Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Who Said That?

Tag lines, those words that indicate who is speaking, can be a problem for an inexperienced writer. Many feel the use of "said" is too repetitive and monotonous. The truth is most of the time the use of "said" to identify the speaker is invisible. We hear it (or see it) so often that we no longer notice it. So don't be afraid to use "said".

Should you use it for every line of dialogue? No. Sometimes it is best to leave off the tag line and let the action that follows identify the speaker. For example:

"When you get done meet me at the park. Okay?" Jason jumped on his bike and sped off without waiting for Tod's answer.

The action that follows tells us that it was Jason speaking. Sometimes the action may precede the dialogue. For example:

Tommy opened his lunchbag and made a face. "Egg salad sandwich, yuck."

Here again the action shows us that Tommy is the one talking.

If your characters have their own "voice" that will let the reader know who is speaking. If your character has an accent, or stutters, or exhibits some other special speech characteristic you may not need to use tag lines.

If you choose to use unusual tag lines let me caution you to be careful not to overdo it. An occasional "whispered", "shouted", or "grumbled", is fine but too many can be distracting or even ridiculous. Remember you want your reader to pay attention to your story not your tag lines.

Another warning, make sure your tags make sense. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to "laugh", "cough", or "sneeze" a sentence. Those are actions that usually take place before, after or in between dialogue.

There is more than one way to show "who said that". Your best bet would be to try some of each one.

(c)2005 Sharon A. Soffe

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