Monday, December 27, 2010

Moday's Writing Tip: Say What? Simple Ways to Make Dialogue Tags Disappear

"There is nothing so annoying as to have two people talking when you're busy interrupting." Mark Twain

"John," Mary said, "I love you."
"Mary, I love you, too!" John declared.
"But what about Evan?" Mary cried. "We're to be married tomorrow!"
"My brother!" John exclaimed. "He's ruined every good thing in my life, and now--"
"Stop!" Mary interjected. "All of this--it's not fair to Evan, but..."

Shall I go on? I think not. First of all, there's nothing wrong with using "said" as a dialogue tag. It's like the ugly chain link fence that when painted black, becomes invisible. Readers are less likely to notice "said," because it easily blends in.

Too many different verbs are distracting, as in the example above. But that doesn't mean you can't use different verbs at all. You might want to say something stronger like hissed or spat for certain situations, but not too often. And make sure the words you choose in those instances have lots of s's that create an actual hissing sound or flying spittle!

You probably know, however, that dialogue tags aren't necessary for each line of dialog. Plain old dialogue can be used for several lines, or gestures can be used in place of tags. Just don't overdo the gestures.

Mary ran a hand through her hair. "John, even though it's not fair to Evan, I can't live without you."
John sighed. "Mary, we'll have to tell him."
Mary eyes widened. "But there's no telling what he'll do! He might--"
"Don't worry." John embraced her. "Even though he's a convicted felon, he's been through anger management." John kissed her neck. "Everything will be fine. Trust me."

You get the message. Now, one last word on dialogue tags. Make sure they really are dialogue tags. People don't smile, laugh or gasp their words. Here's one last example that correctly incorporates everything discussed today:

"Oh, John, you're impossible!" Mary laughed.
He smiled. "I know."
A door opened. Evan stepped from the closet. "Just what are the two of you trying to pull?"
Mary gasped, pulling from John's embrace. "How much have you heard?"
"I've heard enough! My own brother, and the woman I love!" When Evan reached in his pocket, John stepped in front of Mary.
"What?" Evan said. "You think I have a gun?" He pulled out a granola bar and unwrapped it. "As far as I'm concerned the two of you deserve each other with all that rotten dialogue!"

I suppose you've probably read enough, so I'll stop now! But I hope this tip on dialogue tags has been helpful!

Any advice you'd like to share on dialogue tags? Tweet me @: maria_mckenzie. Thanks for stopping by!


Carol Riggs said...

Great reminders here, and cute examples. Altho the last one where "Mary laughed" almost sounds like she laughed the line.

Argh, yes, don't overdo the gestures. Especially meaningless gestures used to indicate who's talking. Sometimes in those cases, a simple SAID would be better! My characters often do a lot of staring and shuffling and sighing when they don't really need to...slashslashSLASH!!

Golden Eagle said...

I love the ending to that story. :D

I agree on dialogue tags and gestures; I try to use as few as possible, but I know there are going to be a lot on the chopping block in the editing future.

Old Kitty said...

LOL!! I got quite involved with this threesome! LOL!!! Thanks for the writing dialogue tips!! I guess one advice that I really like too re: dialogue is to keep it as natural as possible - like try listening (discreetly!!) to everyday people's conversations and such like!!!

Enjoy your holidays!! It's still christmas!! Take care

Nas said...

Great post. Thanks for the dialogue tips! I liked the love triangle...

Maria McKenzie said...

@Carol:"My bad." It does read like she laughed it (oops). I'm rewriting and slashing a lot of meaningless gestures. It's amazing how many you find once you reread!

@Golden Eagle:Sometimes I go a little overboard with gestures to avoid tags--chop, chop!

@Old Kitty: Glad you enjoyed the threesome:). You make a great point--keep conversation as natural as possible. Discreetly listening to "real people" is great research!

@Nas: Hi Nas! Glad you liked the post:).

The Words Crafter said...

This was fun! I hate writing dialogue, but I'm getting better at it with practice. Enjoy your family time:)

Vicki Rocho said...

Informative and yet very entertaining. LOVE the granola bar!

Natascha said...

This is great advice. Now I have to go through one of my MSS...

William Kendall said...

Marvelous ending to that story!

Up next: Evan's Revenge!

Debbie said...

Very good advice!

Kimber Leszczuk. said...

This was a wonderful and helpful tip!

Unknown said...

Good tips. I tend to prefer areas without much interference, then a few short sentences mixed in. For the most part, people can imagine what the characters are doing with their face if you are writing your characters well.

Draven Ames

Maria McKenzie said...

@Words Crafter: Glad you enjoyed it! Writing dialogue will keep getting easier. See Old Kitty's comment about discreetly listening to real conversations.

@Vicki: I suppose Evan's a health nut:)!

@Las Vegas Writer: Even when you think you haven't made those dialogue mistakes, you still find them once you go through your MS.

@William: Thanks William! I like the sound of Evan's Revenge:). I'll have to come up with a post where I can use that!

@Debbie: Thank you, Debbie, and thanks for stopping by!

@Kimber: Thank you, Kimber! Glad you found it useful:).

@Draven: Hi Draven, and thanks! Dialogue without much interference is effective! It keeps the pace rolling at a good clip. Thanks for visiting!

B.E.T. said...

I loved this post! This is one of my huge problems. Thanks a ton for the helpful tips.