He said, She said.

Dialog tags (or dialogue tags if you prefer, I don’t) are considered invisible – that is, if they’re not overused or abused or made to appear ridiculous. And by that I mean, we’re told the reader’s eye seemlessly flys over the term: he said. as if it weren’t even there. Dialog tags keep track of who’s speaking, especially if you have several characters conversing in the same scene. “Stop doing that,” John said. “No,” Amy replied. “Just do what you’re told,” Felicity ordered.Yeah, lame but you get the point. Trouble is — and I’m really curious if anyone’s noticed yet — I was “raised” never to use them. Back in High School, the one teacher who influenced me the most in writing and truly set me on the path to becoming a published author (by constantly telling me in no uncertain terms that one day I would be a published author) taught me that writing He Said, She Said etc was lazy, unimaginative and boring. One of our excercises was to write fiction with dialog and never once use a tag.  Although one could argue that placing action of the speaker directly after the dialog attributed to him or her is a form of tagging.

I still have trouble with them. Yes, they should be used. Yes, when used properly and not obused to a ridiculous extent, they’re invisible. Yes, it’s good to stick with rules, especially if you’re just starting out. Like they say, you have to know the rules before you can break them.

No, I’m still not comfortable with Said.

I’m forcing myself to use it, to try and pepper my dialog with a few Saids here and there, but it still takes effort and feels unnatural. If the dialog is between two people, and you’re punctuating properly and not putting excessive action between things spoken, the reader can usually keep up and figure out who just said what.  But there are times, I admit, that it gets complicated – and that’s when dialog tags come in handy.

In the sequel I’m penning now, I’m dealing with 5 major players that rarely share the spotlight, but when they do, I find it totally necessary to use dialog tags in order to keep things straight. (and it’s driving me nuts – never again will I write this many characters in one novel who get speaking roles!)

It’s just hard to go against what I came to believe was the tide, and I’m pretty sure it’s just Me. It’s a quirk of how I write, and it’s going to be with me till the day I die. While I’m trying harder to plug some in my writing, it’s still my nature to do what Mrs. Wright taught me. Some argue it’s wrong, some argue it’s meaningless, and I’m betting at least two people in the comments section of this post will instruct me as to proper usage of dialog tags. 🙂

I know all about them. Honestly, I do.

I’m also fully aware of writing styles, and this — quite frankly — is one of mine. Right or wrong, it’s who I am.

But I’m wondering . . . and you can lie if you want . . . Until I mentioned it just now, had you noticed there wasn’t one He Said in those two chapters? We could play a game, and try to spot one He Said in the entire 240k novel – but that’d be kinda boring 😀

5 thoughts on “He said, She said.

  1. First, no, I hadn’t noticed.

    Second, no, my teacher didn’t teach me NOT to use said and such. In fact, my teacher never really discouraged me from any sort of bad writing habits. She simply encouraged me to write.

    However, because of the books I read, which was pulp fiction from the early part of the 20th century, I had learned that it was then acceptable to use terms like “he grunted,” “she suggested,” “he cursed,” and ejaculated, muttered, whispered, explained, advised, suggested, and cried. And so on.

    And I’ve had to learn how to remove those and USE said and only said.

    For me, that’s been hard because I actually like those other terms. They worked well for Robert E. Howard (and that’s where I just picked all of those from), and made his writing colorful.

    But for some reason, writers today are told to avoid all those and use the “invisible” said.

  2. Well, in an effort to be ME 😀 I’m going to continue doing things the way I do them – except yes, I’m learning to use “said” when called for. But honestly, all those you’ve just mentioned ARE dialog tags – and valid ones. They only stick out when overused, like having a character sigh constantly (or this kid who always runs a hand through his hair – like a nervous tic) When it sticks out, even “said” sounds ridiculous.

    *wonders how often she can say ridiculous today and get away with it* 😀

  3. Here’s what I’ve learned:

    1) If you dialogue is good enough to not need tags, don’t bother with them.

    2) If you need to use tags, he said/she said are the most invisible.

    3) Occasionally peppering with other tags is acceptable.

    4) Anything is fine if it works for you and your story.

    5) I just spilled tea on my desk. Now I have to clean it up.

    Use what works for you and your story. And your story doesn’t need them. There are times I write and it needs to be tag heavy. Other times I can do well without them, so they don’t appear.

  4. I’ve never had a teacher to discourage me or otherwise. Nonetheless, like you, I prefer to avoid the tags. I’m training myself to use said occasionally, but it’s tough. 🙂

    Although I’m just competitive enough to take up your challenge!

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