Dialog Tags- The Next Bugaboo in Bad Writing Advice

Popular styles in novel writing change with the passing seasons. For example, back in the day, adverbs ending in ‘ly’ were all the rage and sprinkled liberally throughout a story. Nowadays these sorts of adverbs are not in style, and many writers will tell you to strike them all from your manuscript. I prefer a spot somewhere in the middle ground, where I use adverbs freely but not to excess.

The newest bugaboo I have encountered in the writing scene is a war on the word ‘asked’ when used in a dialog tag. Now, I do not think this is a far-reaching war, but I’m a little surprised that I’ve encountered this ‘asked’ hate at all.

Some few have expressed that, as your question ends with a question mark, the ‘asked’ tag is redundant, and the word ‘said’ should be used instead.

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Enter the rabid wombats.  Terrifying, aren’t they?

“Is that a rabid wombat on the trail ahead of us?” Daphne said.

I would like to point out that this fad of using ‘said’ after a question is ridiculous. One uses ‘said’ after a statement, which is no less redundant as using ‘asked’ after a question. It isn’t a matter of redundancy. It’s a simple way to establish who is talking for your reader’s benefit. ‘Said’ and ‘asked’ are both invisible words, ignored by the reader, and there is no reason not to use them.

The only sane advice I’ve found on dialog tags is not to get ridiculous with them.

“Is that a rabid wombat in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me?” Doug chortled.
“Try to stop me,” the wombat threatened.
“Will you two stop it?” Daphne queried.
“Not bloody likely,” the wombat exclaimed.
“You two are ridiculous,” Daphne sighed.

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Yes, rabid wombats are often ridiculous.

Don’t go crazy with the tags. It can be lazy. There are places for dialog tags. When the action is flowing fast and furious and you don’t want to add a bunch of description, use simple dialog tags. When possible, instead of using a crazy descriptive tag, you should actually show us instead of tell us.

“Try to stop me,” the wombat said, edging closer to Doug and showing his sharp teeth covered with foam and blood.

There. I’ve shown the wombat threatening Doug. I don’t have to say ‘the wombat threatened.’ The version where I show instead of tell is more engaging and helps the reader set the scene. (It’s also fairly ridiculous, but that’s the fun.)

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“I made you a bunny!” Jenny vociferated, laughingly.           “I really wish you wouldn’t laugh and speak at the same time,” He sneered.  “I can’t understand a word you say.”

Now, there is a current and ongoing trend in novels that should be paid attention to. When it comes to dialog tags, I’m seeing less and less of them at all.

“There’s a rabid wombat on the trail ahead,” Daphne said. “I don’t think we can get past it.”

“There’s a rabid wombat on the trail ahead.” Daphne peered into the gloom. “I don’t think we can get past it.”

It’s a choice of using a tag, or taking a moment to show the reader something. Now, I’m hardly going to wave the Don’t Ever Use Any Dialog Tags flag. Dialog tags have their time and place. I do suggest cutting back on them, and exploring alternate ways to denote who is speaking. This ability to create variety in your sections of dialog will make your writing more interesting and more engaging.

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I remain your advocate for using all the words!

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About JulianneQJohnson

I am a writer in Indiana who lives with two cats, two ferrets, and one fiance. I enjoy cheap coffee and expensive chocolate.
This entry was posted in Bad Writing Advice, writing, Writing Advice and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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