Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Embellished Dialogue Tags Can Be Frustrating For Editors and Readers

The guy above could be an editor who wonders why writers can't write simple dialogue without constantly embellishing the tags with them. In case anyone does not know what a dialogue tag is--it's the he said or she said that accompanies the spoken words.

One of the big mistakes some writers make is to tack on an adverb to each tag. An adverb describes a verb; it lets the reader know how the character delivered the dialogue. Examples below:

1. "Look at what you've done," Mary said heatedly.

2. "I love you more than you;ll ever know," Susan said softly.

3. "Don't ever speak to me like that again," John said angrily.

Most editors prefer that you omit those adverbs. You might add a simple phrase after the tag such as:

"Look at what you've done," Mary said. She slapped the table with a shaking hand.

Or just leave the tag as 'Mary said.' Whatever preceded the piece of dialogue should have told the reader that she was angry. Using a constant barrage of these adverbs ends up with telling instead of showing. If you're unsure, it's better to skip those adverbs altogether. If you must use them, do it sparingly. 

The main thing to remember is that the actual dialogue is the most important thing that you're writing. The tag is there but it's only meant to keep the characters sorted out as to who said what. 

Some writers are wary of using the he said/she said tag multiple times. Most editors will tell you that it's alright to use it over and over, as readers tend to register it but not pay all that much attention to it. It's just a way to allow you to know who is speaking--Marilyn, Steve, Mr. Jones, or even the oft-used he or she. A brain is a wonderful tool--it can learn to register who is speaking the piece of dialogue, yet skip right over the tag so it doesn't become irritating.

If the dialogue section is lengthy, you can omit the he said/she said off and on if it's obvious to the reader who is speaking. 

Next time you read a novel, or creative nonfiction that uses dialogue, pay attention to how the writer handled the tags. Do you like what the author did? Or did it become an aggravation? What method do you like best? 

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