1. Jemnisimi
    Offline

    Jemnisimi Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2010
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    1

    "Is including action in dialogue tags that bad?" she asked while gnawing le keyboard.

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Jemnisimi, Apr 26, 2010.

    Hiiiii.

    I'm... new. Here. So I'm a tad nervous at immediately jumping to asking questions, but I'm positively itching to know other writers' thoughts on a specific issue I've been pondering.

    You probably guessed it from the title.

    I read all sorts of self-editing guides, most of which seem to convincingly state that you're never supposed to include action in a dialogue tag.

    (ie - a line used by Cogito himself in his "he said/she said" blog post --- "I was looking for you just now," said Jonathan as he pulled her aside from the stampede of students rushing to the cafeteria.)

    While "as" and "while" are sometimes allowed, I hear they are discouraged. Heavily. Only he said/she said, or words which modify how it is said should be there.

    I personally use action in abundance within my dialogue tags because it does not look right to me any other way. Once reading that they're evil I've tried to cut down on them and it gives me a headache because it feels like someone's telling me how to paint a picture.

    But, I suppose if you're trying to paint a lifelike picture, you do have to follow certain rules.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. KP Williams
    Offline

    KP Williams Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2007
    Messages:
    608
    Likes Received:
    11
    Location:
    My place
    Often, if you add action into a dialogue tag, the action takes place while the character is speaking. Your title, for instance, suggests that "she" was asking a question with a keyboard in her mouth. How could she form words around a mouthful of plastic? It's highly unlikely and highly comical to think about, and it might well be impossible to actually do.

    The quoted example from Cogito, on the other hand, is quite reasonable. It's very possible to say something while leading a person somewhere.

    If you add an action to the end of a tag using words like "while" or "as," try to see if the action makes sense from a literal perspective. A lot of times, it won't. That's one reason why it's portrayed as a bad habit to form.
     
  3. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,922
    Likes Received:
    5,458
    Hmm. When I first read your question, my response was that of course it's just fine to have action and speech in the same sentence.

    But then when I looked at your example, I found myself wanting to cut it into two sentences, from

    " I was looking for you just now," said Jonathan as he pulled her aside from the stampede of students rushing to the cafeteria.

    to

    "I was looking for you just now," said Jonathan. He pulled her aside from the stampede of students rushing to the cafeteria.

    The two versions have slightly different meanings. In the first, John is simultaneously talking and pulling. In the second, the implication is that he speaks and then he pulls. But if that distinction isn't essential, I do prefer the second version.

    I just grabbed _Death in a White Tie_ to look for examples, and found the following. (Pretend that the paragraphs are indented.) The original is:

    They looked squarely at each other. Her hands made a gesture of surrender.
    "Very well," said Lady Carrados. "I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"


    I could change this to:

    They looked squarely at each other.
    "Very well," said Lady Carrados, as her hands made a gesture of surrender. "I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"


    While this second one is grammatically correct, I don't like it nearly as well. I like it as a writer - I think that as a writer I get pleasure from more complex sentences. But I don't like it as a reader - as a reader, I get pleasure from neat, well polished, well separated thoughts. So I may suddenly be sold on the rule that you describe.

    ChickenFreak
     
  4. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    And whilst in isolation that's fine, in an extended passage it's all too easy to get into a sequence of "he said"/"she said" tags, so I'd be inclined to head that off at the pass with:

    "I was looking for you just now." Jonathan pulled her aside from the stampede of students rushing to the cafeteria.

    (You might try swapping the order of the sentences to introduce Jonathan before the speech act. I tried it, and liked it better this way. Your mileage may vary.)
     
  5. Jemnisimi
    Offline

    Jemnisimi Member

    Joined:
    Apr 26, 2010
    Messages:
    51
    Likes Received:
    1
    *falls off the chair laughing* OK so maybe the title wasn't the best example. I know that particular line isn't feasible but I was being silly. That said...

    Yep. I know it's 'grammatically correct', but what I mean to say is, certain editors have wrote the act of action during dialogue as all but "damning" even in the event the actions are feasible. I would not believe it's that taboo, but in case it's anything close I guess it's best to ask before I fill three novels with it.

    Thanks for the thoughts so far!
     
  6. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    "Generally speaking, yes!" she replied, with a major rolling of the eyes.

    'as' and 'while' used to connect two actions, or speech and an action usually make little to no sense and are almost always poor writing...

    why do you feel you must you connect action to your dialog so abundantly, when you can do it just as and even more effectively as separate sentences?...

    it's not taboo, but to agents/editors, it certainly is the sure sign of an amateur... so, if you want to be perceived as a pro, i'd break that bad habit stat!

    love and hugs, maia
     
  7. Pickled_dirt
    Offline

    Pickled_dirt Member

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2012
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    Ergh... This thread hits pretty close to home for me. And now that I've re-read some of my work, it does come off as blatantly ameturish. Thanks for the advice though, it's a good little nugget to know before I go out and start trying to publish anything!
     
