Author Topic: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue  (Read 852 times)

bardsandsages

[Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« on: September 18, 2018, 06:31:43 AM »
For purposes of encouraging craft discussions:

One of the biggest problems writers have is not knowing when or how to use dialogue tags. Tags can bog down dialogue in a story. Excessive use of tags can actually make it harder to follow a conversation. Tags should only be used to help identify who is speaking or to provide additional insight not already conveyed in the conversation itself. The dialogue should in most cases be able to convey the emotion of the scene without hitting the reader over the head with extra dialogue tags.

https://bardsandsages.com/juliedawson/2012/06/12/tagging-in-dialogue/
« Last Edit: September 20, 2018, 03:57:44 PM by TimothyEllis »
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Solitary Dan

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #1 on: September 18, 2018, 06:50:48 AM »
As a reader, my personal preference is frequent dialogue tags.  I agree with discussions I've seen that argue
"said" gets skimmed or otherwise does not significantly interrupt dialogue flow.  Occasionally mixing in other verbs works for me too.

Not having enough dialogue tags is problematic.  If you lose your place in reading dialogue and have to go back several paragraphs or pages to try to figure out which character is saying what, then that interrupts the flow far more than dialogue tags themselves.

As a reader, I'd rather see "he said/she said" frequently than have to backtrack and find my place again.  Dialogue tags are handy little bookmarks that quickly allow you to keep track of, or be sure of, who is saying what.

Maybe I'm in the minority, but I've read books where I have lost track of who is saying what and had to go back several pages to try to figure it out.  And that's something that's easily avoided by telling me who is speaking with a quick dialogue tag.
     
 
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WasAnn

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #2 on: September 18, 2018, 07:08:56 AM »
Like a lot of people, I like to see it every few lines to remind me, but also because a back and forth that goes on too long starts to seem like people talking in a white room. I want to know what they're doing, what they're emotional response is, or whether or not they're getting so eager to blow up aliens that they're toying with their raygun.

The kicker for me is that before I publish, even before I send to a final editor, I read the whole thing aloud with expression. I hate audiobooks that have too many saids and asks.


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Llano

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2018, 08:39:06 AM »
On the first draft I usually use too few dialog tags. I'm in the moment, and writing the dialog, and clearly know who is speaking. Then I go back for the first edit and even I, the author of said dialog, can't keep up with who is speaking. That's when I start adding tags. It continues until the final proofread.

I just finished a novel where the author used almost no tags. I had to back up constantly to see who was speaking. I hated it and resolved to never be guilty of the same thing.

 

EllieL

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2018, 02:20:50 AM »
I love dialogue. I'm very dialogue driven when I write. That said, I mix up both dialogue and action tags enough to keep things interesting (I hope!), but try not to use so many that it bogs down the narrative. I also like to have enough in place to avoid the 'talking head syndrome', where you have people talking++, but don't necessarily know who is who.
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idontknowyet

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2018, 02:40:18 AM »
I've been trying to use as a general rule of thumb to avoid confusion a tag of some sort every forth speaker switch. I try to alternate irregularly between an action and said, but sometimes an action tag just distractions from the conversation.
 

Al Macy (aka TromboneAl)

Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2018, 12:08:25 PM »
My rule is a tag or beat at least every three instances of speech or action.

The other day I gave up on a book because it didn't format dialogue properly. Like this:

    "What a nice sunset," Bob said.

    Mary scratched her nose.

    "I went to the store today."

The last line should be Bob talking, but it would turn out to be Mary. It should have been formatted as:

   "What a nice sunset," Bob said.

    Mary scratched her nose. "I went to the store today."

After a bunch of those, but some of these:

He gave the card to Steve and I.

I gave up. Otherwise, the book looked good.





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oganalp

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2018, 07:21:25 AM »
Seeing "X said, Y said, Z said" line after line makes it hard to read. I prefer to see the dialogue progress through action, gestures as well. Some sources suggest using said and not dwelling too much into other forms of tagging. I don't have the experience to argue as a writer, but as a reader I find it to be wrong.

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idontknowyet

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2018, 11:08:34 AM »
Seeing "X said, Y said, Z said" line after line makes it hard to read. I prefer to see the dialogue progress through action, gestures as well. Some sources suggest using said and not dwelling too much into other forms of tagging. I don't have the experience to argue as a writer, but as a reader I find it to be wrong.

I agree to an extent. When you have a ton of dialogue in your story using action tags can make the characters look twitchy.
 

