Are dialogue tags really that bad?

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polymath
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by polymath » March 2nd, 2010, 12:13 am

Thank you, eringayles. I reckon you're a fellow traveler on the path of reconciling educational contradictions, beating creativity out of children to make them more manageable at the same time as fostering an environment where risk-taking and trial and error lead youths into learning to think critically for themselves. I was a well-constructed automaton when I graduated from high school, but an emotional wreck desperately looking for anyone else to take over the controller.
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Leila » March 2nd, 2010, 1:54 am

Ink, you are a gem!

Thanks so much for your comprehensive response. What a great explanation!

Please don’t hate me, I just want to pick up on two comments that you made and ask you - and others who may like to comment - a further (slightly tangential) question or two if you don’t mind?

[quote="Ink"]

But for adult readers, beyond the rare and specific instance, I think there's craft problems with the technique. Yes, some big-selling authors do it. But they're not big-selling because they do it, but in spite of the fact that they do it. If you do lots of other things well, you can be forgiven that certain elements lack in subtlety. The better you are at some things the more leeway you have with others. And, of course, some readers will never notice one way or the other. But some will. So, to me, it comes down to the difference between "good enough" writing and "good" writing. [quote="Ink"]

Good point about the difference between "good enough" writing and "good" writing. Anyone settling for "good enough", at least in a commercial vein, needs to rethink their purpose.

You seem certain that high profile authors who use tags succeed in spite of this fact. You also refer to their lack of subtlety, as an element, in the same regard. I realise that you acknowledge other factors here and I am isolating this particular paragraph, but stay with me.

Please forgive my extremely crude analogy, but in the absence of anything better to use…

If I make a salad, I would normally include: tomato, lettuce, cucumber, mint, lemon juice, spring onion, vinegar, etc. (I realize everyone puts different things in salads) If I left out the lemon juice, the taste would change. If I left out the vinegar, the taste would change. You get the point.

So my question is: From your perspective, how do you separate out the bits that make books appealing to the market from those that don’t? How do you separate out the tags, adverbs, etc to determine whether or not an author succeeds in spite of certain elements, as opposed to an appealing stylistic combination that won the reader over? I’m only asking because you seem clear in your comment.

In the case of the salad, all the ingredients come together to provide the right/desired taste. Again, from your perspective, could this be true for readers too (regardless of their level of awareness of technical skill)?

Chocolate break. Ok, you ready for round two? Hahaha.

Actually, my second point is a comment really, not a question. I really like your museum analogy. It strikes a chord. My only thought it that sometimes a little interpretation or guidance can be useful too. If one is standing before, say, a particularly unusual Monet painting in an art gallery, they may not have the ability to appreciate the artist’s intent. True, they can make their own assessment, but the potential to miss meaning is there, especially for those not familiar with the timing of the piece, the artist’s life, the choice of colors, canvas, style, etc. It’s just a thought, but I certainly agree with your sentiments.

Anyway, having said all this, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not seeking to disprove every theory known to mankind and create new ones in parallel universes. On the contrary, I have always loved knowing how things work, learning techniques and skills, gaining new knowledge, experience etc. All these elements combine to enhance overall life long learning, and I firmly believe that knowledge gives you so many more choices in every aspect of your life. A well rounded internal frame of reference is always useful.

I’m simply new to the world of forums, and I love the fantastic diversity of thinking, experience, culture, knowledge and good will amongst everyone who shares their time and thoughts. Hence sometimes wanting to dig a bit deeper into peoples thinking and find out why we think what we think. I find it quite informative, and hopefully not too annoying.

Ok, I’m done now. I’m sure you and anyone else who has read this is tired.

Thanks for persevering.

Regards

Leila

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eringayles
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by eringayles » March 3rd, 2010, 4:32 am

Polymath, you are an enigma! Your linguistic command is post-tertiary, I would think, and your non-academic writing is vivid and flowing, so I'm thinking that you are a published author - and maybe even of blockbuster status! Or am I allowing my author's imagination unrestrained frolic?
The hermitage - self-imposed or religious?
The tropics - I get the feeling you don't live in a bayou - so maybe not in America. (Not sure if Florida is tropical - I'm not American, so am not familiar with the geography)
I know this post might seem somewhat intrusive - It's not meant to be. I would just like to think that all the posters on this site realise what a resource they have in the valuable information you provide.
Sincere thanks.

