Monday, July 18, 2011

Taggedy Ten

Ten Things I Think about Your Dialogue Tags

"!@#$," he grated.

This is an RWA staple, and I'm still trying to weed it out of my books. So I don't mind seeing it once. Even twice I'll let it pass. But when you use "grate" as a dialogue tag in every single chapter, I'm definitely going to nickname your hero CheeseBoy.

"All you ever do is swear," she croaked.

If you kiss her, does she turn into a princess?

"Betty is a complete slut!" he declared.

Am I too stupid to realize this is a declarative sentence? Survey says: nope. P.S., the exclamation point is just annoying.

"I don't give a hoot about Betty or anyone else you sleep with," she retorted.

We stopped retorting back in the nineteenth century. Didn't you get the memo?

"I thought you loved me, and now you think I'd do something as dastardly as go to bed with Betty and let her have her wicked way with me from dusk until dawn?" he gasped.

According to Random House dictionary, a gasp is "a sudden, short intake of breath, as in shock or surprise." Yes, I checked. So unless your hero has lungs the size of garment bags . . .

"Unless you want the mage to invoke the curse of Chaos, open the gates to Hell, release the demon horde and destroy the world in fifteen minutes," he growled, "we have to have wild monkey sex on top of the Chrysler Building. In front of Betty."

I actually tried to growl this line. I gave myself laryngitis.

"Sebastian, how could you cheat on me with Betty, of all people, when you could have assuaged your needs with the floozy redhead down at the tavern who puts out for every rake with a shilling?" she yelped.

A yelp is shorter than a gasp, I think. Like a microgasp, only louder. I should really conduct a scientific study of this. Until then, please pair with briefer utterances.

"Betty says that the sixth shiek's sixth sheep's sick," he stuttered.

Speaking on behalf of all stutterers, no. Just no.

"You and Betty can go tiptoe through the tulip patch together for all I care," she hissed.

A hiss should only be used by snakes, steam irons or overheating radiators. Homo sapiens who have to employ it should be hissing sibilant fricative words (words with "s" or "z"). Otherwise they're lithping the hith.

"Why do you hate Betty so much?" he complained.

This is a question, not a complaint. Here's a complaint: "You're sleeping with my sister, my best friend, your ex, the Domino Pizza delivery girl and Betty," she complained. "I love you. Please stop it."


  1. Thank you for this fun list. I'm sad to see retorted gone by the wayside, but I'm an Austen fan. However, I have to quibble on the "hissed"

    From Mirriam Webster Online:
    to utter or whisper angrily or threateningly and with a hiss
    Ex. “Leave me alone!” he hissed.

  2. Now doing total tag search of!

  3. Thank you! This made my Monday morning :) Great list.

  4. I have gasped and hissed in just the past three days in my writing. I'm going to hang my head in shame.

  5. I remember in 9th grade English that we were assigned a writing project to use words other that "said" for all our dialogue tags. That took a lot of work to get over that lesson getting drummed in my head.

    Now, I stick with said. And lately, if it's obvious who's talking, I'm all for deleting tags all together.

  6. ROFL! I'll point some writer friends (whose characters gasp and grate *constantly*) to this post.

    Thanks for making my day.

  7. If you kiss her, does she turn into a princess?

    No, into a frog.

    Bethany, I suffered from that exercise, too. In three languages.

  8. Fans of older fiction will recognize this one, that left us for some reason:

    "I love you!" he ejaculated.

  9. I agree with Margaret on hissed. But otherwise, I find this list to be really quite hysterical.

  10. I'm trying to recall how many of these I've done. I'm tag-impaired.

  11. Laughing dialog always bothers me. I tell my writing students to try laughing a whole sentence or two and see how possible that is.

    Some people complain that "said" is so bland, but it is invisible to most readers in the same way that quotation marks are so "said" is the tag of choice in most cases where there's no other way to show who is speaking.

  12. I'm going to disagree with Margaret and M.J.

    You can only hiss with 's' or 'z' and occasionally 'x'. Otherwise, you're whispering harshly/intensely.

    Great list, P.

  13. "I love you. Please stop it."

    Perfect! ROFL!

    I'm the opposite of this. I don't use enough tags whatever that means. My dialog is always pretty easy to follow (because I can't stand not being able to follow anyone else's) but I get told all the time to put a tag here or there for emphasis.

    I'm going to shove this post under their noses and gloat! (she humphed) ;o)

  14. Beth Miller5:17 PM

    This is hilarious-- and helpful!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.