Solitary Dan

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2018, 12:38:10 PM »
Sometimes, people just talk.  A couple resting on the ground staring up at the stars, for example.  Once you've set the scene, what else are they going to do?  Do you need to describe every time they blink?


"It's a beautiful night," Jane said.

"It is," John replied.

Jane took in a deep breath of the night air.  "The air is cool."

John said nothing, instead blinking slowly as he gazed at the stars.

Jane blinked too.  "I see Antares."

John jerked up and brushed his chest.  "Ants?  Where?"

Jane laughed.  "Antares, the star!"

"Oh."  John felt embarrassed, blinking several times.  He didn't want to admit he had failed Astronomy 101.

Jane wondered why she was with a guy that failed Astronomy 101.  She had seen his transcripts one night when he had been playing on his phone while in the restroom.  She blinked as she thought about the shoe store his parents owned.  That's why, she remembered.  She turned and smiled at John.  John the idiot.  She sighed and blinked.  Maybe the wholesale prices on shoes weren't worth it.

Unblinking, John watched as her chest rose up and down while she breathed slowly.  He smiled at her.  Rather, he smiled at her upper body.

Before she blinked, she saw where he was staring and made a decision.  One more pair of Christian Louboutins and we're through.  She smiled at him and blinked thoughtfully.  Only two more days until new stock arrived at his family store.


Okay, I lost the plot on that one.  I started out with good intentions though.  On the plus side, no forum owns that prose.  It's mine.  Mine, I say.  All mine!  ALL MY WORDS ARE BELONG TO ME NOW!!!
     
 

oganalp

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #10 on: September 21, 2018, 01:08:32 PM »
Eventually one of them will loose a contact lens after that much blinking.  :Grin:

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Re: Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #11 on: September 21, 2018, 01:54:31 PM »
My rule is a tag or beat at least every three instances of speech or action.

Agreed. There's a limit to how long I can keep track of which character is speaking, and I'd rather see a 'said xyz' in there than have to go back and start reading the dialogue from the beginning again to work it out.

Do that to me two or three times, and I'll ditch the book.


 

Jeff Tanyard

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2018, 02:29:06 PM »
Eventually one of them will loose a contact lens after that much blinking.  :Grin:


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guest390

  • Guest
Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2018, 10:46:20 PM »
Okay, I dig craft talk.
Dialogue tags are often worried over unnecessarily. "I've used said too much. I need something else." No, you don't. First: most people while reading don't notice the dialogue tag. Second: nine times out of ten, the character "said" something.
If you feel you're using too many tags, just do without them. Not entirely. But rather than tag it, add actions that indicate who is speaking.
Example:
Zaphod leaned back, fingers steepled beneath his chin. "I see your point. I didn't need a dialogue tag here. Oh, how I've wasted my life exclaiming, expounding, shouting, screaming, and saying."   

Tags are also about rhythm.
Example:
Bob picked up the knife and examined the blade. "No blood."
"It could have been cleaned," said Jana.
"Or left behind to throw us off the scent."
Jana rubbed the back of her neck, head cocked, looking like she tasted something sour. Bob had seen her like this a hundred times. The wheels were turning, the pieces dropping into place one by one. To Jana a murder was a puzzle more than a crime. It was what made her such a good detective - seeing through the horror and blood with complete, emotionless clarity; exploring every option, every possible scenario, until only the facts remained.
"No," she said, as much to herself as to Bob. "That's the knife he used. I'd bet my life on it. And he didn't need to clean it."
Bob raised an eyebrow. "Then where the blood?" When she didn't answer he said: "You know who did it, don't you?"
A tiny smile crept up from the corners of her mouth. "Yeah."

A good way to get a handle on this is to either read it back aloud. Or listen to it with your text to speech feature. 
 
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Guerin

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2018, 03:35:30 AM »
When there are more than two people involved, you can often avoid the need for excessive dialogue tags when the dialogue itself can do the same job.

"What do you think about that, Jack?"
"What does it matter, Sally? It's not like anyone really cares what I think."

It is very common in meetings for one speaker to hand the conversation over to another.

"We've already solved that issue, haven't we, Jack?"
"Yes. Our solution to that particular problem is clearly described on the second page of the addendum that I handed out earlier."

This doesn't eliminate the need for dialogue tags. It's just one option to reduce their usage while still letting the reader know who is speaking.






