"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us." —J. R. R. Tolkien

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Tags

No, not meme tags. I have about five I've been tagged on and haven't done yet.

What are your thoughts on speech tags?
He said. She said.
I've read to keep them as simple as possible - to let the dialogue speak for itself.
So if someone makes a suggestion, it's not necessary to say:

"Let's go to the park," she suggested.

We already know she's suggesting something. So a simple tag of "said" should be fine and less distracting.

Or:
"I can't believe you ate the whole thing!" he exclaimed.

Do we really need to exclaimed? The dialogue and punctuation tells us this.

As I'm revising, I've found tons of these tags I don't think are needed, and I'm removing them. But when is a tag needed? Ever? I've heard some people mention they've written an entire manuscript and forced themselves to use nothing but "said".

Thoughts?

10 comments:

Christine M said...

My understanding is that "said" is pretty much invisible. It gets the job done, but doesn't call attention to itself. I think you use a tag when it is helpful to the meaning of the scene.
ie:
She peeked around the corner as the front door opened. It was Mom and Dad. "They're home," she whispered to her sister.

She peeked around the corner as the front door opened. It was Mom and Dad. "They're home," she shouted to her sister.

You get a different feel for each scene - something very different is going on (I'm not sure what, I wrote this on the fly) but the tags put you more in the scene.

Hope that helps.

PJ Hoover said...

These are great examples, Chris! Thanks!

beth said...

I've never had the crazy obsession with no tags as some of my professors have. When it is essential to understanding, as Christine pointed out, then certain tags (whispered, shouted) are important.

However, don't underestimate the importance of showing vs. telling! If you can show through character emotion, reaction, etc., the same evocative feeling as the tag, use the showing.

PJ Hoover said...

Hey Beth, tags have been my crazy obsession for the last couple months. And now they stare up at me from anything I read.
But, I'm definitely a writer who identifies the speaker with "said".

Sheri said...

This is something I have heard recently too. I haven't subscribed to it yet, but lately when I read more then he said, I feel like it is over the top. I guess if you use it sparingly and only a huge, pivotal moments, it could be accepted. I know some writers, whose tag will be an entire sentence long with what she did when she said it and how she breathed, etc. I know I am/was guilty of this myself and when I am ready for editing, I too, will have to remove them.

Maybe they come from a place of insecurity - before we realized our words are enough - like when I was new to writing, I over used all caps and italicizing, double punctuating, things like that. It takes time to trust that our dialogue said enough, that our narration explained enough. It takes time...

Sheri said...

Oh but I have to add, I think Chris really hit the nail on the head with two excellent examples of when it is needed to say more than 'said.'

And it school, teachers NEVER want kids to say said... Interesting...

PJ Hoover said...

Hey Sheri, insecurity is probably exactly it! So I guess it's nice on the re-read, I feel I can remove almost all of them.
And I've noticed in all the early readers, they are chock full of tags and adverbs and other telling things. But as to why teachers would encourage against the "said" is an interesting question.

keri mikulski :) said...

I used to love them and hang onto them. But, I've let the tags go. If I find myself wanting to use them, I refer back to the paragraph or dialogue and ask myself, how can I show this better? Enjoy revising! :)

Janet Fox said...

Hey pj - I avoid anything but "said" like the plague...but that's just me.

BUT - I did pick up your ARC at TLA (yikes - all those acronyms) - and I'm instantly captivated by page 1. Nice work!! As soon as I've finished my current read (Kathi Appelt's "The Underneath"), I'm going to tackle yours.

later - Janet

PJ Hoover said...

Let the tags go! I love this, Keri! It's like burning away bad karma or something.
Maybe I'll make a sign for my office with TAGS in a circle with a line through it.

I hear you. Janet. Said seems to be enough way most of the time!
And thanks on the ARC!!!! Just try to ignore the huge number of awful tags still floating around in there :)