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Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Who said that? Dialogue Tags.
Whether you know them as tag lines, dialogue tags, or identifiers, the “he said”s and the “she said”s are the necessary evils of writing dialogue. Overused, and they sound weird and repetitive. Underused, and things get very confusing. The last thing you want is for your readers to lose track of who is talking. Unless that’s the point of the scene.
This is from Jasper Fforde’s brilliant Thursday Next series. It’s the second book in the series, Lost in a Good Book.
‘So one of you is fictional,’ I announced, looking at them both.
‘And we have to find out who it is,” remarked Tweed, levelling his pistol in their direction.
“Might be Yorrick Kaine-’ I added, staring at Kaine who glared back at me, wondering what we were up to.
‘-failed right wing politician-’
‘-with a cheery enthusiasm for war-’
‘-and putting a lid on civil liberties.’
Tweed and I bantered lines back and forth for as long as we dared, faster and faster, the blows from the Beast outside matching the blows from Raffles’ hammer within.
‘Or perhaps it is Volescamper-’
‘-Lord of the old realm who wants-’
‘-to try and get-’
‘-back into power with the help-’
‘-of his friends in the Whig party?’
‘But the important thing is, in all this dialogue-’
‘-that has pitched back and forth between-’
‘-the two of us, a fictional person-’
‘-might have lost track of which one of us is talking.”
“And do you know, in all the excitement, I kind of forgot myself!’
There was another crash against the door. A splinter of steel flew off and zipped past my ear. The doors were almost breached; the next blow would bring the abomination within the room.
‘So you’re going to have to ask yourselves one simple question: Which one of us is speaking now?’
There is a way around using direct dialogue tags, and that’s by interspersing action with the dialogue. I do this a lot. Too much, probably. There are only so many times a character can play with their hair, or stare at the floor, or sigh, before you realise they’re so full of themselves that you want to punch them in the head.
As in all things, it’s about the balance. Because if you forget whose turn it is to talk, things just get confusing. And hilarious:
And maybe I wrote a whole post about dialogue just to share that video with you.