Linore is here again with a great writing tip for you and me. Let's read on.
Writing Tip #5
by Linore Rose Burkard
When I look at portions of work by newer writers, it is common to find them doing one of two things when it comes to dialogue tags: they either use too many tags or not enough. Both tendencies adversely affect writing, make readers cringe, or tell an editor or agent to stop reading. Since we want people to KEEP reading, how we do avoid both pitfalls?
A tag is only necessary when you need to clarify who is speaking, or to show a reaction that might otherwise be missed. If you insert tags when they are not needed, you risk using too many and this makes the writing awkward.
To tell if you are using too many tags, backtrack a paragraph or two when you're editing your work, and try the dialogue WITHOUT the tags in question. Does it still work? Still make sense? Can you easily tell who is talking? IF the answer is 'yes' to these questions, then you don't need the tag. Cut it out.
Using many tags when they're not necessary makes a work stilted; the dialogue will suffer; and the reader will groan. Don't make your reader groan!
Is Something Missing?
On the other hand, however, if you fail to give enough clues about who is speaking, this too, will make for unhappy readers. They will feel as though they're missing something, and this is frustrating. They will have to go back and try to figure out who is saying what. Ideally, when your characters are really strong, there will be occasions when you can omit a tag simply because the spoken words are so distinctly characteristic of that person, that it becomes redundant to use one. But be sure about this; use a critique partner or two to make sure. If it turns out that readers are confused, then you need a tag. Keep it in.
Is it Character-Driven?
There are occasions when it's right and good to use a tag even though the reader knows who is speaking. This may sound counter to what I said earlier, but the key here are the words, character-driven. This means that it is important for the reader, not only to know who is speaking, but to know HOW the character is saying or thinking a thing. In other words, you want to clarify an emotion that isn't perhaps altogether clear from the words alone. In some cases you may need to specify the tone of voice; or an accompanying gesture the character makes while talking.
I would caution you not to do this often, and again, use critique readers or beta readers, or an editor to take a second look when there is any question about this.
Also, be sure not to overdo it. Having a heroine who sighs heavily once or twice a chapter is probably fine; any more than that and the reader will be sighing heavily.
To emphasize the point of using too many tags, I leave you with an old poem by the humorist Franklin P. Adams. (Read it and learn!)
Monotonous Variety(All of them from two stories in a single magazine.)
She "greeted" and he "volunteered";
She "giggled": he "asserted";
She "queried" and he "lightly veered";
She "drawled" and he "averted";
She "scoffed," she "laughed" and he "averred";
He "mumbled," "parried," and "demurred."
She "languidly responded"; he
Doretta "proffered lazily";
Will "speedily invented";
She "parried," "whispered," "bade," and "mused";
He "urged," "acknowledged," and "refused."
She "softly added"; "she alleged";
He "consciously invited";
She "then corrected"; William "hedged";
She "prettily recited";
She "nodded" "stormed," and "acquiesced";
He "promised," "hastened," and "confessed."
Doretta "chided"; "cautioned" Will;
She "voiced" and he "defended";
She "vouchsafed"; he "continued still";
She "sneered" and he "amended";
She "smiled," she "twitted," and she "dared"
He "scorned," "exclaimed," "pronounced," and "flared."
He "waived," "believed," "explained," and "tried";
"Commented" she; he "muttered";
She "blushed," she "dimpled," and she "sighed";
He 'ventured" and he "stuttered";
She "spoke," "suggested," and "pursued";
He "pleaded," "pouted," "called," and "viewed."
O syonymble writers, ye
Whose work is so high-pricey.
Think ye not that variety
May haply be too spicy?
Meseems that in an elder day
They had a thing or two to--say.
Franklin P. Adams
PS: Did you notice that he used the word "twitted"? Nowadays, we can use that one with a completely different meaning. But no matter what words you use, strike a balance so that you don't use too many tags, or too few. Happy writing!
(WRITE AND TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!)
© 2010 Linore Rose Burkard
The House in Grosvenor Square
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