1. watermark

    watermark Member

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    Best practice in dialogue tagging?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by watermark, Jan 24, 2017.

    Is there a best practice with tagging when writing dialogue? By that I mean the use of "he says, she says"

    e.g.

    "How are you?" I say.
    "I'm fine, and you?" she says.
    "I'm fine too." (no tag here)
    "Yeah, well then how's the weather?" (no tag here)
    "It's sunny." I say. (here tag is used again.)

    Or is it just up to the writer?
     
  2. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I'd say the best practice is just to not do the same thing over and over again. To some people 'said' (or 'says') is invisible; to me personally, it's not, and it gets repetitive.

    There are no hard and fast rules of course, but the rule I adhere to is 'mix it up'. Use different tags. Use no tag. Use beats. Don't use beats. Just don't keep doing the same thing.
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You're going to get lots of differing opinions on this one because so long as they are grammatically and orthographically correct, style is at least 50% of this question. Like @izzybot I do try to make my attributions (tags and beats are collectively called attributions) dynamic. I don't stray from a pretty basic set of verbs for tags. I do often make use of tagless, beatless dialogue when it's clear who is speaking to whom. I'm a fan of beats. Big fan. :)
     
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  4. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I agree with @Wreybies and @izzybot

    In this example, assuming no other characters are present or participating in the conversation, I would only tag the first one. If the conversation carried, I would add some beats to mimic gesticulation as people speak. But my way isn't the only way.

    Unlike izzybot, I rarely use tags other than say, said, says, asked, ask. Though, it's important to note that there's nothing wrong with other ways to tag dialogue. I've enjoyed books both ways. I tend to make use of line breaks and character beats to attribute dialogue when I don't want to use one of the options mentioned.

    Look at a lot of Kurt Vonnegut's work. He put tons of unnecessary tags (every single line in some cases), and it worked for him because it perfectly accented the tone of the overall story. To contrast this, take a look at Douglas Adams. It's been a while since I read Hitchhikers, but if he uses said, at all, it's very rarely. He went full bore to the other end of the spectrum and found tags to compliment his tone. Both of those examples are extremes done, in my opinion, very well.

    I think there's something to be said for genre conventions, as well.
     
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  5. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Beats are great. Usually earlier in the passage is better, particularly if it's a lengthy passage of dialogue. Dropping them later, like after two sentences and before another two sentences, can detonate the rhythm. So can leaving them dangling off the end of dialogue sentences. The key with attributes (he said, she said, etc...) is that they should be invisible because they don't exist in real life. They're a funny little thing writers had to invent when they started committing narratives to paper (similar to a quotation mark). If you get too cute with them it'll be like pulling the parking break on the highway. Your flow will screech to a halt pretty damn quickly. Ditto if you load up on those attribute adverbs. Like "he said thickly" or "she said cautiously." It makes your dialogue look weak. Like you're so diffident in what you're saying that it needs modification.
     
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  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    @Homer Potvin,

    Isn't there something to be said for effect? Like detonating the rhythm, getting cute with tags can serve a narrative purpose. I don't think we should take a tool out of our toolbox, assuming we understand what that tool does and how to use it.

    ETA: maybe it's just me, but if something serves a recognizable narrative function, I'll put up with quite a lot.
     
  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    Or show the expression on their faces, instead of tagging. That could save a bit in a discussion as well.
    If we know how they feel, we can glean how they are saying it.
     
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  8. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Yeah, sure, so long as it doesn't saw the boat in half. Example?

    ETA: You mentioned Douglas Adams and Vonnegut earlier, I think. Any sort of book like that is ripe for all sorts of jokey shit. Vonnegut introduced the penis size of every character in Breakfast of Champions, so once you get to that level I don't think speaker attributes are going to alter the readability much, lol
     
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  9. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Agreed on half of a boat.

    I gave two examples of authors in my original post for whom obnoxious use of tags really worked, but to be more specific, Long Walk to Forever by Vonnegut has "he said she said" on (roughly) 95% of the lines of dialogue, most of which are totally unnecessary except that they affect the overall tone of his work.
     
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Vonnegut also drew pictures of beavers and "wide open" beavers. And I think he might have coined the phrase "sucking and fucking" after he repeated it two dozen times, also in Breakfast, I believe. Vonnegut can do whatever he wants because he's Vonnegut. Just like Cormac McCarthy can get away without using quotation marks around his dialogue, or commas anywhere for that matter. When they do shit like that, it's awesome. When we do it? Maaaaybe not so much. Not saying we shouldn't do it, but tread carefully, my friends.

    (btw, I'm looking at pictures of assholes in Breakfast and giggling like a schoolgirl right now)
     
  11. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I never said we should do that stuff all the time. I said it's silly to discount any tool that can serve a narrative purpose. Tread carefully, yes, but never limit yourself.
     
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  12. ReptilianAgent

    ReptilianAgent New Member

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    My creative writing professor says that the only dialogue tags you need are "he said, he asked, or he yelled/whispered in some cases." but using words such as "exclaimed", or "interjected" is a no—no. The idea behind this is that your readers should understand the tone of your characters by dialogue, and having to explain it is pretty much questioning your readers intelligence.