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E McD
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by E McD » March 3rd, 2010, 6:39 am

eringayles wrote:Polymath, you are an enigma! Your linguistic command is post-tertiary, I would think, and your non-academic writing is vivid and flowing, so I'm thinking that you are a published author - and maybe even of blockbuster status! Or am I allowing my author's imagination unrestrained frolic?
The hermitage - self-imposed or religious?
The tropics - I get the feeling you don't live in a bayou - so maybe not in America. (Not sure if Florida is tropical - I'm not American, so am not familiar with the geography)
I know this post might seem somewhat intrusive - It's not meant to be. I would just like to think that all the posters on this site realise what a resource they have in the valuable information you provide.
Sincere thanks.
S/he's brilliant!
-Emily McDaniel

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » March 3rd, 2010, 10:18 am

Leila wrote:Ink, you are a gem!

Thanks so much for your comprehensive response. What a great explanation!

Please don’t hate me, I just want to pick up on two comments that you made and ask you - and others who may like to comment - a further (slightly tangential) question or two if you don’t mind?
Ink wrote:
But for adult readers, beyond the rare and specific instance, I think there's craft problems with the technique. Yes, some big-selling authors do it. But they're not big-selling because they do it, but in spite of the fact that they do it. If you do lots of other things well, you can be forgiven that certain elements lack in subtlety. The better you are at some things the more leeway you have with others. And, of course, some readers will never notice one way or the other. But some will. So, to me, it comes down to the difference between "good enough" writing and "good" writing.
Ink wrote:
Good point about the difference between "good enough" writing and "good" writing. Anyone settling for "good enough", at least in a commercial vein, needs to rethink their purpose.

You seem certain that high profile authors who use tags succeed in spite of this fact. You also refer to their lack of subtlety, as an element, in the same regard. I realise that you acknowledge other factors here and I am isolating this particular paragraph, but stay with me.

Please forgive my extremely crude analogy, but in the absence of anything better to use…

If I make a salad, I would normally include: tomato, lettuce, cucumber, mint, lemon juice, spring onion, vinegar, etc. (I realize everyone puts different things in salads) If I left out the lemon juice, the taste would change. If I left out the vinegar, the taste would change. You get the point.

So my question is: From your perspective, how do you separate out the bits that make books appealing to the market from those that don’t? How do you separate out the tags, adverbs, etc to determine whether or not an author succeeds in spite of certain elements, as opposed to an appealing stylistic combination that won the reader over? I’m only asking because you seem clear in your comment.

In the case of the salad, all the ingredients come together to provide the right/desired taste. Again, from your perspective, could this be true for readers too (regardless of their level of awareness of technical skill)?

Chocolate break. Ok, you ready for round two? Hahaha.

Actually, my second point is a comment really, not a question. I really like your museum analogy. It strikes a chord. My only thought it that sometimes a little interpretation or guidance can be useful too. If one is standing before, say, a particularly unusual Monet painting in an art gallery, they may not have the ability to appreciate the artist’s intent. True, they can make their own assessment, but the potential to miss meaning is there, especially for those not familiar with the timing of the piece, the artist’s life, the choice of colors, canvas, style, etc. It’s just a thought, but I certainly agree with your sentiments.

Anyway, having said all this, please don’t get me wrong. I’m not seeking to disprove every theory known to mankind and create new ones in parallel universes. On the contrary, I have always loved knowing how things work, learning techniques and skills, gaining new knowledge, experience etc. All these elements combine to enhance overall life long learning, and I firmly believe that knowledge gives you so many more choices in every aspect of your life. A well rounded internal frame of reference is always useful.

I’m simply new to the world of forums, and I love the fantastic diversity of thinking, experience, culture, knowledge and good will amongst everyone who shares their time and thoughts. Hence sometimes wanting to dig a bit deeper into peoples thinking and find out why we think what we think. I find it quite informative, and hopefully not too annoying.

Ok, I’m done now. I’m sure you and anyone else who has read this is tired.

Thanks for persevering.

Regards

Leila
Good questions, Leila.

