A post I read recently covered the notion of the way writers use dialog tags in their fiction. Mostly, it was advice. And it set me to thinking, regarding how I use them.
The advice in the post was pretty much the standard advice I’d heard everywhere. “Said” and “asked” slip under the reader’s radar, identifying without intruding. Some writers avoid them since they’re dull, yet this is supposed to drag down the finished product.
And perhaps it does. Doesn’t change the fact that it’s dead dull actually writing “said” over and over and over again with no use of alternate tags. No matter what it does for the eventual reader, not using “said” all the time makes the actual act of writing more fun.
Anyway, when I was writing over the weekend, so soon after seeing that post, I paid attention to what I was doing. (And my writing is mostly dialog, so there was a lot to pay attention to!) I try to put in a plain “said” at least every third or fourth tag. (I’m not counting “asked” at all, since there aren’t too many other words you can use that actually make sense in its place. Most of the alternatives just come off as ludicrous.) The rest of the tags are usually words that give a little more information, though I pretty much never follow up those other tags with adver– uh, that has the letter I can’t use today, so let’s just call them “-ly” words. Anyway, I almost never use those with anything other than “said” or “asked,” and I try to go easy on “-ly” words anyway, since everyone’s always saying not to use them.
More often, I don’t use a tag as such. Like the author of the post, I like using non-tag ways of identifying the speaker. Let me give a sample (slightly edited to remove a pernicious letter I can’t use today…and to cover up one character’s potty mouth) to illustrate:
[one character is returning from a long trip away from home for work, and the other had taken on the role of keeping an eye on his apartment for him]
“And you got at least ten calls from exes,” Mandy told him, shaking her head. “Not sure if there were more, since the tape was always filled when the time I came over to check on it. Six of those calls were from the same ex, naturally.”
“God, why won’t he give up?”
“Well, what did you expect? A kid like that, of course he can’t handle it that you lost interest in him.”
“That’s not what happened.”
Mandy smiled sadly, and let out a deep sigh. “It’s clear he’s still crazy for you. If you want my advice, you should give him another chance. How often do you get to go out with someone that good-looking?”
“I don’t want your advice.” Curt grimaced. “He’ll give up soon enough. And then he’ll come after you, so watch yourself.”
“Yeah. You’re *rian’s ex, too.”
“I really don’t think that’s going to happen.” Mandy chuckled lightly. “Even if it did, I’m not interested in younger men.”
Curt shrugged. Fine. She could find out the hard way. “Just pitch those messages,” he said. “All of ‘em, even the ones not from him.”
“You don’t even want to know what they said?”
“Why would I want to? I’m through with them, so **** ‘em.”
Mandy sighed, looking at him with disapproval written all over her face. “I’m not throwing them away. If you don’t want to read them, I’ll just put them in that drawer.” With that, she headed into his studio.
“Wait! How the **** do you know of that!?” Curt chased after her, getting there just in time to see almost a dozen pieces of paper fluttering down into the drawer where he kept everything left over from *rian.
“Recall how a year ago I needed a guitar string for one of the guys at work?” Mandy asked. “You just told me it was in a drawer in here, not which one. So…” She shut the drawer again, and gave him a smirk. “Your own fault for lacking specifics.”
Curt scowled at her. “You shouldn’t elevate those guys to *rian’s status,” he said. Not that one of them wasn’t already there…
“Okay, I’ll take them out again,” Mandy agreed with a readiness that Curt found deeply suspicious. Sure enough, she only pulled out four slips of paper, not ten. “Here. You can at least read these, Mr. Fragile,” she added, holding them out towards him.
“If it’ll make you shut up and go away so I can get some rest, fine.” Curt snatched the papers out of her hand.
Instead of getting insulted that he had told her to ‘shut up and go away,’ Mandy laughed, and patted his head. “You’re tired; you’re getting cranky.”
“I’m not a ****ing little kid!”
Mandy just giggled at him on the way out of his apartment.
Of course, in my case, it doesn’t really matter what I do.
I actually have self-imposed rules against trying to pu– um, professionally print up anything I’ve written with the intention of selling it. So, while some of my stuff is up for free reading on the Internet, that’s very different than selling it professionally. Um, sort of. It’s certainly different in my case, in that no one’s going to read any of it anyhow.
Okay, yeah, that was an utterly pointless post.
Wanted to post something, y’know? Something that wasn’t just repeating an old post.