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 😀