1. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe

    Help with tag variety.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by mrieder79, Aug 23, 2013.

    I am new writer and am working on my first novel. I feel that my tags have a tendency to be repetitive but when I try to vary them I worry about being unclear. Below is a exert where I feel that I have become repetitive. I would appreciate some suggestions about how you would introduce variety without causing confusion.

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------


    After the briefing their pilot, Captain Luke Banner, stood and made a beeline for them.

    Rich smiled and extended his hand. "Rich Plithers. I wanted to thank you for letting us come along."

    Banner didn't smile or take the offered hand. "Don't thank me, thank my squadron commander. If it was my call, you asses would stay right here on the tarmac and out of our way."

    Rich couldn't help a small smile. How many times had he said similar things to news reporters or consultants or VIPs who had showed up on his oil rigs or drillships over the years.

    Banner noticed the smile. "Something funny? If you think this is funny you can--"

    Rich cut him off before his surly attitude crossed over from amusing to irritating. "Not at all Cpt. Banner. I always appreciate people who speak their mind and It's good to see that you take your job seriously. I can tell we are in good hands."

    Banner furrowed his brows as he searched for a hint of irony in Rich's voice. Detecting none and disarmed by the compliments, he muttered something about staying out the way and left the briefing room.
     
  2. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,305
    Location:
    California, US
    I may be misunderstanding. You're not using tags in this excerpt.
     
  3. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    I thought that tags were sentences or phrases that denoted who was speaking the following or preceding dialogue.
     
  4. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,305
    Location:
    California, US
    OK, I see what you mean. I learned tags to be words like said, or growled, or words that are direct indicator. These might be beats. You do reference the smiles often. I'm not sure I would notice as much if I wasn't looking for it here, but you might try substituting a different word for the later occurrences. On the whole, I think it reads fine.
     
  5. Wreybies
    Offline

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 1, 2008
    Messages:
    18,893
    Likes Received:
    10,081
    Location:
    Puerto Rico
    Yes, these are beats you are using, as already correctly identified by Steerpike. A tag is a subordinate clause within the sentence containing dialogue. A beat is a separate sentence. You handle them quite well, to be honest. I'm a big fan of the beat and of eschewing dialogue tags when not needed. As mentioned already, perhaps less of a focus on the obvious items, like smiles, and a little more thought into what else happens when a person says something. Imagine yourself saying it. Think about your own body language and tone of voice, how you stand, what you do with your hands. What else is there that someone might pick up on other than the smile?
     
    Steerpike likes this.
  6. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Do you think that if I substituted "he" sometimes it would still be clear? I was also toying with substituting "the pilot" in for banner a couple of times, but that seemed awkward to me.
     
  7. Steerpike
    Offline

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2010
    Messages:
    11,095
    Likes Received:
    5,305
    Location:
    California, US
    I see what you mean about the names. You can substitute 'he' or 'the pilot' so long as it is clear to the reader who you are referring to, otherwise you're better off sticking with the names. In one place, at least, you might leave it out altogether. Where you say "Banner noticed the smile," for example, it is clear from what Banner says that he noticed Rich's smile, so you might leave that off.
     
  8. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    a surfeit of beats with no tags for relief can also be annoying... you need to vary your dialog attribution... as is, it's pushing the 'annoying' envelope for this reader/editor...
     
  9. jazzabel
    Offline

    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 5, 2012
    Messages:
    4,273
    Likes Received:
    1,666
    Overall, this isn't bad. Improvements I would suggest would be to delete the underlined. Also, always preceding the dialogue with a beat and describing body language somewhat repetitively is what stood out for me here. Try beats after dialogue, or lines of dialogue on their own, make sure there's a good variety and flow, and focus on internal dialogue, description and transitions to spice up a dialogue section, rather than tags and beats.
     
  10. minstrel
    Online

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    I agree with what's been said, but I'd like to add another point. Your sentence structure in your beats is all the same. Rich did this. Banner did that. Every sentence follows this template: [PERSON][VERB][ACTION]. "Rich smiled ...", "Banner didn't smile ...", "Rich couldn't help a small smile ...", "Banner noticed the smile ...", "Rich cut him off ...", "Banner furrowed his brows ...", you get the idea. It gets tedious pretty fast. Probably the easiest way to solve this problem is just to delete some of these beats. They're not all needed.
     
    jazzabel likes this.
  11. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    A tag is a specific phrase consisting of a noun or pronoun identifying the speaker, a verb denoting commumication, and optionally modifiers (often adverbs).

    It's a common misconception that there should be variety in tags. The purpose of a tag is to identify who is speaking. So the most common tag verbs, "said", or "asked" are sufficient most of the time.

    Indeed, the simplest tags virtually disappear for the reader, leaving the focus on what is being said, as it should be. Also, if you only use a tag at all when who is speaking may be unclear, the repetition won't stand out, any more than frequent use of the word "the" rarely rises to a reader's notice threshhold.

