Friday, October 12, 2012

And the best dialog tag is…

When you decide to write popular fiction, some of the things your High School English teacher carefully drummed into your mind have to be discarded. One of those things is always using different words for dialogue tags.

Now, when you write poetry, every word counts. Each syllable has to have rhythm and meaning. Therefore repeating a word is wasting an opportunity. The writer wants the reader to remember each word, to say the lines out loud and ponder them, getting every ounce of meaning from each word.

But with popular fiction, the writer’s aim is to keep the reader reading all the way to the end of the book. The last thing this author wants, is for the reader to jump up for a dictionary or thesaurus, decide to make a cup of coffee while she’s up, and never finish reading the book. If she doesn’t finish reading this book, she’s unlikely to buy any of your other books.

Therefore instead of saying “he exhorted”, a better thing to do is show him waving his arms and exhorting the crowd, and use the dialogue tag at the end, “he said”. That way you’ve enticed the reader with the drama of his actions, and not pulled her from the story with your dialogue tag.

Almost all of those fifty words your English teacher made you memorize to use instead of "said", can be demonstrated with actions. SHOWN to the reader instead of telling the reader. And therefore replaced with the best dialogue tag of all, the one readers never even notice. Said.

Helen Woodall

Helen is available to line edit and/ or content edit fiction and non-fiction. Rates on application.


titanium said...

so, as an English teacher, I should get them to show, not tell?

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Titanium, that would be perfect!

Anonymous said...

How about words like 'asked' and 'replied' (or 'answered')? I tend to use them fairly frequently.

Helen Woodall: Freelance Editing said...

Hi Deborah,
Asked, replied, added, aren't bad, but often you can still omit them. If the heroine says, "Hey, where are we going?" and there's only one other person there, who answers her, no dialogue tag is needed because the heroine's line has a question mark and is obviously a question (therefore implying asked) and the other person will reply with a "he said".