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PJ Post

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #15 on: September 23, 2018, 04:45:43 AM »
I think the tag discussion begins with creating distinct character voices, whether that be through cadence, pov, use of slang or other identifier.

And then...

Tags are also about rhythm.

This.

Pacing is so important to the flow of dialogue, and scenes in general. For example, description can rob a conversation of its emotion, but a simple back and forth may sound too much like a Gilmore Girl's script, regardless of tags. The trick is to weave in the action beats, establish mood and keep the characters aware of their surroundings while maintaining the focus on the emotional dynamics. And, as much as possible, have the descriptions and action beats reinforce the mood and flow of the conversation.

I think fewer tags is always better. When necessary, I mostly use 'says', but I think the occasional 'shout', 'mumble' or 'whisper' or whatever works too. I also think adverbs are fine, again, with limited use. Sometimes the strongest verb just doesn't work.

Combining dialog with action beats also helps with the flow. "No," she said as she turned away. And then change up the structure. "No," she said, turning away.

Another way to improve conversational tension is to avoid monologues. Use shorter sentences, have characters interrupt one another, have them repeat stuff, have them finish each other's sentences, stuff like that (as long as it's in character). So instead of a long paragraph of dialogue, we get a tennis match. And we can vary the pacing by how long or short the responses are. Additionally, if they are discussing something momentous, the conversation can be paused for effect. The characters can stop to observe one another, think about a related thing (foreshadowing/call back/metaphor), or we can insert an action beat or description before the conversation resumes.

The conversation can also be paused at the proper time or interrupted by external events: someone walking into the room, a geographic obstacle requiring all of their attention or some other action setup, which can build tension. Leaving stuff unfinished "for now" is a great story tool, just don't make the reader keep track of too many balls in the air at once.

All of these options reduce the need for dialogue tags.

But it all gets more complicated when we have three or more people in the conversation. And even though most of the above still holds true, you really need to identify every speaker here, one way or the other, except when it's a direct response made obvious from the preceding dialogue. Otherwise it can get confusing fast.

Oh, one more thing. When several people are in a conversation, try not to lose sight of the ones not speaking. They can become invisible to the reader. So even if they aren't talking, have them react to the conversation or do something so we don't forget they're there.
 
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Max

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #16 on: September 23, 2018, 06:36:59 AM »
Okay, I dig craft talk.
Dialogue tags are often worried over unnecessarily. "I've used said too much. I need something else." No, you don't. First: most people while reading don't notice the dialogue tag. Second: nine times out of ten, the character "said" something.
If you feel you're using too many tags, just do without them. Not entirely. But rather than tag it, add actions that indicate who is speaking.
Example:
Zaphod leaned back, fingers steepled beneath his chin. "I see your point. I didn't need a dialogue tag here. Oh, how I've wasted my life exclaiming, expounding, shouting, screaming, and saying."   

Tags are also about rhythm.
Example:
Bob picked up the knife and examined the blade. "No blood."
"It could have been cleaned," said Jana.
"Or left behind to throw us off the scent."
Jana rubbed the back of her neck, head cocked, looking like she tasted something sour. Bob had seen her like this a hundred times. The wheels were turning, the pieces dropping into place one by one. To Jana a murder was a puzzle more than a crime. It was what made her such a good detective - seeing through the horror and blood with complete, emotionless clarity; exploring every option, every possible scenario, until only the facts remained.
"No," she said, as much to herself as to Bob. "That's the knife he used. I'd bet my life on it. And he didn't need to clean it."
Bob raised an eyebrow. "Then where the blood?" When she didn't answer he said: "You know who did it, don't you?"
A tiny smile crept up from the corners of her mouth. "Yeah."

A good way to get a handle on this is to either read it back aloud. Or listen to it with your text to speech feature.

Nicely done. Very.

A little OT but still craft. This post spawns a question for me.
Colons.
I remember a time you didn't see colons in fiction. Ever, I think. Now I see a lot more of them.
Seems you'd practically get spanked by an editor for using one, back in the day. Now, it's commonplace, though they catch my attention.
What changed? Anyone know? Not even sure how much it matters, but I'm curious when the train of thought switched tracks.
For those that use them, I wonder, have you always?
 

guest390

  • Guest
Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2018, 07:02:45 AM »


[/quote]

Nicely done. Very.

