I was reading a blog the other day about the use of dialogue tags where the writer was saying to leave the creativity to the story or the dialogue itself. Of course, I've always found it humorous that a lot of people who write (blog) about how to tell the story or writing in general…have never done it for a living.
It's sort of like when I was studying drama or acting in college; that all the professors or instructors were academia based and had never actually trod the boards for pay…love it. In the first book I wrote some twenty years ago, I said, "I got a degree in college in drama…took me years to get over it."
But, I digress, this person was saying that all you needed when you wrote fiction were 'said' and 'asked' for tags. Oh, gag, puke. Well, to start with, what is a 'tag'? A TAG tells the reader who is speaking. A rather important function in my opinion. This blogger made the statement that the reader just reads right over them. Maybe true…and then again, maybe not.
As a writer, I try to not be repetitive in words I use, whether it's someone's name or a general noun, adjective or adverb. I like to think I have a reasonably decent vocabulary. What if I had a line like this:
The young teenage messenger sucked up his cinch, hopped up and stabbed his boot in the stirrup. The marshal followed, stabbed his boot in the stirrup and swung into the saddle. His deputy, Bart, stabbed his boot in the stirrup and also mounted…I would venture to say that the reader would begin to get bored by the second 'stabbed'. -- Or - The major walked into the major's office, sat down at the major's desk, picked up the major's phone and said, "This is Major Turlow." - Okay, a little over the top, but you get the idea.
To me it would be the same if using repetitive tags as follows:
Jack picked up one of the small smoked turkey sandwiches and was looking it over. "Man would have to stand here fer mor'n a hour to make a meal on these little scudders," he said.
"Don't think they're designed to make a full dinner on, Uncle Jack," said Bodie. "Think you're supposed to just sorta git a sample of a bunch of stuff and put it on those little plates there."
"Well, now see. There you go again…I'd call them saucers, not plates. Why ain't hardly big as Bass' hand," said Jack.
"You talkin' 'bout me agin?" said Bass as he walked up.
"Not you…These tiny little things," Jack said as he held up one of the finger sandwiches.
"Believe yer supposed to try one of everything," said Bass.
"That's what I told him, Bass…Hell, git one of those little sausages wrapped in bacon…I'd take the stick out first, though," said Bodie.
"You think?" Jack asked.
Or this way:
Jack picked up one of the small smoked turkey sandwiches and was looking it over. "Man would have to stand here fer mor'n a hour to make a meal on these little scudders."
"Don't think they're designed to make a full dinner on, Uncle Jack." Bodie grinned. "Think you're supposed to just sorta git a sample of a bunch of stuff and put it on those little plates there."
"Well, now see. There you go again…I'd call them saucers, not plates. Why ain't hardly big as Bass' hand."
"You talkin' 'bout me agin, Jack?" the big man commented as he walked up.
McGann turned. "Not you…These tiny little things." He held up one of the finger sandwiches.
"Believe yer supposed to try one of everything."
"That's what I told him, Bass…Hell, git one of those little sausages wrapped in bacon…I'd take the stick out first, though."
Jack cocked his head. "You think?"
A GREAT STORY COMES FROM THE HEART...NOT THE HEAD. - KF
To me, if I notice the word being used repetitively, whether it's a tag or something else…it's too much. One, if there are only two people in the conversation, you only need to tag them once when you start, unless it's a three page conversation, then an occasional reminder will suffice. Don't spoon feed. Make the reader work for it a little. If it's three or more, now we get to be creative. We can use an action line like, Bodie grinned, instead of Bodie said or Jack cocked his head, instead of Jack asked. Oh, by the way, if you must use the tag asked, put it before the name, not after. You might be shocked of how something sounds when you're converting it to an audio book...just saying.
I, for one, however, if I have to use a tag instead of an action line, will never use the same one twice in a row. I went back to my book collection of one of my favorite authors and, I would have to say my inspiration to become a writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs. I suppose I have almost every book he ever wrote and several first editions.
However, in thumbing through some of his novels, whether they be one of the twenty-six Tarzan books or The Mad King or one of his westerns I started to look for 'tags'. It was a rare instance where he used the same tag twice in succession. He would use; he added; she murmured; he at last shouted; replied Peter; commanded Tarzan; argued Zor; demanded Do-Gad and, of course, the occasional said and asked.
As an actor, I appreciate the writer's input, but more than that…please don't bore me with repetition.
One of my favorite quotes from ERB is:
"I have been successful probably because I have always realized that I knew nothing about writing and have merely tried to tell an interesting story entertainingly."
That's my story and I'm sticking to it. More on dialogue and beats next time.
A GREAT BOOK LEAVES YOU WITH MANY EXPERIENCES...AND SLIGHTLY EXHAUSTED AT THE END. YOU CAN LIVE SEVERAL LIVES WHILE READING. - KF
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs that "Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out – and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly – Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world." Bradbury continued that "By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special."