Writer’s Craft # 11 – Dialogue Tags
Is it best to keep it simple or to get creative when using attribution tags for dialogue? Here’s what some of the members of the SF Canada discussion list had to say about the topic when it came up in discussion.
If in doubt, stick to the simplest choices like ‘said’ or ‘asked’.
Some authors approved of the judicious use of alternatives such as ‘sighed’, ‘groaned’, ‘moaned’ and ‘wondered’. Even ‘lied’, and ‘shrieked’ were recommended — in moderation! And here’s one to avoid: ejaculated. As in: “‘I’m not coming!’ he ejaculated. Exotic examples like ‘vamped’ or ‘opined’ were also frowned upon.
Editor Dawné Dominique described a particular problem caused by using tags that can’t be performed while speaking. “The simple rule I used to tell my authors is this: If you can’t talk and do the dialogue tag (verb) at the same time, it’s not a proper dialogue tag. I don’t know how many times I’ve received. ‘Just watch me,’ he laughed. Can he laugh and talk at the same time. Well, he probably could, but would the words be understandable? No.”
Usually, examples of this kind are a punctuation problem. The right approach is:
“Just watch me.” He laughed.
Don’t be shy about using enough examples of ‘said’ to remove any ambiguity about which character is talking. Author Kristin Janz said, “I can’t stand it when I have to back-track up seven or eight lines of dialogue and use my fingernail to poke alternate lines so I can keep track of who is speaking.”
Share your own opinions, pet peeves, examples and thoughts about dialogue tags.