully or "Thank you so much," she whispered thankfully. The adverbs are completely redundant. We can infer quite easily the speaker's emotion from the words.

For more on this suggestion check out the following articles:

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