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  1. GB reader

    GB reader Contributor Contributor

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    "Extended dialog tags" and beats

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by GB reader, Apr 29, 2019.

    Now and then we discuss dialog tags.

    Use them or don’t. Use beats to make it clear who is talking. Vary the verb, said, called, whispered, asked ...

    --
    “How nice you brought the umbrella,” said John.

    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.

    “Then I say something.”

    “Me too.”

    “And so on.”
    --

    I tend to write long sequences of dialog like this. It’s usually horrible. I have asked about this before in a thread here and one way to break this up is to put in some narration.

    --
    “How nice you brought the umbrella,” said John.

    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.

    At this point John said something and so did Mary.

    “And so on.”
    --

    I have used this technique with some success sometimes.

    ***
    But now I want some good input about “extended tags”.

    I have a writing friend. She complains a little on my worst dialogs. They don’t live. My characters come out as loudspeakers. She says you have to make sure the reader feels there are actual characters talking.

    So she will almost every time use “extended tags”.

    --
    “How nice you brought the umbrella,” said John and smiled at the young woman.

    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary and unfolded the umbrella.
    --

    The idea is that something else happens at the same time as the character is talking. This makes the conversation more live. You can even do it literally.

    (
    ...said John as he smiled at the young woman.
    ...said Mary while unfolding the umbrella.
    )

    In the beginning I was rather annoyed at her writing style. (She is doing it all the time)
    But I have slowly gotten used to it. You could also do it with narration.

    --
    Mary unfolded the umbrella.
    “Well the forecast said it would rain.”
    --
    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.
    She unfolded the umbrella.
    --


    So give me some advice, are we to use “extended tags”?
    Is this a way to make dialog less horrible?
     
  2. SolZephyr

    SolZephyr Member Supporter

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    In my opinion adding actions into dialogue makes for a much better scene than not, assuming the characters aren't giving a speech (as a general rule of thumb, of course).

    That said, I like to mix it up a bit in my own writing. It just depends on the scene and how I want it to flow. Sometimes I use narration for the beats, sometimes I use those extended tags, sometimes I use basic tags, and every now and then I use no tags. It all depends on a) flow, b) breaking up monotony of presentation, c) if the characters be doing anything other than talking, at least for me.
     
  3. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan (V) ( ;,,;) (v) Contributor

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    I've gotten into the habit of using a kind of non-tag dialog tags (there's probably a technical word for it, I just don't care to find it right now). They're like regular dialog tags, but not connected using a comma, so I find it a lot easier to cram in unneeded ambiguity. Conversations also become stilted and awkward, just like real life.

    "How nice you brought an umbrella." John smiled at Mary.
    "Well, the forecast said it would rain." Mary returned the smile uncomfortably.
    "Would you like to borrow it? I have another in the office." John began to extricate the umbrella from the handle of his briefcase and proffered it to Mary.
     
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  4. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I disagree with this. I realize that's not your point, but the vast majority of the time, if you need a tag, that tag should IMO be 'said'.

    But you don't always need a tag. If two people are talking, you can often skip a tag or two or three. Or you can use beats, or add narrative even longer than beats, as you're discussing here.

    Here you don't really need the tag at all--you can just go with the beat, and it doesn't have to be in the same sentence as the dialogue:

    John smiled. “How nice you brought the umbrella."
    Mary nodded as she unfolded the umbrella. "The forecast said it would rain."

    There's no need for the paragraph break between the dialogue and the action--at least, there there's no need for it in the books I read, which are US or UK or Canadian.

    Absolutely. Not always, but I consider them to be an essential part of dialogue. I sometimes write "headless dialogue" and then add the beats and actions and thoughts and stuff. A while ago, I posted an example here:

    https://www.writingforums.org/threads/balancing-narrative-with-dialogue-and-action.158144/#post-1674309
     
  5. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    If you suspect "extended tags" might be a good addition for your dialogue, then I would think they're worth experimenting with. Though honestly, I view that as a stylistic choice as opposed to a genuine dialogue solution.

    For what it's worth, much of my favorite dialogue has been written by authors who sparingly use both tags and action beats, even in their dialogue-heavy scenes.
     
  6. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    For me personally, this example reads the best and breathes colour into the characters and to the conversation.
    I think pacing needs to be considered however, if this is a scene which requires faster pacing I'd lose most, if not all of the narration, and only use tags sparingly.
     
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  7. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    You've got to first setup the dialogue exchange. Make sure the reader has a visual of the characters and setting. This will allow a more sparing use of obvious tags. And mix things up!



    So they sat cross-legged, their knees touching in a cozy ring around the musty old book, all eyes fixed on Mabel as she stuck her knife into the red leather cover. “Now then,” said Mabel, “what shall we call our secret order? And what about a secret sign that only we’ll know, so we can alert each other in times of danger?”