And, well, there's no absolutely scientific way to peel apart a story and evaluate the relative worth of each element. And it's also tricky, in a sense, to reduce a story to its elements in a meaningful way without ignoring that it comes as a package, as part of the overall style. Any attempt, of course, will be necessarily imprecise. Particularly as many readers will not care (or really notice) many of these particular elements one way or another.

But I think it's also clear that most writers aren't perfect. They are better at some things or others, and success, even great success, is not necessarily dependent on mastering everything. Rather, it's about mastering certain things that a certain audience will appreciate (and be willing to pay for). Thus we get the Twilight and Potter debates. I like to think of Agatha Christie here. I love Christie. She does many things remarkably well. But her characters are very static. They don't really change much, if at all. Hercule Poirot is going to be the same Poirot at the beginning of the mystery as he is at the end. And this is generally considered a no-no for a story. Indeed, it goes against one of the very concepts of what a story is. And, really, her stories are lacking in any real emotional resonance. They're clever set pieces, most of them. They're charming, engaging, concise, beautifully paced, and she can define characters types with both precision and ease. Her endings always provide bang for their buck. These are things she has mastered. As a total package her writing works for millions. But that's not to say she doesn't have flaws. What would her books be like if they a lot of emotional resonance as well, while retaining all the other things?

Again, I think it's about how far a writer wants to push their writing. Do they want it to be the best it can possibly be... or good enough to satisfy a particular audience? The danger is that it's fine for Christie or Meyer or Rowling to work around their flaws. They've mastered other things, and earned huge success on account of it. But for writers still looking for representation and publication that's much more dangerous. We haven't proven anything yet, and we can't simply rely on what we find successful. Can we afford not to consider these elements that need work? What if these are the elements that are holding us back? And, for me at least, I want to write something as well as I can write it. Not for an audience, or for a better chance at getting an agent or getting published... but just for me. I want satisfaction in my own artistic efforts. And that means writing something as well as possible. That means trying to avoid bandaids.

In the specific case of dialogue tags... I think the thing that stands out is that most of them will fall into that redundant category. You simply won't miss them or notice that they're gone, as they weren't really doing anything useful anyway. In fact, things might be clearer and more vivid. And when you do notice they're missing, you might also notice the dialogue isn't quite as good as it once seemed. So then it's up to you: dialogue tag or better dialogue? It's not necessarily a right or wrong answer. It's all subjective. But, craft-wise, one is generally more effective. It involves clarifying the vision you're offering, rather than explaining it.

As for the museum idea... well, it's a metaphor. :) Not entirely perfect. But, as I said before, there will be certain audiences that might actually like that extra guidance, which is why YA generally has a lot more of it. They might not mind the guy standing and blabbing about the paintings, because they might not know anything about art. But if you assume some basic understanding of art, the guy droning on becomes troublesome. And it's particularly important what kind of information is provided. An action beat, for example, is active, it shows a wider context for the dialogue. It explicates and reinforces. A dialogue tag, I think, tries to interpret for the reader. It does their job for them. This is a little more troubling, as it reduces the reader's interaction with the story. It shapes not only their understanding, but their emotional perception of it. Instead of feeling what the story is showing, they are being told what the emotion is... The first is an emotional reaction to the writing, the second more of an intellectual one. I think the emotional tenor of a piece is flattened a little on account of this (though not completely - if the writing is otherwise strong and emotive it can obviously override this, that is, reach a level high enough to emotionally entrance despite the deficit created by the technique).

And the subjective trick of it is that some people may not want better writing. A great story will make you think and feel, and these will require a deep engagement of a reader. And yet sometimes people don't want to be deeply engaged. Sometimes people actually want the more passive experience. They're tired, they have a headache... they don't want to have to think or feel deeply. They might just want a bit of entertainment and distraction. Dialogue tags as emotional shortcut? Maybe.

No perfect right or perfect wrong. Just different writers and different stories. And each writer is going to have to evaluate themselves, their writing, their audience, and their goals. What is it they want out of all this? I know what I want... but that won't be the same for everyone.

My two cents. Oh, okay, I overspent. That was like 10 bucks or something I probably can't afford. Shit.

