Friday, April 4, 2014

D = "Dialogue tags aren't always needed," she cried.


Have you ever read something like this?

“Where are you going?” he queried.

“I’m headed to the store,” she whispered.

“Really?” he gasped.

“That’s right,” she breathed.

When I’m reading, the overuse of dialogue tags in a book catches my eye as if it’s in bold print. Odd or uncommon tags are even worse. Sometimes “said” is good enough.

In my house, we talk to each other. I would suspect most households are the same. My husband has never growled, or even grunted, “Pass the coffee, Dollface,” and to the best of my recollection, I’ve never wailed, “We’re out of shampoo!” He doesn’t roar or bellow when he’s angry—and frankly, I think that would scare the crap out of me if he did, since he has a deep voice. I might exclaim here or there, or shout to someone up the stairs, but I don’t gasp when the mailman drives up, even when the package says “Amazon” on it.

http://litreactor.com/columns/on-dialogue-tags-why-anything-besides-said-and-asked-is-lazy-writing has a great article on dialogue tags, and my favorite part of it is the very beginning:

Chortled is a verb. The definition is: To laugh in a breathy, gleeful way; chuckle. And it is a horrible, terrible, stupid word. For me it conjures the image of an obese woman laughing through a mouthful of spray cheese. I don’t know where it came from, but I do know we should send it back and light it on fire.

What a vivid mental image. The columnist, Rob Hart, describes expressive dialogue tags as “the laugh track of the literary world.” They tell, rather than show, what’s happening, and every writer in every part of the world who’s ever written a single word has heard the “show, don’t tell” speech. Ultimately it shows lazy or immature writing.

If you read the authors everyone recognizes as skilled, you’ll notice simple dialogue tags or none, in most cases. I’ll bet Stephen King doesn’t chortle. He probably laughs, just like the rest of us.

55 comments:

  1. Keeping things simple definitely works best!

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    1. I like simple. I work well with simple.

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  2. I try to use mainly said as my tags, and use nothing when I can. But I have to say, I don't have a hatred for the word chuckled like that other person did. lol That's vehement!

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    1. I will never think of "chortled" and spray cheese as separate things anymore.

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  3. Brandon Sanderson spoke about this in his class. He said it is normal for the reader to skip these tags anyway and use them only to find out who is speaking. It is just another part of building your craft.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. I love the absence of them unless I really need to know who's speaking. More often than not (for me, anyway) they slow down what's happening.

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    2. Also in an unrelated thought pattern. They need to invent a new dance called the Chortle.

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    3. Everyone would have to wear spit-repellent outerwear. Chortling sounds so messy.

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  4. "Ejaculated": Best. Dialogue tag. Ever. Too bad it's not used in modern writing anymore :/

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    1. The first time I saw that in an old, old book, I was like, "What? Did I miss something important here?"

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  5. Yes, bookisms are so funny and so annoying. Although too many "said" can get boring. I try to use beats -- it's time consuming but worth it. :)

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    1. "I know exactly what you mean." I looked around the room, nodding in agreement with those who seemed to understand the concept.

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  6. Me, being Stephen King (as proved by my initials), will confirm that I in fact do not chortle. I laugh like the rest of you, but cuter. Much cuter.
    "Ejaculated"??? Hahahaha Love it...err...I mean the funniness of it. I read that and, "Wow," I spat.

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    1. My laughter bubbled to the surface and burst forth, out of control. "I can't..." I said, wheezing between syllables. "I just...can't."

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  7. First of all--stop copying my A to Z topics LOL - great minds think alike. Second, this is why I have an editor and a beta reader, to remind me that he doesn't need to shout "stop" loudly.

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    1. You're my idol. I couldn't stop copying you if I tried. I'm also here to remind you that deaf people really don't hear things others miss.

      Okay...and now I really am chortling. *Runs off to grab the spray cheese.*

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  8. "Great advice," I said. Somewhere in my high school years I encountered the advice that "said" should never be repeated too soon... which gave us dialogue tags like "he intoned."