    “Who said anything about a secret order?” Adeline objected. “Papa told me that shadowy men in secret orders are plotting the king’s execution, and that mother is on their black list. It’s why they sent me away.”

    “I don’t reckon we’re important enough to lose our heads over anything,” said Rosemarie. “It’s just for fun, Adeline. No one cares what we do.”

    “Agreed. This isn’t Paris,” said Mabel. “All right, we need to choose a name carefully, something memorable, so after we’re dead and gone someone will remember us.” She rubbed her chin and made a show of thinking hard on something.

    “I know.” Adeline sighed, resigned to her fate, that she was going to be in a secret order, like it or not. “No matter how far a swallow flies, it always finds its way home. We’ll be the Three Barn Swallows.”

    “That’s the spirit, Adeline! Us valiant barn swallows against the world!” Mabel said, beaming with pride.

    Rosemarie put her hand over the book and stuck two fingers out.

    “The sign of the forked tail. Well done, Rose. There, Mabel, you have your secret sign.”
     
  8. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I note that the above is very formal. Part of the solution, if you're unhappy with your dialogue, might be to insert more emotion, character, something in your dialogue. Now, if the two characters are a bit nervous and uncomfortable with each other, and retreating into formality, this example may indeed be showing emotion.

    But a couple of examples:

    John ran for Mary and the awning. "Thank God! An umbrella!"
    Mary raised her eyebrows at him as she opened said umbrella. "The forecast was for rain."
    He smiled. "It's so cute that you think I check the weather."
    She shook her head. "Idiot. Come here and share it with me--that suit looks expensive."


    or

    John folded his arms. "How nice. You brought an umbrella. Without your forethought, we might drown."
    Mary unfurled the umbrella. "Snark." She settled the umbrella's handle on her shoulder and looked at him from beneath its shelter, just as the rain picked up with big pounding drops. "I'm not sharing it now." Turning away, she added, "Nice suit. Looks expensive. Drip-dry, is it?"


    OK, I got kind of extended there.
     
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  9. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I think variety is the key. Vary the way you attribute your dialogue. The word 'said' is anything BUT invisible, if it's used in place of everything else, and used too often in the same kind of rhythm. In essence, 'said' is a speech bubble. And that's it. It's just attributing who the speaker is, and nothing about tone of voice, or pauses, or emotional content. As you're not writing a comic book, you need more.

    HOW something is said is of vital importance. In a comic book, you've got pictures. In a story, you don't. You have to create the pictures. I don't mean fill the thing with adverbs. I do mean to describe what the speakers are doing during the scene, as well as just what they say.

    Here's a short excerpt from my novel, to illustrate how I intersperse dialogue with action. You'll notice I don't actually use 'said' all that often. Personal choice:

     
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  10. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    @jannert I realize it's a personal choice, but in your example I would prefer less dialogue tags and action beats.
     
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. Personal choice. Raymond Chandler would hate me. :)
     
  12. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    The un-tagged dialogue worked very gracefully.

    In the tagged dialog, I tripped on observed, declared, and explained. They interrupted the flow for me.

    I didn't notice conceded or protested until the second reading, which suggests that they didn't interrupt the flow.

    I suspect this may be because conceded and protested did add extra information about tone, while I feel that the dialogue itself told me everything that observed, declared, and explained were trying to tell me, so I felt that I was being over-explained to.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
  13. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, that's fair enough. I personally like words that help to clarify how things are said, (declared, insisted, explained, etc) and I use them in my writing. They also help avoid the repetitive 'said,' which I dislike. But I accept they aren't everybody's cup of tea. And may well have gummed things up a couple of times in this passage. Sorry about that.

    What I was hoping to show here was that mixing action in with the dialogue presents a picture of the whole scene, not just what is said. That's the kind of style I'm comfortable reading and writing.
     
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  14. GB reader

    GB reader Contributor Contributor

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    Thanks everybody. You are so good. I make lousy examples. But I get good answers.

    I have only been writing fiction for two years and I still have some silly ideas about technical things.

    As: you don't mix two characters talking in the same paragraph. I have then used this to allways keep narration in separate paragraphs. But several of you show that there is nothing wrong with mixing in the same paragraph. I would do:

    Mary unfolded the umbrella.

    “Well the forecast said it would rain.”
    --
    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.

    She unfolded the umbrella.

    Rather than:

    Mary unfolded the umbrella. “Well the forecast said it would rain.”
    --
    “Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary. She unfolded the umbrella.


    Maybe I need to rethink.

    *

    This wasn't really a question about tags (great topic any day) but I know many people think that the simple “said John.” tag sort of disappears so you need not worry about repeating it. But then using any other verb will cause it not to disappear. For a few months I myself used ‘said’ even after questions (now I use ‘asked’)

    There seems to be different opinions about using other verbs than said. I think chickens go on jannerts tag verbs was interesting. I will think about it.