Best,
Ink
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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polymath
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by polymath » March 3rd, 2010, 11:34 am

eringayles wrote:Polymath, you are an enigma! Your linguistic command is post-tertiary, I would think, and your non-academic writing is vivid and flowing, so I'm thinking that you are a published author - and maybe even of blockbuster status! Or am I allowing my author's imagination unrestrained frolic?
The hermitage - self-imposed or religious?
The tropics - I get the feeling you don't live in a bayou - so maybe not in America. (Not sure if Florida is tropical - I'm not American, so am not familiar with the geography)
I know this post might seem somewhat intrusive - It's not meant to be. I would just like to think that all the posters on this site realise what a resource they have in the valuable information you provide.
Sincere thanks.
Thank you again, eringayles. I've been an enigma to myself most of my half century. Not that we all in many ways really know ourselves or can or even need to, in my case, being an enigma to myself crippled me emotionally and caused--causes--lifestyle antagonisms in every area of my existence. Intellectual stimulations have been a nonconscious coping mechansim I developed early on, soon after the events of my childhood that caused my ongoing existential crises.

I now know my incurable affliction sufficiently to consciously develop more effective coping mechanisms. Writing is one that's survived from the beginning and will continue for the duration. Reading too, of course, and studying everything in the cosmos. One area of personal necessity lacking is meaningful social involvement as a way of coping with the at times depressing loneliness of a coldly comforting hermitage. Social detachment is itself an effect of my emotional affliction; a flight response is a less than ideal coping mechanism though. My forays online are a small attempt to be more meaningfully socially involved. I have meaningfully connected from time to time for all too brief a time.

I have published for profit a few nonfiction odds and ends here and there for most of my writing life. I've made five figures lifetime income from my writing. A nickel a word adds up even if it's from small markets in small regions targeted to small audiences off the beaten track. I've a unique natural narrative voice for nonfiction writing that fans have said they enjoy. Others react otherwise. My emerging fiction voice is in its infancy and currently too erudite for popular audiences' comfort zones. A bigger issue is the literal meaning of my storytelling relies too heavily on the figurative meaning that's too often too deeply subtended for easy access. I'm working on bringing that closer to the surface; however, doing so is creating another deep level of meaning that's even more inaccessible. That's a consequence of the way I read, savoring every iota of meaning and feeling I can glean from a text.

I'm working on and getting close to being able to tell the one story I've been plagued by for decades. As a welcome result of insightful members' postings here and abroad, and other online correspondence, I experienced an epiphany yesterday of that one quintessential essence of being I've needed to unify the novel's parts and wholes. I expect my intentions with the novel will fail fabulously.

Anyway, the subtropical coast hereabouts is caused by a tropical current bumping up against an otherwise temperate headland. This winter hasn't been a subtropical one, though. All the palm trees imported over the last two decades for decorative landscaping have died.

I apologize for straying so far from the thread topic. Please forgive my self-indulgent reflections.
Spread the love of written word.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » March 3rd, 2010, 11:49 am

No need to apologize! Particularly since the diversion was upon request. The audience is always right...
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Leila » March 4th, 2010, 5:10 am

polymath wrote:
eringayles wrote:Polymath, you are an enigma! Your linguistic command is post-tertiary, I would think, and your non-academic writing is vivid and flowing, so I'm thinking that you are a published author - and maybe even of blockbuster status! Or am I allowing my author's imagination unrestrained frolic?
The hermitage - self-imposed or religious?
The tropics - I get the feeling you don't live in a bayou - so maybe not in America. (Not sure if Florida is tropical - I'm not American, so am not familiar with the geography)
I know this post might seem somewhat intrusive - It's not meant to be. I would just like to think that all the posters on this site realise what a resource they have in the valuable information you provide.
Sincere thanks.
Thank you again, eringayles. I've been an enigma to myself most of my half century. Not that we all in many ways really know ourselves or can or even need to, in my case, being an enigma to myself crippled me emotionally and caused--causes--lifestyle antagonisms in every area of my existence. Intellectual stimulations have been a nonconscious coping mechansim I developed early on, soon after the events of my childhood that caused my ongoing existential crises.

