Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dialogue tags versus action tags

This is an area where most publishers have “house style” rules which must be followed. So if you are submitting to a specific publisher you need to follow their rules even if they aren’t what you’d prefer.
Most fiction publishers these days allow some action tags to be used as dialogue tags. By this I mean “he grunted”, “she squealed” are acceptable. Generally speaking, “he nodded” is not as it’s a silent move.
Another thing to watch is that while many literary workshops strongly encourage the use of words other than “said”, many readers of popular fiction find an endless list of “she snorted”, “she laughed”, “he groaned”, “he rasped”, intensely annoying. It pulls them out of the story. If it’s quite clear who is speaking, and if their action makes the descriptor unnecessary (they are running away from the bad guy while he speaks, so unless he is very fit, the reader can guess “he gasped”) you don’t need a dialogue tag at all. A brief section of dialogue with no tags at all can be much more dramatic and immediate than even the most creative of dialogue tags.
Which do you prefer?
“Is the bad guy still chasing us?” asked the heroine.
The hero glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, sweet one, I’m afraid he is,” hero explained.
“Oh dear,” she replied.

“Is the bad guy still chasing us?"
The hero glanced over his shoulder. “Yes, sweet one, I’m afraid he is.”
“Oh dear.”

In the second version it’s quite clear who is speaking, and the pace is faster, more appropriate for a chase scene.


Amarinda Jones said...

"I'd prefer the heroine not to sound like such a sap," Amarinda responded. "But I get what you mean," she said.

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Actually, that's a double dialogue tag and they're frowned on too. But yes, the hero screaming, "RUN!" might be more effective.

Amarinda Jones said...

I get frowned on a lot. I kinda like it...she said.