Dialogue Tags

Let me start this post by saying that, most of the time, I’m sharing things as I learn them, which is my roundabout way of saying that I haven’t always taken my own advice. Yet. But enough about cutting cheese from my diet…

I love dialogue. LOVE IT. I wrote the first draft of my most recent novel entirely in dialogue. Yes, I went back later to add some actions and feelings & crap like that (because I now know that is the secret to the breakout novel. Dialogue + actions + feelings & crap like that = winner!) I digress. Already. And I haven’t even had any cheese today. *sigh*

When I first started writing, I thought dialogue should go something like this:

“Do you have a pen?” I asked.

“Yes, I do,” replied Bob.

Sometime after I used book 1 for kindling, a crit partner told me to kill all of my dialogue tags (italics above) and use action instead. So, in book 2, I ended up with something more like this:

I turned to Bob. “Do you have a pen?”

He opened his backpack and removed a blue Bic. “Yes, I do.”

Better? Yes. The problem is that, by book 3, I discovered I was giving TOO MANY actions (see earlier post on Stage Directions). So, in book 4, I tried to use a mix of half tags, half actions, and got something like this:

“Do you have a pen?” I asked.

Bob opened his backpack and removed a blue Bic. “Yes, I do.”

Well, then my fabulous crit partner pointed out a BIG problem. My characters were too flat and robotic. I had the dialogue, I had the actions, but I was missing the F&CLT (feelings & crap like that).  So now, I am revising books 3 & 4 so the dialogue looks more like this:

“Do you have a pen?” My voice was apologetic. It’s not that I didn’t know I needed a pen before class. Of course I knew. Why else would I be begging for a Bic, five seconds before our History quiz was about to start.

Bob handed me one of the seventeen pens from his ink-stained pocket. His face said, “I’m never going to see this again, am I?”

I wrapped my fingers around the plastic shaft. My forced smile said it all. No, Bob. That you are not.

I’ll be back when I’m done making these revisions. Should be around, say, 2043?

Category: On Writing