Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Writing Tip Tuesday

This is Dialogue 101, but....sometimes it doesn't hurt to be reminded.

Let's talk about dialogue tags - sometimes referred to as speaker attributions...you know, the "he said" and "she said" stuff.

Here are my Rules for Using Dialogue Tags:

1. Don't use the tag to explain.

Example: he snarled; she apologized.

Let the dialogue or beat (action) show what the tag was explaining.

2. Don't struggle for variety.

Said is usually the best choice. It becomes invisible, which is a good thing.

3. Don't use words that don't denote speech.

Example: "I'm so tired," she sighed. or "That's a good one," he chuckled.

You can't sigh or chuckle words.

You can say something and then sigh or chuckle. ("That's a good one." He chuckled.)

4. Cut or limit the -ly adverbs.

Example: She exclaimed hatefully. or She said angrily.

Show, don't tell. Those adverbs are telling.

Use the dialogue to show what the adverb is telling.

Example: "You're nothing but a pitiful loser" would certainly be hateful.

Or, instead of "She said angrily", how about, "I've had it up to here with you," she snapped. "Now get out of my face and pretend like you never met me."

5. Place the tag where there is a natural break in dialogue.

Reading out loud will help with this. Pay attention to places where you stumble over your words or you're tempted to change something. That's a big clue that maybe it needs to be changed.

6. Eliminate the tags if it's clear who's talking.

Use beats (little bits of action) to help identify the speaker.

But remember - it's very easy to overuse dialogue tags. Trust me, we all do it.

You might try highlighting ALL dialogue tags in red or yellow and then take a look at them. That might reveal even more than actually reading the piece. You will physically see how often you use them and what they are. (Same goes for those -ly adverbs - highlight them.)

1 comment:

debrennersmith said...

AWESOME! So many students do not understand dialogue, how to punctuate it, how to write it, how to read it. This is a wonderful reminder of the rules that so many of the students I work with have either forgotten or never knew.