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How many dialogue tags are ok?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Writer’s_Magic, May 23, 2018.

  1. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Dreamer

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    While you're right that there are no "laws" or "rules" regarding writing, there certainly are general conventions regarding things like creative writing...especially if your objective is to make it sale-able. Now, if you don't care about that, and are just writing for yourself and perhaps some of those close to you, then you're right...a writer should do whatever he or she feels is right for them. BUT, if you're writing with a view to publishing something--for money or not--that you intend to be read by a wide audience, then yes, there are "shoulds"...and a lot of them. Minimal use of dialogue tags other than "said", not changing POV in the middle of a scene, relatively short paragraphs, minimal use of adverbs...all of these are those sorts of conventions (or, at least, current conventions. Like many other things, the conventions change over time; the type of writing Charles Dickens did, for example, was popular in his time, but is unlikely to be popular with current editors and publishers). Like it or not, there's a legion of expectations among readers, other writers, editors, publishers, agents, etc. and if you don't conform to them, you make it less likely your work is going to be accepted for publication or broadly appreciated by readers.
     
  2. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I do all the things you speak of and still sell books. So...

    Not trying to start a flame war here, but it concerns me when folks come on here and say "you should this" and "you should that" when there are no rules to speak of when it comes to creative writing. Guidelines? Sure. But should places barriers that prevents new writers from fully exploring their creativity.
     
  3. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Dreamer

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    Perhaps we can agree on "guidelines", then. I know that in my RPG writing, for example--both fiction and non-fiction, for the Legend of the Five Rings setting--the editors are pretty rigorous about much of the stuff I listed. Likewise my publisher for my own fiction. Maybe the best way to put it is, the guidelines are the things you should conform to, if you want to give yourself your best chance of selling your work for publication. If you don't conform to them, that's fine, but just be aware that you may be reducing your chances of making sales. And again, if you're not worried about making sales, then it doesn't matter.

    I say this because just as you get concerned when someone says, "this is what you should do", I get concerned when someone says, "do whatever you want" without qualifying that you are probably reducing your saleability when you do. That way, either way, the writer can make an informed decision and then proceed accordingly.

    Edit: Incidentally, I'd hope we aren't starting a "flame war", but just engaging in a reasoned, rational and interesting debate!
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2018
  4. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    Readers care about story though. Not how many dialogue tags are used.
     
  5. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Dreamer

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    Readers also care about readability. Anything that pulls them out of the story, whether it's excessive use of dialogue tags, overly "purple" or convoluted prose, big dumps of exposition, poor or awkward grammar, etc. is a potential problem for many readers (some won't mind, but others will). It threatens to diminish their immersion in the story. I've certainly done it, and been called on it, not just be editors and publishers but also by readers, and I've remarked on it in critiques and stories I've been beta-reading. It's always kinda sad to see a really good story getting snagged on things like purple prose, awkward phrasing, etc.

    I'll give a specific example. Stephen Donaldson wrote "Lord Foul's Bane", the first of the "Chronicles of Thomas Covenant", which is one of my favorite works of modern fantasy. The succeeding two books, "The Illearth War" and "The Power That Preserves" turned it into one of my favorite fantasy trilogies. Even so, I found Donaldson's writing to often be cumbersome, even clunky, but the story was good and the characters compelling. However, his awkward text got worse with his second trilogy, and by the time he started his third trilogy (of four books, it turned out) about Thomas Covenant, I was out, as were a lot of people who loved the series when it started (I was involved in many discussion about it with irate readers, all of whom WANTED to love his stuff, but just couldn't). His writing simply got in the way of the story, which was unfortunate and unnecessary.

    Now, there WERE people who loved his works right to the end. And if he was happy with his writing, then more power to him. But he did end up with pretty middling reviews for a series that started out so strongly, and lost a bunch of readers along the way. And that's the bottom line to this--do what you want, but just be aware of the implications of what you do.
     
    Simulacrum likes this.
  6. Simulacrum

    Simulacrum Dreamer

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    Think about stories in newspapers and magazines. They almost never deviate from “said,” and it doesn’t detract from the narrative even if it’s a 5,000-word investigative story.

    The thing is, worrying about attribution means expending energy on something that doesn’t really have any payoff. In fact a writer who tries too hard to find unique attributive tags is more likely to distract the reader.

    I try to avoid attributive tags for the most part.

    “Beautiful, eh?” Thymos grunted as Mr. Ages clapped his shoulder with a gauntleted hand.

    “Those poor sods. Imagine waking from cryosleep to find a Machine Wraith leaning over your casket. Piss me pants, I would!”

    A loud thud echoed through the corridor as the first of the boarding pods collided with the hull.
     
  7. Simulacrum

    Simulacrum Dreamer

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    That’s what it boils down to. If it doesn’t improve the story, the creative energy is best spent on things that do.

