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  1. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    What are your tips and tricks for avoiding dialog tags?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Brigid, Apr 3, 2017.

    Hello writers,

    I know, some writers don't mind using dialog tags. The Potter books are riddled with dialog tags and "he said/she said", but I prefer saying whatever needs to be said without tags.

    In my opinion, it is easier to write "he said" instead of saying it without tags.

    I am aware that tags serve orientation. The readers needs to know who said what.

    Is it enough orientation if I have the character do some physical actions during the dialog to show it was him or her who said it?

    So, I was wondering if any of you got some kind of method/wisdom/rule avoiding tags during dialog between two or more people.

    I appreciate any kind of advice you can are willing to share.
     
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  2. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    If there are multiple people in the conversation, you can use action to orient the reader as to who's speaking.

    "Mind if I interject?" Amanda held up her hand. "I think we need a Plan B."

    "I think he might like you." Jeremy slapped Tim on the back. "You should go for it."
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Emily looked up from a two-top by the window as Henry approached. "Hey."
    "Hey." Henry dropped into the other chair. "We're supposed to talk about tags."
    "Tags? Like price tags?"
    "No, no." He reached for a menu. "Dialogue tags. He said, she said, exclaimed blah de blah. Tags."
    "What's to know?"
    "Somebody wants to know how to avoid them. Hey, how's the tuna?"
    "Canned."
    Maureen sailed up, order pad in hand. "What's wrong with canned?"
    Henry nodded. "I like canned. I mean, in tuna salad."
    "Ugh." Emily grimaced. "Well, get the tuna melt, then. Anyway, forget tuna--what's wrong with tags?"
    "Tuna melt." Maureen scribbled, and retreated toward the counter.
    Henry closed the menu. "I think the idea is beats and things like that. I think that our conversation has been some kind of example."
    She shook her head. "I hate being an example. Look, let's go offscreen and find a restaurant that knows how to make decent tuna."
    "Hey!" Maureen glared from behind the counter. Apparently sound carries when convenient for writing examples. "You cancelling, then?"
    "Yep. Thanks, Maureen." Henry rose and collected his hat. "When did I get a hat?"
    Emily shrugged, standing and pushing her chair in. "I think it was to give you something to do when you stood up."
    "Forget this. I'm out of here."
    The door jingled behind the two as they exited to the street.
    "Fish snobs." Maureen pulled a magazine out from beneath the counter.
     
  4. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    You'll lose me fast if you write every line with a beat. I won't be able to pay attention to the dialogue if it's too cluttered. All I'll see is the beats and wonder why your characters can't speak a line without performing an action or making a face. There's nothing wrong with tags. I've never seen a book without at least a few tags. Tags are invisible if done properly.
     
  5. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Thanks for the examples, Laurin! :)
     
  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    Generally, I like to avoid extremes in either direction. I don't want tags with every line, and I don't want beats with every line. I want the tags to orient me in the conversation (if necessary) and I want beats to emphasize, add to, or inject subtext into the dialogue. I think it can be a mistake to avoid tags just for the sake of avoidance.

    That said, there's nothing wrong with avoiding tags if that fits your vision, but I'd tread lightly and really ask yourself what it would do for your writing.
     
    Last edited: Apr 3, 2017
  7. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    That is a funny dialog, chicken. :) No he said, she said... Thanks.
     
  8. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Sound advice, Spencer. I am getting your point. Thank you.
     
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  9. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    Agreed. I find it's easier on the eye to have a nice mix of both.
     
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  10. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    I never would want to lose you, Homer. ;) Thanks! I'll throw some tags in, just for you.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I agree that there's nothing wrong with tags. My sample would IMO have been more readable with a few.

    Let's try that:

    Emily looked up from a two-top by the window as Henry approached. "Hey."
    "Hey." Henry dropped into the other chair. "We're supposed to talk about tags."
    "Tags? Like price tags?"
    Henry said, "No, no." He reached for a menu. "Dialogue tags. He said, she said, exclaimed blah de blah. Tags."
    "What's to know?"
    "Somebody wants to know how to avoid them. Hey, how's the tuna?"
    "Canned."
    Maureen sailed up, order pad in hand. "What's wrong with canned?"
    Henry said, "I like canned. I mean, in tuna salad."
    "Ugh." Emily grimaced. "Well, get the tuna melt, then. Anyway, forget tuna--what's wrong with tags?"
    "Tuna melt." Maureen scribbled, and retreated toward the counter.
    Henry said, "I think the idea is beats and things like that. I think that our conversation has been some kind of example."
    Emily shook her head. "I hate being an example. Look, let's go offscreen and find a restaurant that knows how to make decent tuna."
    "Hey!" Maureen glared from behind the counter. Apparently sound carries when convenient for writing examples. "You cancelling, then?"
    "Yep. Thanks, Maureen." Henry rose and collected his hat. "When did I get a hat?"
    Emily said, "I think it was to give you something to do when you stood up."
    "Forget this. I'm out of here."
    The door jingled behind the two as they exited to the street.
    "Fish snobs." Maureen pulled a magazine out from beneath the counter.
     