    I skip them altogether when I can.

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    1. "Thanks for the comment," I replied sincerely. (I'm allowed to use all the adverbs I want, now that "A" is far behind us.)

      The word "intoned" has always conjured up a vision in my mind of a tall, thin, high priest with a gong; very serious stuff. Or maybe Lurch, from "The Munsters." Or maybe Lurch, playing the part of a high priest.

      "Hmm," I mused. "I'll have to give this more thought."

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  9. I try to stick to said. Or no tag at all.
    Chortled makes me think of a witch.

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    1. I don't know why, but chortled just sounds too saliva-y to me. Like you'd want to stand back a ways when someone is chortling.

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  10. Yes. It's very important to know the difference between conversation and dialog.

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    1. I believe there are times when writers forget that their characters need to sound like they're really talking to each other. I sometimes read and think, "Could I picture myself actually saying that to someone in that way?"

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  11. As an editor, I see a lot of "creative" dialog tags. They can be tricky for all the reasons you've described. And you're right, most of the time they're unnecessary. Special instances call for more powerful words than just laughed...but technically that's an action, not a dialog tag. I think it's safe to take it easy on the tags.

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    1. The overly creative tags pull me right out of the story unless they're used once, for impact. I don't know who told romance writers that all their heroes must growl, gasp, or grunt, but I'd rather have my men verbal, thank you.

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  12. Okay, I agree. Spray cheese is never a good idea--AND IT'S NOT EVEN REAL CHEESE. *calming down* I have a CP who attacks dialog tags. She always tells me to show who's talking by the action around the dialog. I think that's the best way to go. Tags are necessary sometimes, but more often than not, less is more.

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    1. Cheese shouldn't spray. There are so many things wrong with spray cheese I can't even begin to list them.

      Hmm, where was I? Oh yes, dialogue tags. I think your CP has the right idea; less IS more.

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  13. As a journalist, I was taught that people just sort of gloss over "said," so it's OK to use that with every quote. Imagine my surprise when I started writing fiction and memoir, to learn that I don't even need to use "said" every time! Great post.

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    1. It's so freeing to get rid of them, isn't it? I have to stop myself from shouting, "Hooray!" every time I delete one.

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  14. I'm feeling like a real dope right now. I'm mentally checking if my writing has chortled in any way...

    Thanks for visiting my blog, which led me to your Wordpress blog and eventually here when I couldn't find your A to Z posts on the Wordpress site.

    My blog is more like a journal so I just try to make sure what I post makes sense and avoid killing the reader with boredom (i.e. keep it short, clear and sweet). Thank goodness I don't have to battle with dialogue tags.

    Your blog and this post has been an eye-opener. I'm going to watch out for signs of chortling from now on. Have a wonderful weekend!

    Dropping by from the AZ Challenge ~ Mary

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    1. I'm glad you were persistent in finding me! I realized ( a little late) my other blog is what's coming up when I comment on Wordpress blogs, but I figured people could eventually find there way here.

      I think if you've chortled, you'd know it. Chortling isn't the most subtle of things... Even though I don't chortle here, I do have my Coffee Chat buddy, S.K. Anthony, read my posts first to ensure all is well. :)

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  15. Chortle was a word invented by Lewis Carroll in his Jaberwocky poem "He chortled in his glee".

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    1. I had no idea he'd invented that word! Cool new bit of knowledge. Thanks, Jo!

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  16. I've been listening to audio recordings of a writers conference (RWA) and in one session the author mentions all the options other than said and asked that are available to writers. Right away, there are murmurs from the crowd. Several people are chiming in to say that's the opposite advice writers here, that you either use said or asked or seek to eliminate the need for tags by showing character interaction instead. The author was very diplomatic and took the brunt on herself. She then referred to it as her "highly controversial" dialogue tag list.