A little OT but still craft. This post spawns a question for me.
Colons.
I remember a time you didn't see colons in fiction. Ever, I think. Now I see a lot more of them.
Seems you'd practically get spanked by an editor for using one, back in the day. Now, it's commonplace, though they catch my attention.
What changed? Anyone know? Not even sure how much it matters, but I'm curious when the train of thought switched tracks.
For those that use them, I wonder, have you always?
[/quote]
Not sure. The copy and line editor for my indie stuff does that. So, given she writes text books for MacMillan I figured she knows what's what. Previously, I had assumed it was -  word, " not word: " .
 

Max

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2018, 07:15:44 AM »
Yeah, used to be I only saw it (the word colon) in non-fic. Now, fic. It doesn't bother me enough to take a stand on it, one way or another. What I've found that it does, is take me out of the story. I'm pretty sure that shows how old school I am.


Edited to add the word colon.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2018, 07:43:59 AM by Max »
 

oganalp

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #19 on: September 23, 2018, 07:34:09 AM »
I recently found a copy of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, a 1960 interpretation. The dialogue flow and the rhythm are there, but it is very tiresome at the same time. I agree with what you say, but seeing less "said" than more keeps the dialogue flowing for me (if it is clear about who is talking, of course). I think I have a problem with the word itself, haha!

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She-la-te-da

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #20 on: September 23, 2018, 08:27:16 PM »
I try to avoid long stretches of just dialog. It's far to easy to lose the reader, even with said every other line. Break it up with some action tags, or narrative, but not so much that the conversation gets lost. It's a tricky balance.

Remember, new speaker means new paragraph.

Don't use ALL CAPS FOR SHOUTING. There are words for that sort of thing.

Don't break the fourth wall, with rare exception (it's the style of story you're going for, not general fiction).

And for whatever you hold dear, do not have characters shouting at each other while trying to avoid zombie attention. Or yelling when they're only two feet apart. Unless they're angry.
I write various flavors of speculative fiction. This is my main pen name.

 

idontknowyet

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #21 on: September 24, 2018, 05:21:07 AM »
Don't break the fourth wall, with rare exception (it's the style of story you're going for, not general fiction).

The fourth wall? What is that?
 

Solitary Dan

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #22 on: September 24, 2018, 08:08:59 AM »
Don't break the fourth wall, with rare exception (it's the style of story you're going for, not general fiction).

The fourth wall? What is that?

The imaginary wall between the reader and the characters in a written work or the audience and the characters in a visual work.

For example, if a character in a movie in some way acknowledges that they are in a movie, they are "breaking the fourth wall."
     
 

PJ Post

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #23 on: September 24, 2018, 08:14:32 AM »
 

Vijaya

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #24 on: September 25, 2018, 03:14:07 AM »
Is it okay to post another helpful link on the use of dialogue here? If not, maybe a mod can move it.
https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2017/07/dialogue-its-not-just-talk.html

Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces, primarily for children
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bardsandsages

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #25 on: September 29, 2018, 02:34:41 AM »
Is it okay to post another helpful link on the use of dialogue here? If not, maybe a mod can move it.
https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com/2017/07/dialogue-its-not-just-talk.html


My thread, so my permission granted lol


And where are my Star Wars emojis!?
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Solitary Dan

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #26 on: September 29, 2018, 02:48:52 AM »
And where are my Star Wars emojis!?

Buried under Spock's coffin on the Genesis planet where they belong.   :hehe
     
 

OfficialEthanJ

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #27 on: December 28, 2018, 03:29:42 AM »
::: mutters incantation :::

Sorry to revive this thread, but I've been on guard for dialogue tags that don't involve "said." For example:

"You never write me love songs," she sniffed.

"I'm too busy with my wine-tasting hobby," he sipped.

As for the former, I think it's okay, in moderation.

As for the latter, nooooooo. Unless he's speaking through a mouthful of wine.
 

dikim

Re: [Guide] Tagging in Dialogue
« Reply #28 on: January 18, 2019, 03:26:56 AM »
I tend to use lots of dialogue tags because I hate it when I lose track of conversations in books and have to count back to see who is talking. It's also important to use plenty of dialogue tags in books for young children. They read more slowly than adults so are more likely to lose track of who is speaking.

Although we're often advised to mainly use "said", the editor of my first series encouraged me to put in lots of variety - whispered, called, shouted, begged etc. But she was really strict about not using tags like laughed, smiled which are about something other than talking. That series sold really well so I've stuck to her advice ever since.


Author of more than 40 books and several scripts. Writes fiction and non-fiction for children, young adults, adults and other writers.
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