Thursday, May 3, 2007

Tagging Your Dialog

by Heather Moore

Can you laugh a sentence? No.

You can’t chuckle or guffaw a sentence either. Dialog tags will signal to an editor or agent whether or not you're a novice writer. For example:

No:
“You're asking for it,” she laughed.

Yes:
“You're asking for it.” She laughed.

Yes Again:
“You're asking for it,” she said, laughing.

Adverbs
Have you heard of the adverb faux pas? What’s really wrong with them? Nothing, unless you are using a weak adverb in place of a strong verb. Oh yeah, and don’t use adverbs in dialog tags. It might get past your editor, but not past the reviewers. If you feel there is no other way around it, use them very sparingly.

Instead of:
“I need you,” she said softly.

Try:
She stared at him then spoke in a low, urgent voice. “I need you.”

Or:
She blinked back her tears. "I need you."

Using Said
Use “said” 95% of the time. Readers will gloss over it. Adding tags such as he repeated, she reiterated, he teased, she promised, etc. slows down the reader. These tags should all be evident in the dialog itself.

Using Asked
When your character asks a question, you don’t necessarily need to say she asked. It’s becoming more common to use she said.

If you choose to use asked, treat a question mark at the end of a sentence the same way you would any other punctuation. Watch out for this beginner’s mistake:

No:
“Where are you going?” She asked.

Yes:
“Where are you going?” she asked.

3 comments:

melissa c said...

Wow, this was interesting. I had to admit, It took me a couple of seconds on some of these to see the difference.

I hope I remember to use this. Don't editors correct this kind of thing before publishing the book?

Heather B. Moore said...

Copy-editors will correct this if you accidently make these kinds of errors. But if these errors are in the sample chapters you submit to the publisher or agent, it might be a red flag to them. And you don't ever want to give them a reason to put you in the slush pile. I once had an article rejected because I used "woman" instead of "women". Something I, of course, knew better, but it escaped my proof-reading.

Lu Ann Brobst Staheli said...

Bravo, Heather! This sounds like a lecture I would give!