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    1. oops, writers "hear" not "here."

      Now I can also leave you with this chortle gem: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.115436975153385.11779.115436758486740 (click on the first panel)

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    2. HA! Okay, now I'm truly chortling unashamedly. I don't know how I can thank you enough for that one.

      As far as the conference speaker, I have to say romance writers are some of the worst offenders of people breathing words, gasping them, hissing them, and all other air-expulsion forms of tags. To me, it separates the good from the bad. If they were used sparingly, I can deal with it, but...I'd rather see the action.

      Not that kind of action. Taking my foot out of my mouth now.

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  17. Hey Lynda, that's some very good writing advice and I'd have to agree. Sometimes "said" works best :)

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    1. Thanks, Mark. I'm completely making it up and hoping everyone goes along with it. ;)

      I will admit that getting these posts ready has seriously sharpened my editing skills. The authors I'm working with are feeling the pain, lol, but hey. We all want the best product in the end.

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  18. "Outstanding," Janie chortled, as the spray cheese shot out of her small but perfectly formed nose.

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    1. "But of course, dear," Lynda nodded. "Allow me to get you a large box of Kleenex."

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  19. Great post. Those dialogue tags can be a nuisance when overused.

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    1. Nuisance is an apt word, Nana. They really are bothersome.

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    1. That's a wonderful motto! I'm right there with you.

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  21. Dahling, I probably do overuse dialogue tags. But there again, I'm a hack, not a writer.
    Thanks for visiting Crazy Town in Looney Land!

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    1. As long as you're the best hack you can possibly be, you'll turn out just fine, dearie.

      Thanks so much for visiting! I've been enjoying Crazy Town in Looney Land all week. :)

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  22. I have to work on more showing of how they expressed themselves than telling...I do love writing dialogue though!

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery...writing my life

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    1. I'm loving the 10 x 10s you're doing on your site. You can pack a lot of punch, and I'm sure your dialogue is no different.

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  23. Ha! Yes, chortle is one of those words I would like to use but always find it's way too strong, like root beer or licorice. Plus I always think of the Jabberwocky poem..."he chortled in his joy" and find most of my work is far too pedestrian for chortling. Le sigh.

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    1. I hadn't remembered chortled was part of Jabberwocky until Jo mentioned it above.

      Not being able to use the word just might not be such a bad thing, though. I wouldn't fret. :) ...unless you write a story about someone chortling between sips of root beer while munching on licorice.

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  24. Well, I followed the comments from the top, all the way down, and am now the wiser for it (I hope)...
    ... and now I'm trying to differentiate between chortle, chuckle and snigger...

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    1. I'm proud of you for making it all the way to the bottom! I hope you didn't try to make your way through all the cliché answers when you read the letter "C" post.

      Chuckling seems so much more good-natured than sniggering. Sniggering sounds like a word that belongs to a snotty teen who's enjoyment consists of making fun of others. Chortling...well, it always involves spray cheese, so you're taking your chances there.

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  25. "Lynda," I interspersed. "What have you done now?"
    "I'm sorry, Martyn," you expostulated. "What is it?"
    "Your dialogue tags are spraying cheese all over my cummerbund," I ruminated. "These stains will never come out."
    "You're exaggerating," you frittered. "Soaking those garments in duck urine will work wonders."
    "But where," I phlegmed. "Do I find a urinating duck?"
    "At the pond," you exasperated. "Just lift one and squeeze it."

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    1. "Oh, and Martyn?" I simpered, quite smug in my duck-squeezing knowledge.
      "What is it now, Lynda?" you gurgled, having squeezed the duck the wrong way.
      "I've told you," I scolded, "to stop wearing that cummerbund when you're not wearing the rest of the tuxedo."
      "But—" you sputtered, "it's my special—"
      "No, it's not," I interrupted. "Nobody believes you're really the heavyweight champ just because you're wearing a cummerbund that's been spray-painted gold."

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