Saturday, January 12, 2019

Sunday Writing Tip: Clean Up Your Dialogue Tags

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Each week, I’ll offer a tip you can take and apply to your WIP to help improve it. They’ll be easy to do and shouldn’t take long, so they’ll be things you can do without taking up your entire Sunday. Though I do reserve the right to offer a good tip now and then that will take longer—but only because it would apply to the entire manuscript.

This week, delete unnecessary dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are important, but not every spoken line needs a “(s)he said” after it. Too many tags in a row sound clunky at best, melodramatic and silly in the extreme. Go through your tags and decide if you truly need it or not. In most cases, it’s clear who’s speaking, or there’s already stage direction or action attributed to the speaker.

For more on dealing with dialogue tags in your novel, try these articles:

Janice Hardy is the award-winning author of the teen fantasy trilogy The Healing Wars, including The Shifter, Blue Fire, and Darkfall from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. The Shifter, was chosen for the 2014 list of "Ten Books All Young Georgians Should Read" from the Georgia Center for the Book.

She also writes the Grace Harper urban fantasy series for adults under the name, J.T. Hardy.

When she's not writing novels, she's teaching other writers how to improve their craft. She's the founder of Fiction University and has written multiple books on writing.
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  1. Dear Janice..I am attempting my first fiction, full-length novel and never realized how much there is to writing. I can't tell you how helpful and instructive your Fiction University newsletter, current and back articles and tips have been for this newbie. Now all I need to do is apply them and of course, it is not an easy task...but I am trying. Thank you, Lora M.

    1. Aw, thanks! I'm so glad it's been helping you. Don't worry, you'll get there. It's a lot to learn and no one gets it all at once. It takes practice.

  2. Always good advice.

    And I'll add my pet theory that there are four options, in order of increasing detail:

    no tag
    Said (or Asked)
    all the Said Loudly and Demanded forms that *tell* how it's said (and who said it)
    an actual description that *shows* how it's said

    #3 should be used the most sparingly, but what really matters is variety, and having the right amount of detail for each moment's pacing.