Monday, September 2, 2013

He said, She murmured...by Linda S. Glaz

     Okay, you're probably all sick of hearing it, but I'm tired of reading it. The overuse of dialogue tags really slows down the novel.
     Every time a character's POV is interrupted with dial tags, it pulls the reader out of the character's head. And you want your reader to stay firmly entrenched in your characters' heads, right?
     If we all know that, then why are so many submissions still bogged down with:  
     He said, he growled, he barked, snapped, interjected?
     She asked, she purred, she whispered, cooed, queried?
     Yes, there's a place for them, particularly when you have more than two people talking at the same time, or when you have two of the same gender. It can get confusing without them, but to simply add tags with every single line of dialogue, is asking a lot of the reader. It also tells the agent/editor that you are having trouble putting in appropriate action. Let's look at a couple examples, and I won't even touch the barking, growling and cooing which sends me over the top. Dogs, wolves, and pigeons bark, growl, and coo, not humans.
     Jacob said, "I'm really thirsty. Could I have a cup of that coffee?"
     Cara answered, "Of course, you can. I think I'll have a cup myself."
     He took the cup and murmured, "Thanks. I was about to doze off. How'd you guess I like cream and plenty of sugar?" Now, he was flirting, wasn't he?
 
     Jacob licked his lips. "I'm really thirty. Could I have a cup of that coffee?" His drooping eyes no doubt gave away the fact he hadn't slept well. The coffee would give him a boost.
      Cara smiled. "Of course, you can." She reached for two cups. "I think I'll have another cup myself." As she added cream and sugar, her gaze barely strayed from his lips. Was she flirting with him or simply a very friendly person?"
     His hand settled around the mug. "Thanks. I was about to doze off. How'd you guess I like cream and plenty of sugar?" Now, he was flirting, wasn't he?
     Okay, it won't win any prizes, but you get the idea...

     It's not hard to supplement your dialogue with good action which adds so much rather than tired old tags can offer. 
     Give it a try. Take a page of tired tags and give it a makeover!

    

6 comments:

Jennifer Major said...

I try to pace my dialogue tags so that I use them to anchor a long-ish dialogue, to make sure the reader doesn't get lots, and not to remind the reader that I don' tthink they can keep anything straight and should hold my hand all the way through the book.

“Since the day I met you, not once have I cared about the color of your skin.”
Tag laughed, and stared at her. “But what about—“
“Not once.”
“You thought I was Mexican.”
“We’re very close to Mexico.”
“True.”
Her finger traced his jawline and then his lips. “You are somewhat dark.”
“I thought that my brown skin bothered you.”
“My fears bothered me. Your color was never a problem.”
“Really?”
“No, not at all.”
“Never?”

Linda Glaz said...

Awesome, Jennifer, and without one tired old tag. Nada, excellent!

Jennifer Major said...

Thanks! I actually tried to NOT use "he said, she said" as they drive me insane as a reader. Seriously, I KNOW he said it. But did "he grunt it out", "laugh over his words" or did he even "whisper just above silence"?

Rick Barry said...

Linda, I suspect part of the problem might be that every year we see a new crop of newcomers who have taken pen (or keyboard) in hand and attempted to write without thoroughly studying current-day styles.

New writers who haven't follow blogs by agents, editors or other writers simply don't know what they don't know. But those who have a true knack for word-smithing will eventually realize what's in their blind spots. I'm still learning, too. ;)

Linda Glaz said...

You're right, Rick, and there are the writers who are reading the best-selling inspy writers who head hop, use dial tags, do absolutely everything we tell them not to. So frustrating.

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