Morning Mellow

Five Minutes to Complain About Dialog Tags

So I finished my novel in January and I'm working on revisions. I keep running into articles and comments on the web that, frankly, are frustrating me. Mainly because I view many of these conversations as opinions on style preferences, and not as infallible "rules of writing".

For example, there is a school out there that believes dialog tags should only ever contain the words "said" or "ask". We'll call this School of Thought 1 (ST1). As in...

    "But it was always blue," she said.

    "No," he said, "It was wet."

    "What about dinner?" asked the dog.

This school believes that in general dialog tags should be fairly invisible or eliminated when possible. ST1 does not believe words like "insisted" or "commented" or "complained" (like I'm doing) should be used.

Then of course, there is another school of thought (ST2) that thinks these tags are fine. Language is rich! Use it to its best advantage! 

Still, a third school of thought thinks that dialog tags should never be used AT ALL! All indication of the speaker should be shown through action. For example...

    "But it was always blue." She yanked down the ostrich feather.

    "No." Mark lobbed toilet paper at the ceiling. "It was wet."

    "What about dinner?" The dog made a jump for the feather, knocking one of the toilet papers awry.

(Now my problem with ST3 is how do you know the dog just asked that? It could have been the woman. This is where "he said" could be really useful in letting us know the dog is a genetically enhanced pooch with the ability to communicate. Or you could use "he woofed" and then we know the dog is just thinking about his dinner and the stupid humans can't understand him. Again. Poor puppy.)

In my writing I use a combination of all of these methods, depending on what's happening and the pace I want to set.  It's just how I've always written.  It's even... dare I say it?... how I was taught!  (GASP! You mean, you were taught more than one method?!  Yes, yes I was.)  Because, truth be told, NONE of these methods are INCORRECT. 

I just want to put that out into the universe.

This would be an incorrect use of dialog tags.

    "But it was always blue," she shimmied.

    "No" He gnashed "It was wet."

    The dog, playing the flute, said, What about dinner?

Not to say I don't need to edit or eliminate my own dialog tags. That's what revision is for. We all know that reading is completely subjective. But for other writers out there who might be confused by conflicting advice, I just want to say... sometimes style preferences are subjective, too.  

Just like opinions. :)



It's me sippyworldcup!! Thinking of dusting off the blog cobwebs and you my dear are one of the only working links on my blog! Yay you! Seriously there should be a blog medal for persistence. Now I'm inspired to continue blogger. So well done! Good to read you again.

the weirdgirl

Hi PeeKay! My persistence has been spotty but I'm trying to get back in the groove again. I hope you do too! It would be fun to read you again!

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