What is the function of dialogue tags? It seems of late there is a trend in writing to drop dialogue tags, or at least the dreaded “said.” In part, I agree that tags have been overused. The story and the dialogue should reveal those aspects of attitude a character emits instead of tags. Over reliance on dialogue tags can stem from many factors: lazy, novice, rushed. We all have faced deadlines. We convince ourselves to short cut something. “After all, doesn’t my editor know these things take time,” he groaned? “That heartless rouge!” he spat. “Well, I’ll just finish it with tags,” he said, barked, jeered, whined. “The editor will never catch on.”
Do we need all this said, said, said stuff? The short answer is yes and no. Let the dialogue and the scene tell you if it is warranted. Ask yourself, “Is it clear who said what?” Ask yourself, “Is the character’s attitude and emotional state clear?” You can also ask yourself, “Can I write the dialogue in such a way so the tag ‘barked’ is not needed?” Another thing that is good to know is, “What am I trying to do with this tag/ why am I using it?”
I know that authors cannot agonize over every little word during the writing process nor should they. This suffocates the writing process. Also, they should not do this during the editing process. This is not the function of editing. However, writers can do it if they are doing so for practice. Practice makes us all better writers. So, I argue that sometimes we should slow down; heck, we should stop writing. During these times, we change gears and practice. Go back to 101 and relive those moments when we did not know this or that. Take out those old exercises you did when you were taking that late night “How to Story Craft” class at the local Junior College. Do these exercises again. You might find them helpful. After all, time erases all things, including those bits we want to keep. If it has been a long TIME since you practiced, you may find that pulling out these old exercises from the attic, blowing off the dust, and going back to 101 exercises actually helpful. They may assist you in blowing off the dust in your mind, covering up those old bits of knowledge.
So, here is a list of dialogue tags. Along with them I offer you my 101 exercise.
Kevin Pajak’s 101 Dialogue Tag Exercise: Take these tags (found below) and stick them in a section of something you recently wrote. You can only reuse each dialogue tag once. This means that you can use them twice. After you have done this, look at each line of dialogue and see if you can re-craft it so that what the character says reflects the tag. If you are successful, then you will be able to drop the tag. It will have become superfluous.
Below you will find the list of dialogue tags. Although, it is in no way to be considered complete. It is just a short list. “Good luck!” he declared. Notice: with the use of the exclamation point, I no longer need to say declared. Ha!