Dialogue Tags

What are dialogue tags? They are the little he saids, she saids of the literary world. While many of us learned in school to vary our dialogue tags so we don’t just use ‘said’ all the time, the fact is, if you can’t substitute the tag you have now with ‘said’ and still understand the meaning of what is being spoken, you may want to go back and rewrite your dialogue.

Let’s take a look at a sample:

“What do you mean, I can’t go?” demanded Lucy. “I have to be there!”
“Well, young lady,” her mother explained, “you didn’t clean your room like you said you would. You know the consequences.”
“But Mom…” Lucy whined. “All my friends will be there!”

Using dialogue tags like this explains what should have been explained in your dialogue. If you did get the meaning across in your dialogue, you shouldn’t have to explain it again by using tags. In fact, sometimes you don’t need tags at all.

When you have a dialogue between two people, once you’ve established who is speaking, you can often dispense with the attributions altogether, breaking up the dialogue with beats. Few people just sit there, completely still, while speaking. They may take a sip of coffee or scratch their neck. They may stand up abruptly to add power to what they are saying. Adding physical action to your dialogue makes it more realistic and believable; much more believable than spelling out your meanings through the dialogue tags.

Let’s take another look at that bit of dialogue:

“What do you mean, I can’t go?” Lucy said. “I have to be there!”
Her mother folded another towel. “Well, young lady, you didn’t clean your room like you said you would. You know the consequences.”
“But Mom… all my friends will be there!”

You still get all the meaning, don’t you? Remember this when you write your dialogue. It will improve your writing.

Edited according to our helpful comment! Just proves that every writer needs an objective editor!

What Do You Need?

I was thinking about how to meet the needs of our clients today, and it occurred to me, I should ask writers what they are looking for in an editing service! So, this is your chance: tell me what you want in an editor. We will try to incorporate as many of your suggestions into our service as is feasible. Please be realistic in your requests… don’t tell me you want free advanced editing for everyone, for example. As much as I would love to do that, I also have a family that really likes having shelter from the weather and food to eat. However, there must be many ways we can meet your needs. I am not averse to offering specials, as you know, and I am open to trying many things. So… what do you need? What do you want? I would like to tailor our services to the needs of writers as much as possible.

Oh, maybe I should offer a prize to the best suggestion! How about a free line edit for the best suggestion? Please leave your suggestions here in the comments. I will announce the winner of the free line edit on March 31.

So, get out there and share this. Tell your writing friends. This is the chance to help create the editorial service of your dreams… and you could win a free edit. :)

WINNER: The winner of our free line edit is Suzie Ivy! :) Congratulations, Suzie! :)

Remember the Details

Stories are built upon their strong skeletons of plot and structure. Each scene should contribute to the story, not wander away from it. Once all of this is in place, however, it is the details that change that plain flat cake with canned frosting on it into a many-tiered masterpiece.

Have you ever read a book where the details were just tossed in? Perhaps the character grabbed a glass from the cupboard in chapter 6, only to be randomly opening the cupboards in search of a glass in chapter 8. Sure, maybe the reader won’t notice, but what if they do? If your character is familiar with the kitchen in an earlier scene, they need to still be familiar with it in a later scene unless there is a good reason for it.

Likewise, if you have your character leave the house barefoot, they shouldn’t suddenly have shoes on without either returning to the house and getting their shoes, or someone gives them shoes for some reason.

It is a lot of work writing a good story. On top of all the characterizations, dialogue and scene structure you are saddled with all these details. It can be really tempting to just let that one detail slide… or perhaps you think you wrote down one thing, but you can’t remember what page it was on. No one will notice anyway, right?

This is what all that proofreading and editing is all about. If you don’t catch it yourself in your own proofing and editing sessions, it should be caught by an editor. This is one of the reasons why you need to proof and edit, proof and edit, proof and edit. As William Feather said, “Beware of the man who won’t be bothered with details.”

You can have the best story around, but if you muck up the details, the story won’t ring true. It won’t become that living, breathing experience that readers want. Would Doctor Who be as popular after all these years if they didn’t pay attention to the details? We recently watched the last season with the 11th Doctor. They had a theme throughout the entire season of a crack in time. By the time we got to the final episode, all those tiny details that we hadn’t even thought important throughout the season all came into play. It was a wonderful crafting that brought them all together in the end.

Whether you like that show or not is unimportant. The point is, you need to pay attention to the details. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a short story, a novella, or a full length novel. The details make the difference.