Dialogue Tags

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!

barked
begged
bellowed
blared
bleated
cackled
chortled
coaxed
cooed
coughed
declared
demanded
expounded
gasped
groaned
haggled
harped
hissed
hacked
hooted
jabbered
jeered
jested
joked
moaned
panted
pleaded
pondered
posited
pronounced
protested
queried
questioned
sang
screamed
shouted
sneezed
snickered
sniffed
spat
spewed
spumed
stammered
stuttered
trilled
trumpeted
uttered
waffled
wailed
whimpered
whined
whispered
worried
yelled

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About Kevin Pajak

Of the many, many things I have done, nothing compares to the excitement I feel when writing and playing with both language and theory. Although challenging at times, wordplay brings a special flavor to the universe and allows all of us to see in unique and magic ways. Playing with language--that beast that can never be tamed--gives me an unfettered, ever new vision of the world around. I want to share this love of the written word through the stories I write and the language I craft.
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