Tuesday, February 10, 2015

17 Ways to Answer: What Can You Say About "Said"?

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 I love it when one of my favorite authors and Forum friends puts on her writing teacher hats at her blog. Joanna Bourne not only writes the very best Historical Romances, but she can write anything and teach anyone how to do it. Her latest technical topic is "On Beyond Said" and with her permission I'm going to share her expertise and use a few examples from of my own to illustrate the point. It's only fair to tell you up front that I hate using said in my writing. I love using some of these other ways and it's not by using asked, screamed, yelled, whined, etc. in place of it. ;-) (Joanna's words will be Italicized.

Elsewhere someone was wondering whether to use 'said'.
Or not.
 I keep talking about tagging, actually.
So I will do it some more.

Here are a couple of simple, basic guidelines in the tagging of dialog:

1) Make certain the reader knows who said every line of dialog. No confusion.

2) Don't forget there are lots of ways to tag dialog. Be adventurous.

3) You can almost always tag with 'he said' and you will be invisible

4) You can tag with the equivalent of 'he said' and you will be less invisible.
.....   'he muttered', 'he whispered', he 'remarked', 'he answered', 'he objected'.

5) In the choice between 'he said' and one of the saidisms,
you are about all the time better going with 'he said'

6) You can tag with an action

.....   'he began to put the fire out', 'he stabbed Guido', 'he activated the bomb', 'he put oil on the salad', 'he reconsidered'
Action tags are good.
Action that occurs close to the dialog tags it. The action has to be performed by the one speaking. It has to be in the same paragraph.

7) Tagging actions are separated from dialog by a period.
..... I piled my cookies closer to the edge of the tray so the little ones could reach them. “Glad they’re a hit."
..... Her hand tightened and my bones ground together. “Why didn’t you come back for me when you got out?”

8) Unless the action occurs inside the sentence.
..... “You’re old enough for the truth, Samantha,” his face tightened, “the whole truth."
..... “I was there and I'll not sit here,” I glared at him, “and have you murmur murder in my ears all night.”
(You can write this sort of sentence with em dashes instead of commas, but why would you want to?)

9) 'Said' and its brother saidisms are always separated from dialog by commas.
.....  Raising my voice over the chatter, I said, “Well, of course kids love sweets, but since I taught teens, I don’t have a clue what to do with little kids except ply them with cookies.”
.....  “Samantha,” she whispered.
If you do not know whether something is a 'saidism' or an action, go sit and think about it for a while. Over there.

10) Do not double-tag. If an action or other method tags the dialog, don't add 'he said'. You will eliminate many 'he saids' from the manuscript by following this simple rule. Over a lifetime you will eliminate a small mountain of them.
..... NOT “Cause people call me Sam and that’s a boy’s name,” she said and rolled her eyes.
..... BUT “Cause people call me Sam and that’s a boy’s name.” She rolled her eyes.

11) Do not mistake actions performed by the mouth, tongue, lips and throat for saidism. One does not grin, laugh, mime, simper, chortle, frown, or sneer words.
Go ahead. Smile me a couple words.
The  readers won't care about this but grammar purists all over the English-speaking world are grinding their teeth. Can't you hear them?
Can one 'grind out' words? Spit them out? Cough them out?
I'm still thinking about this.

Also, one does not hiss dialog containing no 's' or 'z'.
It's not, "Fee, Fi, Fo, Fum," he hissed.

12) Many lines of dialog are tagged by responsion. We know who spoke because they are taking turns. (Middlemarch does this for pages.)
Tweedledee said, "Your fault!"
"Not," Tweedledum snapped.
"Is not."
"You're the one who put Cicero in the pudding."

13) Many lines are tagged by 'voice'. The reader knows the speaker because no one else sounds like that.

14) Many lines are tagged by special knowledge, by location in the scene, by what the speaker perceives.

15) You can tag with Internal Monologue. This assigns the dialog to the POV character.

.....  “I’m older than the kids here, too.” My gray hair was a dead give away.

16) You can tag with Internals, which also assigns the dialog to the POV character.

.....  “Shows does it?” My bitterness shocked even me. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t—”

17) You can tag with Direct Address in a two-man conversation or where it tags the next line of dialog or responsion or where the Direct Address identifies the speaker. 'Not now, Papa' tags the daughter as the speaker.

Careful not to over use this. Real speak contains very little Direct Address.

In short, tagging dialog gives the writer a lotta freedom of choice. We only start out with 'said'.
We don't have to stay there.
There's a whole big universe of clever things to do with words when we jump off and let go.

I hope Joanna's masterclass in dialogue tags helps your writing and your understanding of what writers do as they construct scenes and dialogue.

Update: I'm polishing the first 35 pages of Mother's Day like crazy and struggling with creating synopses of varying length that still carry a flavor of my writing. That's hard work, let me tell you.

Next Week: February Mini Book Reviews!