    This may help: He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue
     
  12. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Thank you all for the good advice. I will employ the changes as suggested and also read the suggested blog post again.
     
  13. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Cogito, I tried following the link to your article on the mechanics of dialogue and neither the one you posted in your reply or the one in your signature would take me to a valid site.
     
  14. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Oh, right. Daniel is still working on the blogs. It will resolve when he gets the blogs sorted.
     
  15. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Revised Version.

    ------------------------------------------------

    After the briefing their pilot, Captain Luke Banner, stood and made a beeline for them.

    Rich smiled and extended his hand. "Rich Plithers. I wanted to thank you for letting us come along."

    "Don't thank me, thank my squadron commander. If it was my call, you asses would stay right here on the tarmac and out of our way." It was clear from his face that he was serious.

    A smile tugged at the corner of Rich's mouth. How many times had he said similar things to news reporters or consultants or VIPs who had showed up on his oil rigs or drillships over the years.

    "Something funny? If you think this is funny you can--"

    Rich responded, "Not at all Cpt. Banner. I always appreciate people who speak their mind and It's good to see that you take your job seriously. I can tell we are in good hands."

    He furrowed his brows as he searched for a hint of irony in Rich's voice. Detecting none and disarmed by the compliments, he muttered something about staying out the way and left the briefing room.
     
  16. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    I don't like the Rich responded tag. It's not really accurate, for one thing. Rich didn't respond, he interrupted. Also, a proper tag verb is a transitive verb, with the direct object being the spoken content. Replied would be a better tag verb, but still not quite accurate.

    I might use a beat instead. A beat is a short action by the speaker, and unlike a tag, it is a separate sentence.

    Also note that I spelled out Captain. Avoid abbreviations in dialogue, and always spell out numbers exactly as they are spoken.

    The He in the subsequent sentence is ambiguous. It's worthwhile to say The Captain or Captain Banner.
     
  17. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    That is better. Thanks. I really appreciate the help.
     
  18. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    What sometimes worries me is that the beat is inserted for the sole purpose of showing who's talking and doesn't contain any relevant information. I sometimes catch myself abusing them, and usually then just try to make the dialogue speak for itself... with varying results... no tags or beats.
     
  19. mrieder79
    Offline

    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2013
    Messages:
    401
    Likes Received:
    283
    Location:
    Uyumbe
    Would you mind posting some examples, Ka?
     
  20. KaTrian
    Offline

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 17, 2013
    Messages:
    5,566
    Likes Received:
    3,563
    Location:
    The Great Swamp
    Ugh, I'm not sure if this example carries what I mean, but it was the best example of my own work that I could find. There are 3 people talking there, some of the lines are tagged, some are accompanied with beats, but there's also a few without anything, and all I can hope is that they make it clear enough who's saying what 'cause I feel like I've beated and tagged quite a lot already, and am still not happy with all the beats (afraid they come off forced). This is something that I struggle with from time to time; that the beats don't feel natural, that they look like I just added them there to make it clear who's speaking. Not sure if anyone else ever feels this way...
    ----
    “We’re all preparing to fight,” Indy’s voice cut through his thoughts. She was donning a turtleneck to hide the bandages, and nothing about her demeanor betrayed the horrors she and Oliver had faced in Amélie’s garage.

    “Is this about Chris and Amélie again?” Oliver muttered.

    He wished she’d just let it go, and Eli seemed to agree, as he said, “That chick’s in the Saxon Captain’s inner circle, so you’d be just wasting your time, messing with her again.”

    “No, you dingus, I meant, we’re preparing to fight for our clan. I know there’s gonna be a big one.” An enigmatic smile rose to her lips.

    “Against Saxons?” Oliver asked.

    “No, not yet. I heard we should take care of the rangers first, or what’s left of them. Then we’ll tackle the Saxon fuckers.”

    Oliver took a sip of Shiner. He didn’t really like the taste, but he looked cool with the glass. “How are we gonna take down the rangers?”

    “Well, they say we should take over one of the stations. The most important one.”

    Eli emptied his beer and let out a resounding burp. “Let me guess, Stargate?”
     
  21. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Like any device, tags can be overused. Every tag introduces the sense, if not the reality, of a pause, so if you sprinkle the dialogue too liberally with beats, the flow of your dialogue can stumble.

    On the other hand, every beat reconnects dialogue with scene. The beat reminder the speakers are no just talking heads, that they are characters interacting within a setting.

    A beat which creates a pregnant pause, a pause bursting wih meaning, is particularly effective. For example, a character who stops to refill and light his pipe before answering a question may be stalling to come up with a lie or because he is hesitant to admit something that paints him in a bad light.
     
    archerfenris likes this.

Share This Page