    So my main discomfort with the “extended tags” were

    1: as tags they don't disappear
    2: as tucked in narration they mix dialogue and narration that I don't / didn't like.

    All your answers have made me a little bit more positive towards “extended tags”.

    It always boils down to:

    If you do it well you can do anything.

    So now I only have to learn how to do that!
     
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  15. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I would find this confusing, because action and dialogue in the same paragraph are so normal to me that I assume that if we go to another paragraph, there has to be some reason. For short paragraphs, when two characters are interacting, the reason is often that the actor has changed.

    Edited to add: However, I suspect that this may be a modern style, or a US style. I was just reading a mid-century British murder mystery, and when a character spoke and then acted, or acted and then spoke, there was often a separating paragraph. I wonder if that mystery used character names more often, to eliminate confusion? I must check.

    So in the above, I would assume that the actor had changed--Mary spoke, and then some female character, identified only as 'she', unfolded an umbrella. The fact that there's a paragraph break means, to me, that 'she' is someone other than Mary.

    So my response, when reading the above, would be, "Wait. Who's 'she'?"

    I don't have a problem with that, as long as they add information. "Conceded" in Jannert's example adds information, so it doesn't bother me. For the same reason, a well-written beat--where 'well-written' means, among other things, that it provides information--doesn't bother me. It doesn't have to provide a ton of information, but it should provide some, and it shouldn't be redundant.

    For example:

    "How dare you," Jane growled angrily. She was furious.

    This tells us, four times, that Jane is angry. There's a ton of redundancy.

    However, in the below:

    "How dare you," Jane murmured.

    I feel that the non-'said' tag does offer more information, because we wouldn't expect those words to be said in a murmuring tone. Now, I still wouldn't use a non-'said' tag, because I just don't like them. I might go with:

    "How dare you." Jane's voice was mild. I suspect that I was the only one at the table who heard the hidden ice.

    I should note that my examples here aren't great--I want something else where 'hidden ice' is. I'm just making a general point here.

    Also, here I'm having Jane speak, and act (if we can call the description of her tone an action), but then I have a first person narrator making an observation of Jane in Jane's paragraph. Is that OK? I'm not sure. I think it is, but I'm not sure.
     
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2019
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  16. Bone2pick

    Bone2pick Conspicuously Conventional Contributor

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    Eh, I don't like it in the same paragraph. I needed a moment to determine who was speaking and who was thinking. Which, as you might imagine, would take me out of an actual story. Because of that, I'd prefer to break it up.

     
  17. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think the key is to make sure that your beats are actually relevant.

    It's hard to judge in the example we're playing with since none of the lines seem especially significant, but in a real piece of writing I think it would be important to be sure you're using the beats to tell more of the story, not just to tell who's speaking.

    "The forecast said it would rain." Mary peered doubtfully at the sky.​

    I think you can also get some more value-for-words by playing more with POV. Your examples seem to be quite a distant third, but not all the way out to omniscient, and I think that's a really hard POV to write in a compelling manner. You could either dive deeper:

    "The forecast said it would rain." Mary peered doubtfully at the sky. Mother had told her not to wear the red coat and yellow boots--she'd said Mary would look like a clown if the weather was anything other than grey. And now Mother was right, and Mary was a clown, and the entire situation was completely unsatisfactory.​

    Or pull farther away and have more of an omniscient narrator:

    "The forecast said it would rain." Mary peered doubtfully at the sky. All over the park, other young ladies, dressed for dull weather in bright colours, regretted their choices in the same manner as Mary. But Mother Nature took no notice of their wishes, as usual.
    Or whatever. The point being, if you've got enough other stuff going on, I don't think dialogue tags or beats will be as much of an issue.
     
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  18. GB reader

    GB reader Contributor Contributor

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    Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.

    She unfolded the umbrella.


    Chicken is of course right. This is what happens when you cut/paste from bad examples.


    Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary.

    Mary unfolded the umbrella.

    This would keep dialogue separated from narration without confusion, but actually looks awful.

    Both below are better.

    Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary. She unfolded the umbrella.
    Well the forecast said it would rain”, said Mary and unfolded the umbrella.

    So I must give up my resistance on mixing dialogue and narration. (at least if the narration is action related)

    Don't worry, I will be back with questions about mixing internal thoughts with narration.
    (tense, perspective and pronouns) But I must prepare better examples.

    Once more thanks everybody.
     
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  19. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Quick note - comma inside the quotation marks at the end of the dialogue. n," not n",
     
  20. Maverick_nc

    Maverick_nc Contributor Contributor

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    I don't personally like the two new examples simply because of the repeated 'said' in both. To my eye it reads better as:

    "Well, the forecast said it would rain". Mary unfolded the umbrella
    Mary unfolded the umbrella. "Well, the forecast did say it would rain"
     

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