I now know my incurable affliction sufficiently to consciously develop more effective coping mechanisms. Writing is one that's survived from the beginning and will continue for the duration. Reading too, of course, and studying everything in the cosmos. One area of personal necessity lacking is meaningful social involvement as a way of coping with the at times depressing loneliness of a coldly comforting hermitage. Social detachment is itself an effect of my emotional affliction; a flight response is a less than ideal coping mechanism though. My forays online are a small attempt to be more meaningfully socially involved. I have meaningfully connected from time to time for all too brief a time.

I have published for profit a few nonfiction odds and ends here and there for most of my writing life. I've made five figures lifetime income from my writing. A nickel a word adds up even if it's from small markets in small regions targeted to small audiences off the beaten track. I've a unique natural narrative voice for nonfiction writing that fans have said they enjoy. Others react otherwise. My emerging fiction voice is in its infancy and currently too erudite for popular audiences' comfort zones. A bigger issue is the literal meaning of my storytelling relies too heavily on the figurative meaning that's too often too deeply subtended for easy access. I'm working on bringing that closer to the surface; however, doing so is creating another deep level of meaning that's even more inaccessible. That's a consequence of the way I read, savoring every iota of meaning and feeling I can glean from a text.

I'm working on and getting close to being able to tell the one story I've been plagued by for decades. As a welcome result of insightful members' postings here and abroad, and other online correspondence, I experienced an epiphany yesterday of that one quintessential essence of being I've needed to unify the novel's parts and wholes. I expect my intentions with the novel will fail fabulously.

Anyway, the subtropical coast hereabouts is caused by a tropical current bumping up against an otherwise temperate headland. This winter hasn't been a subtropical one, though. All the palm trees imported over the last two decades for decorative landscaping have died.

I apologize for straying so far from the thread topic. Please forgive my self-indulgent reflections.

Thanks for sharing some of yourself with us, Polymath. I too have wondered about you!

I really appreciate all the wonderful advice you so generously share.

Regards

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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Jaime » March 4th, 2010, 6:00 am

Ink wrote:But what if you already know he's angry? For my last point I'm gonna use Jaime's funny line as my guinea pig (sorry Jaime! Figured you wouldn't mind since it was just a jokey line)

"I like my reading to have some emotion, damn it!" she yelled, thumping her fist on the table.

This made me laugh, but if we look at it from the point of view of actual dialogue you'll see something interesting. That is, the dialogue tag isn't really doing anything. We have a thumping fist, an obvious marker for emotion. And then we have the line itself. It's sharp, strong. Decisive hook at the end with the invective. Pop! And then we have the punctuation, in this case an exclamation mark, which indicates someone is loudly exclaiming something (in other words, shouting or yelling, etc.). So what is the dialogue tag doing? Nothing that hasn't already been accomplished more effectively. What we have here is not weak dialogue that needs to be propped up by a dialogue tag... but rather a perfectly fine bit of dialogue that doesn't need anything at all. It's already there.
Oh, thank God you realised I was being melodramatic! ;) In reality, I would have some action beforehand (most likely throwing a glass/the book/the chair I was recently sitting on against a wall), and then let the dialogue speak for itself . . . *cheesy grin*

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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Leila » March 4th, 2010, 11:14 pm

[/quote]

Good questions, Leila.

And, well, there's no absolutely scientific way to peel apart a story and evaluate the relative worth of each element. And it's also tricky, in a sense, to reduce a story to its elements in a meaningful way without ignoring that it comes as a package, as part of the overall style. Any attempt, of course, will be necessarily imprecise. Particularly as many readers will not care (or really notice) many of these particular elements one way or another.

But I think it's also clear that most writers aren't perfect. They are better at some things or others, and success, even great success, is not necessarily dependent on mastering everything. Rather, it's about mastering certain things that a certain audience will appreciate (and be willing to pay for). Thus we get the Twilight and Potter debates. I like to think of Agatha Christie here. I love Christie. She does many things remarkably well. But her characters are very static. They don't really change much, if at all. Hercule Poirot is going to be the same Poirot at the beginning of the mystery as he is at the end. And this is generally considered a no-no for a story. Indeed, it goes against one of the very concepts of what a story is. And, really, her stories are lacking in any real emotional resonance. They're clever set pieces, most of them. They're charming, engaging, concise, beautifully paced, and she can define characters types with both precision and ease. Her endings always provide bang for their buck. These are things she has mastered. As a total package her writing works for millions. But that's not to say she doesn't have flaws. What would her books be like if they a lot of emotional resonance as well, while retaining all the other things?

