1. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Dialogue tags.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Jhunter, Oct 4, 2011.

    Is it bad to put "said" after every dialogue tag? I know sometimes its needed to put other things so you can be descriptive, but when its just a plane "said" is it bad to always have it?
     
  2. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I always find the best way to answer questions like these is to just read a lot of fiction stories and see how the majorities of authors handle it. In most of the stories I've read, you'll see them use words other than just "said soandso" often enough. Not for every single dialogue, but enough.
     
  3. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    Okay, now THAT is a frame of mind of almost every writer. ending most of the dialogues with "he said" doesn't affect the flow of the story cuz looking at it from the readers' frame of reference, they donot notice it AT ALL!! (okay, writing something else does make it look better, but ending it with said doesnot make it any worse!).
    When ever a reader reads any story, the general tendency is to jump over the "said" cuz they try to enact the scene in their minds, believe me! (I wasted a month on that when i was writing one, but when someone told me about this, i found it true indeed). Besides, readers dont say "he is a crappy writer cuz he used a zillion 'said'" They rather say "he's a crappy writer cuz he didnt bring out the story too well"
    Write a story from readers' frame of reference
     
  4. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    You don't need to use "said" after every single dialogue tag (unless you're a reporter, in which case we're actually supposed to). However, there are certain tags I'd stay away from. I always cringe a little bit reading dialogue tags like "she giggled," "he coughed," etc. Because really, can someone cough or giggle a sentence out of their esophagus? You can cough before and after an underhanded statement, or you can struggle to get a sentence out, but you're still not literally giggling/coughing said dialogue out of your mouth.

    Tags like "shouted," "whined," etc are fine in fiction. (The reason you're not supposed to use it in journalism is because if you say a source whined/shouted something, but they didn't perceive themselves coming across that way, they could get really pissed when the read the paper). Also, try and keep things spiced up, for the same reason you don't want to use "said" all the time. If you have a character whose dialogue tag is ALWAYS "whined," for example, it'll get really annoying. If they're whiny, there's other adjectives to describe that besides that one word over and over.

    As far as when it's bad to just say "said," I think if you're writing a scene where it's completely unrealistic that someone is just talking normally -- i.e. a hysterical argument involving smashed kitchenware or a struggle to get away from an abductor -- it's best to avoid it.

    EDIT: Just wanted to add that you don't always need tags. If it's obvious who is talking to who, you don't need "he said" or an equivalent every single time, and in fact doing so is often a bad distraction. Just make sure readers won't get confused on who's addressing who.
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    My view is that when you need a tag, it should almost always be a nice simple "said". But you often don't need a tag at all. In a two person conversation you only need an occasional tag, or when you have an action beat that can replace the tag, and so on.

    ChickenFreak
     
  6. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    Said should always be your first choice. Beginner writers tend to opt for more variety in dialogue tags, because they think said is boring, but the truth (which has been mentioned above) is that a reader doesn't notice them. What happens if you start jazzing your tags up, is that people will notice them, which becomes annoying and out of place. You basically make them stick out like a sore thumb. Really, it will be a very rare case where you actually need something other than "said" or "asked".
     
  7. jimr
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    jimr Member

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    In 17 instances of dialogue on a piece I just started an hour ago I have used these 4 dialogue tags: {I asked-I said-he called out-I told her} They're all simple; at one time my characters grunted, screamed, chortled, and comisurated with revolting regularity, but now generally my style relies on the dialogue and the speakers' actions to convey emotion. The other 13 dialogues the speaker is identified by some action or visual reference, or by obvious inference.

    There are two other points that come to mind: Audience and genre standards should always be a concern when writing; also, it might be possible for a better writer than myself to emphacize the personality of a character and set him apart from the rest of the cast by using exagerated dialogue tags.

    Finally: This week I read an interview NY Times bestselling author Shirley Jump gave and in it she said something which surprised me. She said never use -ly- adverbs along with the word SAID, as in HE SAID ANGRILLY. She further stated that it is good writing to use SAID and simple dialogue tags, and let the action convey the emotion.
     
  8. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    I think a good writer doesn't need to use anything so unsubtle to create such an effect, really.
     
  9. prettyprettyprettygood
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    prettyprettyprettygood Active Member

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    I know not everybody is a fan, but Stephen King's book On Writing has some good advice on this, with useful examples. He also touches on what jimr mentions, about avoiding adverbs after a dialogue tag, on the basis that the dialogue and context should allow the reader to conclude how the dialogue is spoken.
     
  10. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    When you feel the need to rely on dialogue tags like 'he shouted', 'she giggled' et cetera, it could also mean that your dialogue is not strong enough... the context and the subtext is not clear enough. Read a good line of dialogue, and it is clear if the char is shouting, giggling without the 'telling' dialogue tags. Go for beats if you really want to 'show' something with the dialogue... but don't over do it.
     
  11. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    Thanks everyone, you have given me much to think about.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    You don't always need a tag, but when one is necessary you should almost always use "said" as opposed to something else.
     
  13. Morgan
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    Morgan Member

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    "I don't get it!" Morgan interjected, sitting back and staring blankly at the computer monitor, "What's WRONG with exaggerated tag lines?"
    "A good writer doesn't need to use anything so unsubtle to create such an effect, really," said Banzai.
    "Look!" shouted Morgan angrily, "I'll use all the hyperbole in my writing I want to!"


    "I don't get it!" said Morgan, "What's WRONG with exaggerated tag lines?"
    "A good writer doesn't need to use anything so unsubtle to create such an effect, really," said Banzai.
    "Look! I'll use all the hyperbole in my writing I want to!"

    Either way, it comes across as Morgan being angry and defensive, while Banzai is calm, but one is cluttered while the other isn't.
     
  14. Lightman
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    Lightman Active Member

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    Using more than the basic dialogue tags, in most, but not all, cases, is one of the hallmarks of bad writing.
     

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