    There are a lot of posts here about inconsequential things and not much about things like narrative. Most of the stylistic stuff can be answered by reading. I don’t know if it’s the popularity of certain YA franchises or what, but I notice a lot of people who want to be writers (not just here, but everywhere) don’t read. My advice to most of them would be: “Broaden your horizons beyond Divergent and the Hunger Games.”

    I constantly have to push myself to read more books and less web writing, clickbait, news and so on. My prose actually suffers when I read too much of the latter.
     
    Chessie2 likes this.
  8. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    To each their own. With all due respect, the last time I cared about what a publishing house had to say regarding my work was back in 2000.

    The OP is a beginner, so advice for them is going to be a different gig. I've been writing long enough to where I just let creative voice take over. I'm definitely not saying that I don't have to keep learning or growing because that will always happen. But there is a point in time when a writer needs to shake off the training wheels and follow their own stylistic choice all the way to infinity.
     
  9. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I absolutely agree with this. Reading is where it's at!
     
    Simulacrum likes this.
  10. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    @TheOP, just ignore all this. Dialogue tags are among the last thing you should be thinking about based on where you are with your writing.

    I'm just going to come out and say it, but I have an extremely negative opinion of these two statements.

    I for one don't write journalism. I don't write for newspapers, or magazines, or buzzfeed articles, or for any of the other venues that hire a lot of cheap writers. I'm not trying to match my novel to the "voice" of a brand - except for my own.

    None of what these two quotes say is about writing for a "wide audience." These statements are about creating a commoditized form of writing. This is about becoming the writer on fiverr that sells articles and stories to be sold to any blog and adapted easily by an editor.

    It's a critical mistake to say this is how a novel should be written, or even a "guideline" for how it should be written.

    You may write your novel this way. That's fine. Some books do quite well when written this way.

    But you should recognize the purpose of the advice, and how that purpose does not apply to a fantasy novel or short story - at least, not to more than a portion of the industry. And that purpose is to fit in.

    And if you're thinking that I'm wrong, that you've heard this from editors, from professionals, from everyone.... there's a number of reasons for that. But two of the biggest?

    1) You're reading this advice from sources that produce this commoditized writing.
    2) It's easier on the editor, who may not have the time or skill to handle a different kind of prose.

    So are you writing for your editor or for your audience? For your audience these rules are absolute rubbish, and have absolutely nothing to do even with mass market appeal.

    Hell, the first rule of appealing for the mass market is finding a way to stand out.
     
    Chessie2 likes this.
  11. Simulacrum

    Simulacrum Dreamer

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    You did not read my post in its entirety, or you did not read it carefully. I did not say there are any rules here, I noted that going out of your way to come up with substitutes for “said” can pull a reader out of the narrative and flag a writer as a beginner. I pointed out that if something doesn’t improve the narrative, don’t sweat it and focus instead on things that do impact the narrative.

    In addition, I did not mention Buzzfeed or fiverr. My example was a 5,000-word enterprise piece that would run in a good newspaper.

    In the future you’d do well to read posts and avoid putting words in other people’s mouths.

    But sure, if you think attributive tags are where you make your mark as a writer, have at it. Your readers will surely be impressed by all the different synonyms for “said” you found in the thesaurus.

    “I sell lots of books,” he articulated.

    “My readers are really into attributive tags,” she voiced.

    “Mine too,” he pronounced. “Narrative and character arcs are overrated!”

    “I bet I can come up with more ways to say ‘said’ than you,” she intonated.

    “Oh yeah?” he uttered. “Wanna put your money where your mouth is?”

    “Sure!” she proclaimed. “Fifty bucks says I can use a thesaurus better than you can!”

    “You’re on!” he vocalized.
     
  12. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

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    "Precisely three," he croaked.
     
  13. valiant12

    valiant12 Sage

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    Attributive tags and said + adverbs are like hot sauce. Overusing them will usually have a bad effect, but sometimes they are needed.
     
  14. D.G. Laderoute

    D.G. Laderoute Dreamer

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    Really, what this all boils down to is...sure, do whatever you wish. But if your intent is to get published by the "traditional" publishing industry or widely-read by the general reading public, there are some conventions--some "shoulds"--that you ignore at the risk of not selling your work or seeing it widely read. I'm not saying that's a good thing or a bad thing--it's just a thing, something to be aware of if that's the path you want to pursue.

    Now, if that's NOT your intent for some, or even all of your writing, then cool...no harm, no foul. I have writing I've done solely for myself, or for audiences that don't really care about conventional approaches to writing, and I've done some fairly liberal and experimental things with it. I've done "commoditized" writing as well, which I've sold, sometimes for pretty good money. I would no more say you MUST follow these "shoulds" any more than I'd say you never have to follow them at all. It really depends on what you're trying to do with your work. Ultimately, the point is that everyone should at least understand the conventions before choosing to ignore them. That's called making informed decisions, which is a good thing for everyone to be able to do, beginner or experienced writer alike.
     
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