Everywhere I look, people are making rules about dialogue tags. If you aren’t familiar with the term, it means words like said and whispered that come before or after dialogue. Let me tell you, some of these “rules” really tick me off!
First of all, writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. There are as many different styles as there are writers. Who should be telling me how to write? Me. Sure, there are really good articles and posts about how to IMPROVE your writing, but strict rules aren’t going to do it.
Rule number one that irks me is “only use said.” On the one hand, I can see the value of this. It can help us be more conscious of showing readers how characters feel (by giving more description of their actions) and I will admit, I’ve read books that only use said and it doesn’t bother me, as a reader. By the same token, I love reading books that use all sorts of dialogue tags – I really think it helps to express the mood and tone. And, if someone is twenty feet away, they don’t speak at a normal tone (which is how said is in my mind) so you need something different (like called or yelled – though yelled to me expresses a different emotion as well).
Another “rule” that I dislike is not using tags that cannot be done. As in, don’t use tags like hiss, growl, snarl, and so on. Many of the people who are making up these rules say that we shouldn’t use these tags because people cannot hiss, growl, or snarl. While that is up for debate (I mean, we don’t growl like dogs do but we have equivalent vocalizations), these tags can add to the story. If the scene is supposed to be quick-paced, saying that a character hissed something is much better than trying to describe minute facial expressions (though of course, I’m sure someone excels at describing those expressions and keeping the tension of the scene up – but it isn’t me).
The last “rule” I will mention in regards to dialogue tags is that many people say don’t use adverbs to modify the tag. Adverbs can be overused, I won’t deny it. I overuse adverbs, I know that. But I also know that they can be useful. For instance, sometimes people talk quietly without whispering or murmuring or muttering. Sometimes we have to use adverbs to successfully set the mood and tone.
My point is, as I said in a previous post, don’t let someone else dictate how you write. Learn everything you can about the craft, but when it comes down to it write the way you want. It will feel more natural and it will make you feel better about yourself.
Take care, fellow travelers.
- The road to hell is paved with adverbs (bellsiebooks.wordpress.com)
- Basic Tips for Writing Dialogue Tags (amandabumgarner.com)
- On Dialogue and Characterization… (katyupperman.com)