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.
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.
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.