Again, I think it's about how far a writer wants to push their writing. Do they want it to be the best it can possibly be... or good enough to satisfy a particular audience? The danger is that it's fine for Christie or Meyer or Rowling to work around their flaws. They've mastered other things, and earned huge success on account of it. But for writers still looking for representation and publication that's much more dangerous. We haven't proven anything yet, and we can't simply rely on what we find successful. Can we afford not to consider these elements that need work? What if these are the elements that are holding us back? And, for me at least, I want to write something as well as I can write it. Not for an audience, or for a better chance at getting an agent or getting published... but just for me. I want satisfaction in my own artistic efforts. And that means writing something as well as possible. That means trying to avoid bandaids.

In the specific case of dialogue tags... I think the thing that stands out is that most of them will fall into that redundant category. You simply won't miss them or notice that they're gone, as they weren't really doing anything useful anyway. In fact, things might be clearer and more vivid. And when you do notice they're missing, you might also notice the dialogue isn't quite as good as it once seemed. So then it's up to you: dialogue tag or better dialogue? It's not necessarily a right or wrong answer. It's all subjective. But, craft-wise, one is generally more effective. It involves clarifying the vision you're offering, rather than explaining it.

As for the museum idea... well, it's a metaphor. :) Not entirely perfect. But, as I said before, there will be certain audiences that might actually like that extra guidance, which is why YA generally has a lot more of it. They might not mind the guy standing and blabbing about the paintings, because they might not know anything about art. But if you assume some basic understanding of art, the guy droning on becomes troublesome. And it's particularly important what kind of information is provided. An action beat, for example, is active, it shows a wider context for the dialogue. It explicates and reinforces. A dialogue tag, I think, tries to interpret for the reader. It does their job for them. This is a little more troubling, as it reduces the reader's interaction with the story. It shapes not only their understanding, but their emotional perception of it. Instead of feeling what the story is showing, they are being told what the emotion is... The first is an emotional reaction to the writing, the second more of an intellectual one. I think the emotional tenor of a piece is flattened a little on account of this (though not completely - if the writing is otherwise strong and emotive it can obviously override this, that is, reach a level high enough to emotionally entrance despite the deficit created by the technique).

And the subjective trick of it is that some people may not want better writing. A great story will make you think and feel, and these will require a deep engagement of a reader. And yet sometimes people don't want to be deeply engaged. Sometimes people actually want the more passive experience. They're tired, they have a headache... they don't want to have to think or feel deeply. They might just want a bit of entertainment and distraction. Dialogue tags as emotional shortcut? Maybe.

No perfect right or perfect wrong. Just different writers and different stories. And each writer is going to have to evaluate themselves, their writing, their audience, and their goals. What is it they want out of all this? I know what I want... but that won't be the same for everyone.

My two cents. Oh, okay, I overspent. That was like 10 bucks or something I probably can't afford. Shit.

Best,
Ink[/quote]


Thanks muchly Ink!

I think I need to start paying you for your thoughts, so if you need the ten bucks back, let me know. Lol.

Seriously though, there are indeed soooo many variables in the mix at any one point in time. It seems to me, that when all is said and done it comes down to writing because you love it, to whatever standard/level/expection you have for yourself (as you said and I agree) and for whatever purpose you seek.

It does intrigue me though, the level of critique we apply to everything in life. Sometimes, I just wonder if being too harsh a critic (I don't mean that in relation to you at all it's just a general thought) can slightly lessen our ability to just enjoy books over time? Can we become jaded? Does the filter of critical examination - perhaps sinking to a subconscious level directly in proportion to our level of skill/knowledge/experience - take us just that tiny step away from creativity/appreciation? Or does it enhance it? Allow us to see avenues, bends, nuances we may otherwise have missed?

Hmmm, I might raise this as a new topic for general discussion.

Thanks again Ink, really appreciate your responses.

Regards

Leila

PS, I can't get the hang of this using only the parts of the quote you want when replying thing. I am clearly not yet competent in this area and apologize to everyone who gets annoyed with my lack of skill. All advice on how to correct said issue appreciated.

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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Margo » April 5th, 2010, 2:13 pm

I know this is an older thread, but I compulsively comment on this topic.

