|Shhh, she said with her inside voice. . .|
My pal (and excellent teacher) David Etkin was reminding me of this POST from our first summer of Teacher's Write! on dialogue tags and how they're supposed to disappear.
I think it's a good post. That the information in it still holds true.
I mean, sometimes your characters (and mine!) are going to whisper something rather than say it. My teen characters are all way too fond of blurting.
But for the most part, your characters should only say stuff, not intonate, chime, bellow, or so on.
Elmore Leonard's third rule of his TEN RULES is to "never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue."
My eleventh rule might be that once you know your ten rules, never say "never," of course.
But the thing with dialogue tags is that they really should CLARIFY and disappear, which is, fyi, yes, a change from the way masters of the art like Hemingway used to write.
Current common wisdom is that you neither want a string of dialogue that reads: he said, she said, he said, she said, he said and so on, because it becomes really robotic and distracting, nor do you want dialogue tags that make the reader stop and go, "Uh, huh? How does intonating something actually sound?"
Think about a REAL conversation between people. Sure, we might intonate something, but if we do, it's in HOW the ACTION AROUND IT changes the way it is said. And that's what the writer needs to do: create strong character and action around the dialogue, or choose the right words OF dialogue, such that the way something is said is a given as the reader reads.
Anyway, I'll try to find an example in my rough YA manuscript I'm working on now to share with you, and I invite you, as always, to put up a brief excerpt -- dialogue related or not -- for feedback.
If you've never been to Friday Feedback before, her are the rules regarding the type of feedback you should provide:
• Does the excerpt "hook" or compel you to keep reading? If yes, why? If no, why not?
• What else works for you, and why?
• What doesn’t work for you (if something doesn't) and why?
Now, here's how you can also get some feedback: If you are working on something, and would like the same feedback, please post your excerpt in the comments. Please post NO MORE THAN 3 -5 paragraphs, three if long, four or five if short. If there's more, I will only read the first 3 -5 paragraphs. This is partly for your own protection. This is a public site and I don't want anyone coming back later and saying someone "lifted" their whole chapter from my website. :) If you are a student from a particular class, a teacher-writer I met at NCTE, etc., please identify yourself as such. If not, let me know how you found me.
Okay, so, here's a really rough bit from my manuscript, but it will give you a sense of using dialogue tags to clarify and the action around the dialogue rather than the tags themselves to do the hard work, I hope.
I turn away from the window and head to the kitchen. At the entrance, I stand quietly for a minute, and watch Dad’s hunched figure. He’s reading the paper at the table.
“Kyle!” he says, looking up. “I was about to get going, but figured I’d wait to say good morning.”
“Thanks.” I nod at something, like I’m agreeing or indicating. But indicating what? Him? The paper? The world at large?
Why is it so hard to connect with him?
“Ah, coffee,” I say, walking fast to the fresh pot. I pour some, load it with cream and sugar, and sit down across from him.
“I made you a fresh one, see? How are you doing this morning?” He raises his eyebrows funny at that second part, as if he’s insinuating something. The New York Post is open in his hands. Usually, he reads that only for the sports, but there haven’t been any sports in two days. He closes it and lays it on the table in front of him, his arms folded over it. Still, I can make out the words, “SPECIAL EDITION,”across the top, and a piece of the American flag.
“Fine, good, why?” I sip at the hot liquid, feeling it course through my veins. “How about you?”
He gets up. Now I can see the whole cover. It’s a photo of three firefighters atop a pile of rubble, raising the flag in the air.
“Okay, considering. How’s the girl?” That eyebrow raise thing again. He turns to rinse his mug in the sink.