    "Oh you poor soul" Tommy said sarcastically.
    "Tommy said" is good enough. adding the word "sarcastically" would be redundant given there is enough context for the reader to understand.

    But like some people, I have a serious pet peeve with the repetition of "said". So to mix things up I like to replace dialogue tags with actions.

    "I don't know man." Micheal kicked the rock across the pavement. His hands were buried deep in his pockets.

    or...

    “You see that?“ he pointed at the console adjacent to the door. “It says that the room is on fire. Luckily it's idiot proof.”



    You could also break up a line of dialogue with a dialogue tag to force the reader to pause, making it more effective punctuation than a comma or a period. I try not to use this too much since it can get repetitive like anything else.

    “So you take NASA’s word for it yes?” He said. “Tell me this. Have you seen a legitimate photograph of the Earth?” (Pardon the flat-earth stupidity)

    Take from my advice what you will. Others may say differently. After all, there are no objective truths when it comes to writing fiction.

     
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  13. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Agreed. Do it right and it's awesome!

    ETA: Glad you brought up Vonnegut, he was one of my first influences
     
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  14. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Serious question (and not to hijack the thread too much): why do you think that is? I tried reading The Road when I was younger and found the style completely infuriating. Tried reading it again just last year and while I didn't so much want to throw the book at a wall, I didn't especially want to keep reading it, either. I don't see it as awesome; I find it as just as annoying to read as someone who wrote it not knowing any better. What's the difference, to you? Always felt like I'm missing something when it comes to things like this.
     
  15. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I don't normally use any dialogue tags, I always use action tags instead, but the only really solid rule is to never rely on adverbs.

    Frankly, you should never use adverbs at all unless they are absolutely necessary, but it's even more important that you not revolve dialogue tags around them.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Unless, IMO, the adverbs contradict the dialogue. Sometimes then they work.

    "I'm going to have you killed," she said gently.
    He said calmly, "Your briefcase is on fire."
     
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  17. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I like McCarthy's stuff because he creates this incredible atmosphere in his novels. Some of the passages that are run ons evoke this feeling of breathlessness and I feel pulled through the novel.

    I read All the Pretty Horses before I read The Road and I remember being initially put off by his style. It felt amateur, and I couldn't understand why anyone liked it. Then I got absorbed into the story and I was lulled into the emotion via those stylistic choices. It was almost hypnotic when I let go and immersed myself into his story-world.

    Obviously, this is not true for anyone, and you very well may not be into it, but that was my experience with McCarthy.

    That said, there are plenty of canonized authors whom I can't stand and tons of people adore.

    ETA: I know this question was not directed toward me, but I couldn't resist.
     
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  18. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    No, I hear you. It's not for everyone. You really have to be into the literary stuff. McCarthy was the heir to Faulkner. He inherited his editor when he died. It's real biblical canon shit, at least as far literary fiction goes. I have to be in the mood for it, but there's things he writes that make me question my humanity. And the things he does with language are from another planet. I can understand the annoyance factor. God invented commas for a reason.
     
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  19. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Too true. We're a level here, into the irony zone. :)
     
  20. Dnaiel

    Dnaiel Senior Member

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    What do you do if your characters are deaf?

    Thumb up, around, hand over, waved Ernie.
    Fist up, up, palm curved around front, gestured Sarah.
     
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  21. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    IMO angry action with calm adverb tends to work much better than calm action with angry adverb

    that is ' "I'm going to hunt you down and cut off your bollocks and feed them to my dog" he said calmly ' works much better than' " these cupcakes are amazing"he said furiously' ... I suspect this is because Ice cold calm is actually more thretening than anger and rage, because things said in heat arent always taken as seriously as those calmly stated
     
  22. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    I do quotations and italics for that:

    Character signed, "Line of Dialogue."
     
  23. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Hm... Would depend. I would render the Sign Language as English, to be sure. If everyone is deaf in the story, I might stick with said and make it clear through narrative what's going on. If a hearing/speaking person were to pop into the room and say something, that person would get a spoke instead of a said. If the deaf person is the one who pops into a room of hearing/speaking people, then that person's dialogue would get a signed rather than said or spoke. Depends on the mix, for me. YMMV. :)
     
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  24. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Ernie gave the AMESLAN gesture to ask Sarah if she wanted a cup of tea. Sarah accepted.

    Your version was in a foreign language.
     
  25. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Good question. Do deaf people interpret sign language as words or symbolic hand motions? I have no idea. But the words will have to show up somewhere for the rest of us to understand. I would just use the attribute "sign". He signed, she signed, etc.... It looks a lot like "said" to boot. In fact, I think I'm pretty sure China Mieville used the attribute "sign" in Perdido Street Station for one of his characters. She wasn't deaf, but she was a woman with a bug's head who couldn't make phonetic sound and had use sign language to communicate with her human lover. You read that correctly. Excellent book by the way.
     
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