I hate overuse of said bookisms. I notice them when I read. I get annoyed that they're breaking the guided meditation that is reading. I will let a whisper or a mutter pass, provided they are fairly rare. I have thrown books over expounding, hissing, laughing, and smiling dialogue. I read genre books for story, character, tension, etc. I don't want literary gymnastics. I don't want the writer coming out from behind the curtain to wink at me over how cool the special effects are. Wasn't that a nice turn of phrase? Nudge, nudge. Did you grasp the nuance of meaning there? I want to scream, "Get out of my reading, author! You're blocking traffic!"

Yes, I know I'm getting hysterical. :) I'm with Ink and LGS. Use the adverbs and whispers sparingly, in comparison to the saids and the tagless dialogue, and the book won't meet wallpaper. Yes, I know tons of published authors have them, which is fine provided you're a bestselling author already. One might also check the publication dates on some of them. The rules are different for blockbuster authors, and rules for the rest of us change over time.

(Yes, I throw bestsellers with bookisms too.)

No offense to bookism fans. Just my two-cents, plus interest.

-confessions of an unabashed book-chucker.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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mmcdonald64
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by mmcdonald64 » April 5th, 2010, 9:30 pm

I use very few dialogue tags. As for the OP's example, there are plenty of ways to write it to convey emotion without a tag at all depending on the context.

The funny thing is, I had my book up for crit somewhere, and a few people took the 'no dialogue tags' to the extreme. They'd find the ONE tag I had, which was 'said' and try to tell me that I didn't need the tag. Sure, maybe it wasn't necessariy, but there are times where I don't want to go identify the speaker by an action before or after, I want to get to the dialogue so I don't slow down the scene, yet I want it clear who is speaking without then having to say the name of the other character a dozen times, which is way worse.

In my WIP, I actually worried when I had my character whisper, thinking, 'Oh no! The dreaded tag!" but, in the scene, there were possible bad guys in the other room and the character had to whisper so as not to be heard by the bad guys. Would have been stupid to not mention that and have the reader think he spoke in a normal tone of voice, and would have slowed down the scene to do the whole "he spoke in a low voice".

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Quill
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Quill » April 5th, 2010, 9:47 pm

I don't consider "said" to be a tag. Said is neutral. Even Mr Stingy Elmore Leonard approves of "said." He just says never use any other tag besides said. That said, I think it is okay to sprinkle in a few others here and there as needed. Sometimes it is simpler to put one in rather than go through the rigmarole of writing so that it isn't needed. Simpler is better for both the reader and the writer. Just about every book has them, so I don't see a problem. Same with adjectives and adverbs. Sure it is best to avoid them, but sometimes they are the most expedient way to proceed with the story.

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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by BlancheKing » April 5th, 2010, 11:05 pm

"said" is invisible. Most readers see it, but don't register its presence. I usually don't use alternative dialogue tags unless there's something I can convey by it (ie. "lied") Anything longer than 1 syllable is too much.
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Re: Are dialogue tags really that bad?

Post by Sommer Leigh » April 6th, 2010, 10:34 am

I don't use tags that aren't "said" or "asked" very often. Sometimes, but I'm careful. And here's why: Pick up a book, any book, and start reading. Most people gloss over the dialogue tag unless they aren't sure who is talking, and even then it's just to pick out a name or a gender identifier. Most people don't really read every single word on a page, or a see every single letter in a word, we fill in from experience which helps us go faster and absorb more in a shorter amount of time. Dialogue tags fall into this, are swallowed up entirely by all the BETTER stuff going on around it. Like the dialogue itself and the action. I find that the over use of different dialogue tags actually distracts me while I'm reading, but that is just me.

That being said, they aren't evil. They have their place. There are plenty of moments where I know that the whisper, pant, gasp, scream, sob, choke or whatever gave me context, especially when the character was acting outside a predictable reaction. Use them well and they'll work for you, overuse them and I think the writing gets weaker.

On a personal note, I have a writing quirk in my first draft where I will overuse dialogue tags that aren't "said" and when I do I tend to use more "ly" words to modify the special tag. Because why "whisper" when you can "whisper softly?" Ouch. So if I cut out the special tags I cut out the unnecessary adverbs too.
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