Friday, December 16, 2005

He Said, She Said - The Dialogue Discussion

Sounds like a cat-fight doesn't it?
And the title isn't really a redundancy.
The Battle of the Absolutes.

On one hand, as Tsavo would say, "In this corner, we have..." those writing gurus who demand that every, last, living dialogue tag be exorcized, holy water, bell book and candle.
Because they are adverbs.
No hopefully, anxiously, tenderly allowed.
We understand that. To a point. We've all seen manuscripts loaded with every, last, living spot of dialogue helpfully addendumed by an anxious ( or lazy) writer afraid the reader won't "get it."

Likewise there are the gurus who insist that the alternative active verbs such as drooled, sobbed, roared, etc. be stripped from the body of work like a forensic anthropologist boils bones in favor of "He said, she said" - citing the reader's eye-slide over the tags.
Still, we have all seen stuff where the writer on overload tries too hard to interject busy verbs. One can feel a bit battered by the excess of vigor. The cacophony of action. By God, reader, I'll make you get it that this is exciting!

And we have Ann Crispin point out that specific "tags" aren't always needed. That the speaker can sometimes be indicated logically and indirectly without the tag.
Of course. Creates a visual at the same time - IF, as in her example, a descriptive, directional action sentence is included.

I get annoyed by ping-pong dialogue where there are no diaglogue tags and no indicative action. Based on the assumption of alternate dialogue - the "he said, she said" supposedly understood. Supposedly indicates tense, terse. Wow. Only works for very short dialogue passages though, not a whole freaking page. One has to count back to see who started the conversation. When a reader has to do that, the tense, terse is lost.

Rules are made for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men.


AE Rought said...

"Rules are made for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men."

Amen! I try to create my dialogue with a combination of the tools spoken of in your post. Although I must say that I DO shy away from too much -ly modifiers. To me, that gets kind of singsongy.

My 2 cents for the day. :)

MissWrite said...

I despise ping-pong.


I really hate the 'said' tag, and avoid it when action tags can be used instead. However, if the only thing I can think of to put in the place of 'said' is - he smiled, or she grinned, or he shrugged... unless it's totally appropriate, I'm going to choose 'said'.

Like anything, I really think it should be a weighted consideration, not an easy way out. Simply believing that 'he said, she said' is acceptable on a large scale gives you a 'free pass' to avoid trying to show actions, and it makes the story truly dull.

JMO of course.

Sela Carsen said...

I mix and match merrily. A bit of "he said/she said," a few adverbs, a few action tags, a few with nothing attached because my reader is smart enough to figure it out. Like a little fairy went through and sprinkled dialogue dust on the ms. ;)

Bernita said...

Which is why you wimmin are fun to read.

Sandra Ruttan said...

"Rules are made for the obedience of fools"

Love that Bernita!

I think there has to be a balance, in all things. I've been told more than once, "No dialogue tags."

Now, hang on a second here. I flip to the end of a very popular book by an internationally-renowned author in my genre, and there's a remark made by a main character with, "she said eagerly." It doesn't exactly trip off the tongue. I mean, I don't mind, but I also don't mind the occasional "she muttered" kind of tag.

Especially when you are someone who writes loooong books like me, and then have to try to trim down. Using the odd precise dialogue tag enables me to show what a person's attitude is without stopping the flow of the dialogue (especially if it's an argument) and yet still identify speaker. Whenever I'm writing a scene like that, I feel like "he said" is a bit misguiding. He wouldn't say, "You slept with my best friend." He would roar, yell, kick, curse... But not likely just casually say it, like it was no big thing.

I think you ladies are right on the money here.

Tsavo Leone said...

Tsavo's nostrils flared and his brow creased.
"Where does she get off stealing my best lines like that?"
"Use it lose or it kiddo..."
He stuck his tongue out at her, but his heart wasn't really in it.
"... besides, you got a name-check and a link out of it".
He wasn't about to argue with that, conceding the point with a lop-sided grin and a nod of the head. "True."

Does that work for anyone else, or is it just a style that's peculiar to me, and me alone? A little bit of mix-and-match works just as well too, but I think it all depends on your writing style and your intended readership. There have to be dozens of different ways in which an author can communicate 'who is saying what' to their audience without having to clearly tag each quote.

Anyway, as Captain Barbossa once famously said: "... they're not so much rules, as guidelines..."

M. G. Tarquini said...

Rules are made for the obedience of folls and the guidance of wise men.

That's a nice line. Sorta applicable anywhere. Kinda makes me want to blog on the topic. I handle dialogue and action and writing in a very strict manner. Involves dozens of rewrites. I'm weird that way.

Bernita said...

She gave an unbecoming smirk and casually buffed the fingernails of one hand.
"Tsavo, darling..."

Excuse me.

Thank you Sandra.
The gurus mean excess. Don't think they mean to be taken absolutely literally. Because each and every one of them make judicious use of the very item they rail against.
Some of us have a weakness or a tendency in one direction or another, so these as guides are useful to sharpen us up.
The thing that makes me laugh a bit and then grit my teeth are the editorial finger waggings of those who take the guides as absolutes.

Re-writes is good, M.G. And how many depend solely on the individual.

M. G. Tarquini said...

Re-writes is good, M.G. And how many depend solely on the individual.

Hemmingway has nothing on me.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Bernita, as usual, you're right on the money. When I first started writing, I read a book with each one of those things you mentioned as the subject.

After a dozen books and a dozen opinions, I decided to work on finding my voice and the integration of all those points happened naturally.

Candice Gilmer said...

Candice stood at the edge of the doorway. "Should I join, or should I be the wallflower?" She looked about the room.

AE waved her in. "Come on, you pink hair goof! Come in, speak your mind!"

"I think I will," Candice said with a smile.

Yeah, um, okay, what an entrance. lol.

Seriously, though, about the only thing I'll NOT do with dialog is use the dreaded "ly" words. For me, though, it's a matter of visualization when I write, so there's always so much more going on than just the dialog. Therefore, to me, to bring across all the points, I have to talk about the action. I mean, fingers twitch, heads bob, knees jerk, postures change; all that is going on when someone speaks. And then there's people like me, who pretty much would wind up mute if I couldn't move my hands while I spoke... :)

Bernita said...

You too, Candace?
My grandmother always accused me of waving my hands about when I talked "like a frenchman."
She had never met "a frenchman."
I was an alien child.

And Bonnie's on the money.
Write enough and these "rules" integrate sufficiently.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

OOh, girl, I agree with Candice also. I can't even sing with something (mike or paperwith words) in my hands.

The hands are my punctuation!

Candice Gilmer said...

Hands illustrate everything! :) As a hairdresser, it makes it hard sometimes to talk to my clients, though,I'm always pausing for the visual effect of my hands. :)

Bernita said...

I have cleared the coffee table more than once...

Candice Gilmer said...


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