Wednesday, September 16, 2009

"Stick With Said," I Averred

dialogue balloon tags I try to avoid dialogue tags, instead preferring to follow up dialogue with characters' actions or reactions.

But when I use them, I prefer to stay simple. "Said" and "asked" are my bread-and-butter; once in a while I'll throw in a "whispered" or "replied." Of course, there's no right answer in this on-going debate--many writers use all sorts of more varied (and colorful) dialogue tags.

I guess it boils down to a personal preference. For me, I don't want the dialogue tag to overshadow the words being spoken.

I decided to do a little back-of-the-envelope analysis on the dialogue tags I used in DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD. Here are the tallies (tag, followed by the number of times used as a tag):

Said 386
Asked 125
Added 6
Called (out) 5
Whispered 2
Blurted 2
Replied 1
Muttered 1
Mumbled, questioned, hissed, joked, answered, continued, responded, yelled, screamed, uttered 0

What say you about dialogue tags?



Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I find dialogue tags really distracting when I read. Sometimes I don't have *enough* when I write and the editor sticks them in (they couldn't tell who to attribute the comment to.)

Mystery Writing is Murder

Galen Kindley--Author said...

Nice post, Alan. I read in one of my many How To books that readers have come to see said and asked as invisible...just read right over 'em. So, sticking with those is a good idea. I do like to use asked when a tag is needed for a question, however, rather than said.

Best Regards, Galen
Imagineering Fiction Blog

Elspeth Futcher said...

I'm with Elizabeth - I find them distracting. I can also find them irritating. I can figure out for myself if the character is angry, upset, happy, etc. just by the dialogue - I don't need a helping hand. I try to use them as little as possible - just enough to let the reader know who's saying what. No one in anything I've written "hissed threateningly" or "squeaked playfully". No, no, no.


Alan Orloff said...

Elizabeth - Bah, what do your editors know? :)

Galen - "I agree, sir, about asked," he concurred.

Elspeth - Hmm. "squeaked playfully." I kinda like that one. BTW, I allow myself one "hiss" per book, and one "quipped" every other book.

Craig Hart said...

I tend to agree that "said" is the way to go. And even that can often be taken out, as long as people can tell who's speaking. I probably use it too much, actually, and maybe now I'll think to look for it.

As far as other tags...I, too, use asked. And I might use another simple tag, like whispered, if I can't make it clear in another way.

Regardless, I have read books in which the author really went to town with tags and seemed determined to never use the same one twice. I guess some writers consider that creative. For me, the tags quickly become the story and that plot's pretty dull.

Karen Walker said...

In all the Creative Writing courses I took when I went back to school a few years ago, we were told to use tags to identify who is speaking and to stick with said or asked. As a reader, I agree. Don't want to be distracted.