I am still editing the novel and of course part of that includes looking at the dialogue. When I write my first draft, I do not tend to put in many dialogue tags. I get in the writing flow and just get the dialogue down as I hear it. I go back and add tags where they are needed later. Lately, I have been reading many conflicting views on how to properly tag the dialogue.
“It is hot in here,” Henry said.
The example above is consider the most professional way to tag dialogue. Readers apparently don’t even notice the word said when they read. This means that when reading dialogue tagged that way they can remain immersed in the dialogue and it will continue to flow for them. The reader will quickly glance at the speaker’s name and carry on. Some writers feel this is mundane and boring. I have read statements by many editors and published writers arguing that this is the way to go.
“It is hot in here,” Henry said feebly.
The second example is considered to be the work of an amateur writer. The use of the word feebly supposedly pulls the reader out of the story to process the word. The arguments for using these types of dialogue tags are good ones. Using just the said tag in the first example above tells us nothing about the speaker other then he is hot. Using the word feebly as part of the tag at least adds an element of drama to his statement and tells us a little more about the speaker’s reaction to the fact he is hot. This is considered lazy writing because writers who use these tags along with adding other adverbs (such as – she said longingly or he said angrily) are trying to convey the scene with one word descriptors instead of expanding on it. It seems in the publishing world this is the biggest dialogue tagging no-no.
He dropped to his knees and clutched his chest. “It is hot in here.”
The third example is an action tag. This type of tag is popular with show me don’t tell me writers. It allows the reader to hear the dialogue and get a visual impression of what is going on in the story. I prefer this type of tag when I am writing and when I am reading. I have read that this is the second choice for dialogue tagging.
“John, it is hot in here.”
The final example does not include any tag. It is considered okay to do this as long as you have made it clear who the person speaking is. In this case if two people are in the scene and one of them wasn’t called John, it would be clear that Henry is the speaker. The only warning I give with this comes from me as a guilty party, I once did nearly a page of this type of no tag dialogue. I compensated by adding the names of the characters in too much. It was painful to read back. I cleaned it up easy enough by giving the speakers more distinct voices though.
I use or have used all these types of tags in my writing. I find the simple clear and concise he said or she asked boring. When a large span of dialogue is occurring the use of either the more descriptive tags or the action tags seems to add a little more colour to the scene and breaks it up a little. In sections where there is a little more narrative sandwiched in with the dialogue I often omit the tags because it is clear who is speaking without them. My favourites remain the action tags.
What about you? What types of tags do you use when you write? Do you notice tags when you read?