  12. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I like it with a mixture.

    Another reason that I'll use tags is to support a rhythm or cadence. Sometimes those few extra syllables help to keep the flow alive.
     
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  13. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin A tombstone hand and a graveyard mind Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Homer got lost a long time ago. Ain't a lighthouse on this world that could guide me home now :confused:
     
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  14. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Perhaps you should rename yourself Odysseus Potvin?
     
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  15. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    In general, I will orient the reader at the outset of the dialogue with tags, if there are only two speakers, or a third with a distinctive style of speaking, then drop them thereafter if there is no ambiguity. Once you have identified the speakers, tags are a distraction, I think, if they are unnecessarily repeated.

    If you have a gaggle of people talking in no set sequence, interrupting each other, however, you may have to intersperse tags, or use action to identify the speakers.
     
  16. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    My tips? Don't avoid them. Avoid unnecessary tags, sure. But avoid them for no good reason? Bad idea - why handicap your writing arbitrarily?

    I rarely notice 'saids' in a novel. But I DO notice everytime I have to backtrack and re-read an exchange because I've lost track of who's speaking. And that's much more annoying than reading 'said' a lot.
     
  17. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Early on I took the "avoid dialog tags like the plague" advice and considerably damaged my writing. The problem is that you have to indicate who's speaking somehow (unless you're being deliberately vague), and if you don't use tags, then you're probably going to use beats. And beats are fine. However. It's incredibly easy to fill up the scene with needless action. Honestly, I don't care if the character blinks or inhales or scratches her head or scoots in or takes a sip or closes his eyes or sighs or shakes her head or or or or

    You're not writing a screenplay. You don't need stage directions. Body language is incredibly important in conveying subtext in a conversation. Don't make the mistake of losing it in a giant puddle of filler just because you want to avoid "he said" or "she asked." As with anything, conservation of detail is important. Only show me the actions that matter. Tags exist for a reason, as do beats, as does unattributed dialog. You're best off using all three in moderation and with purpose.
     
  18. Lew

    Lew Contributor Contributor

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    Concur with @Tenderiser and @xanadu. Reread your dialogue, and once you drop the tags, and it remains clear who is speaking, they are optional and may be dropped. Likewise, beats can spice up and increase visualization, or can be a lot of unnecessary stuff distracting from what is being said. After you have written it, read it, and make sure you know who is speaking. Yes, going back to figure who said what is the worst of all possible distractions.
     
  19. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    As somebody who writes exclusively in either 3rd-person limited or 1st-person, I tend to fill in the lines of dialog by having my narrator react in their mind to what the other person just said: does the narrator think it doesn't make sense, does the narrator think that the other person is lying, did the narrator just realize something important from the context that the other person just provided for some event that happened earlier in the plot...
     
  20. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    You'll find home, Homer, just always follow the tags. ;)
     
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  21. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Makes a lot of sense, Lew. Thanks.
     
  22. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    I get it, thanks, Simpson.
     
  23. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Thanks, Xanadu, I'll take this advice.
     
  24. Brigid

    Brigid Active Member

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    Hmm... I haven't thought about backtracking and re-reading... Good points, Tenderiser.
     
  25. Commandante Lemming

    Commandante Lemming Contributor Contributor

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    I've been actively editing my manuscript for dialogue tags for a few months to get it cleaned up, and since it's a first novel the earliest parts written are GARBAGE in that department. Mostly what I've been doing is having a character do an action followed by untagged dialogue. I've also found that when two people are in a conversation, every now and then it's okay to have a line of unattributed dialogue or two, because we know who's reporting to whom.

    Also I'm leaving in a good number of tags on purpose, because taking them all out messes up the rhythm as bad as leaving them in.

    Personally, my biggest piece of advice might be to pay more attention to your dialog tags in editing than in draft one. (Although having done that, it takes a lot of time to go back and edit them all :p)
     

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