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Dialogue Tags

September 17, 2007

Outside the basic stipulations of grammar, there are innumerable guidelines that come with writing fiction.

Today, I want to talk about dialogue tags. “He said”, “she asked”, that sort of thing.

Flipping through The Writer’s Book of Wisdom the other day, I came across a section of dialogue tags. It advised the following:

Use “said” for statements, and “asked” for questions. And that’s it. No exceptions. The reason is economy. Readers take as little notice of them as they do points of punctuation.

I understand what the book is saying, but I can’t bring myself to agree.

I’m not advocating going all flowery or “purple”, but there are instances where other dialogue tags can be used to a) break up a “said”/”asked” cycle (“she told him”, etc) or b) imply tone (“he demanded”), volume (“I shouted”, “she whispered”), or the progression of speech (“he replied”).

If the overarching motive is economy, doesn’t it make sense to use one word that says exactly what you want, rather than, say, five?

One Comment leave one →
  1. lostinsuburbia permalink
    September 18, 2007 6:14 pm

    I gotta agree. I find a litany of dialogue pages with “said/asked” to be unimaginative at best.

    It grates on my nerves and makes me want to slap people. If you are going to write fiction, sure economy of words is a good thing, but let the economy of those words be of a high quality. If I want to read a load of dailogue with “He said” and “she asked”, I’ll read my nine year olds creative writing journal.
    Now if the topic were non-fiction, then perhaps it would be acceptable to use bare basic language, but the point of fiction is to create. So be creative, be imaginative. It’s like repeating the word ‘and’ too often in a sentence….for heaven sake we have grammar for a reason.

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