Monday, January 9, 2012

Writing Tips--Dialog Tags

If you’re writing fiction (or sometimes even nonfiction), the subject of dialog tags sooner or later is going to come up. What is a dialog tag? In its purest form, it lets you know who’s saying what: “Blap blap blap,” he said.

Simple, right? Well maybe. If there are only two people in the conversation, sometimes a writer can get by with no tags at all, if each speaker has their own voice:

“I’m going to the ball game,” Joe said.
His wife Janie plucked at his sleeve and said in a small voice, “Please don’t. Your brother is supposed to stop by tonight.”
“Let him. I’m going. I’m done with that deadbeat.”
“But the money he owes us—”
“We’ll never see again, and you know it! I never want to—”

If a writer is skilled enough, such a conversation be carried on for quite a while, with no danger of losing the reader. But add a third character:

The door to the flat swung open, and tall man with tough eyes entered unannounced.
“See me again?” he finished. “That hurts, Joe. What would our sainted mother say?”
“Ben, as I live and breathe” Joe gritted. “I heard the sheriff sprung you.”
Nervously Janie picked up a pitcher of tea. “Please, guys … don’t fight, okay? Joe, isn't it good to see Ben, after all this time?"

"No."
"Come on, hon. I just made this. Let's all have some.”
The visitor’s smile was cold. “I always liked you, Janie.”
The gun almost teleported into Joe’s hand. “Time to leave, Ben.”
Janie’s hand flew to her mouth. Her nightmare was coming true at last.

And so on.
In another post we’ll talk about why some writers strictly go with “said” for each character’s tag, while others—like me—tend to mix it up a bit.

Happy writing!
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