  8. fwc577
    Offline

    fwc577 Member

    Joined:
    Aug 9, 2012
    Messages:
    92
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Wisconsin
    The redundant department of redundancy would also like a word.

    In the quoted sentence you are treating your reader as a two year old that cannot think for themselves by being redundant. If you are using an action tag don't even bother with a he/she said type tag.

    This looks much better:

    They looked squarely at each other.
    "Very well." Lady Carrados made a gesture of surrender. "I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"

    It flows much better, it looks much better, and it treats your read with the respect that they can come to the conclusion that Lady Carrados is the one speaking. Now I underlined a specific part to talk about it a little more indepth.

    While that is fine as I have posted it, visualize what is going on in your head. At what point is she making the gesture of surrender. Is it just as she starts talking, is it immediatly after she says very well, or is it immediatly after she says I give in? All of these convey a slightly different character to your reader. Someone who would make the gesture immediatly would be a stronger personality who knows that surrender isn't truly the end. Someone who would concede and make the gesture after saying she gives in shows reluctance and defeat.

    That is just one aspect to think of it in.

    Another is the description of the gesture can be livened up a little.

    -Lady Carrados made a gesture of surrender. (This is fine but it could be better)
    -Lady Carrados held forth her arms, awaiting shackles. (This is a lot better. It allows you to direct the action of exactly what is going on)
    -Lady Carrados "ceded, resigned, yielded, submissed". (This is a slight mix between action/dialogue. It gives the reader the option to imagine what Lady Carrados is actually doing at this point. Surrendered feels too weak on it's own while these adjectives feel stronger. If she is a character who isn't completely weak, consider using one of these as opposed to "surrender")
    -Lady Carrados yielded, awaiting her shackles. (This is a hybrid of the previous two. It still allows the reader to imagine what is going on but kind of nudges them into the direction of holding out her arms without actually saying she does so.)

    When to use the different types?
    1-I wouldn't use number 1 personally, it feels too weak. For a weak character this could work alright though.
    2-Use this one if it is a trick of some sort and her escape plan is going to happen immedialty. Say Lady Carrados is going to wait till the guard approaches, grab a dagger and try to stab her way out.
    3-Use this if the character is stronger and you want your reader to do the visualization of exactly what is going on.
    4-Again in a trick scenario, go ahead and use this one. The reader won't be surprised if the main character goes to investigate a noise and finds her guard unconscious and the shackles on the ground with Lady Carrados nowhere in sight.)

    While 2/4 don't necessarily need to be in a trick scenario where Lady Carrados may escape, they could be used to enhance the visual into thinking maybe we haven't seen the last of Lady Carrados and she will return one day. It also allows you to direct exactly what is going on in the readers mind.

    In my opinion, #4 is the strongest and vivid of them all by allowing the reader to decide exactly what Lady Carrados is doing while you are still manipulating what you want the reader to have her doing.

    I see a few dialogue tags that don't look totally right to me. I found this amazing .pdf guide on dialogue tags a week or two ago that blew open a few things for me. Check it out: http://www.crayne.com/articles/Dialogue--How-to-Punctuate,-Use-Tags,-and-Vary-the-Structure-of-Your-Dialogue.pdf

    (If admins think anything is wrong with link please just remove link and not the entire post, thanks! Also, please consider revising rules on links etc because it is kind of vague in the rules section.)


    One final edit here. I will present a few different ways to word that sentence. I know there isn't much context but read it in your head as each on changes and how the character comes off as.

    --"Very well. I give in." Lady Carrados made a gesture of surrender. "How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"
    --Lady Carrados held forth her arms, awaiting shackles. "Very well. I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"
    --Lady Carrados resigned, awaiting her shackles. "Very well. I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"
    --"Very well." Lady Carrados resigned. "I give in. How much more dignified it would have been, wouldn't it, if I had accepted my duty at first?"
     
  9. E. C. Scrubb
    Offline

    E. C. Scrubb Active Member

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2012
    Messages:
    413
    Likes Received:
    25
    Location:
    Southwest US
    I hate these threads. Why? Because I read them, then look at my fiction I'm writing, and the first line I read is: “I remember you,” she said, attempting to look down her nose at him. “You asked me to the ball.”

    Wow. Now after reading this thread, that does sound bad. Sigh, another round of editing on the way!
     

Share This Page