Tag Archives: opinion

“Look, a dialog tag,” said Craig.

Once upon a time, dialog tags were expected to do double duty. They served as a roadmap to keep readers on track. They also served to add some description to the scenes.

We wound up with: she whispered, he growled, Jane stuttered, Bob moaned, etc.

Today, we no longer expect, or want dialog tags to add description. The new rule is to use only said, thought, or asked as a dialog tag. I’d say this one has moved from a guideline to a rule. We’re supposed to get the point across with the dialog, and some actions.

There’s nothing technically wrong with this sentence. “You suck,” Bob yelled.

Keep in mind that correct doesn’t mean good. “You suck!” Comes across much better with no tag at all, provided we understand Bob is speaking. (You haters of the exclamation point can write about it in your own blogs.)

Said, thought, and asked have been described as invisible words. In a way, they’re almost punctuation in themselves. The new guideline is that invisible dialog tags are preferred.

This brings me to my main point. I really can’t stand what I call backwards dialog tags. “I like cheese,” said Martha. Martha and said have been reversed.

I did what everyone else does. I went looking for some grammar guru to back me up. Then I can say, “See, I told you so. Isn’t grammar guru smart?”

I didn’t find a grammar guru who is stern enough to put up a fight. The overwhelming consensus is that “said Martha” is correct. I’ll just add that correct does not mean good. They are saying this style is old fashioned, and archaic. This is moving into guideline territory in my mind.

Whenever I see a backwards dialog tag, it pulls me out of the story. This is bad, even for a second. I’m not everyone, and you have the right to disagree with me.

If we’re trying so hard to use invisible dialog tags, why draw attention to them?

“Oh my God, look you guys, it’s a dialog tag.”

“Wow, I thought those things are supposed to be invisible.”

“They are, but there it is anyway. Black Courier New all over the page.”

“Sure enough. What were we reading again?”

“I don’t remember. Turn back a page and try catching up.”

“Alright, but when we come to the backwards dialog tag, don’t look at it. Maybe it’ll go away.”

“Hey, Craig used the word archaic. Now I want cake.”

“Me too, let’s go out and get our cake. Get it?”

“Yeah, we can always pick up that book later…

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What can Writers Learn from Television?

No, really, I want someone to tell me. Here are a couple of observations I’ve made over the years.

For TV, the main character has to have the right job. In order to get involved in amazing things, the MC has to have credible opportunities. This is why we see so many shows about cops, doctors, and lawyers.

People branched out and we see firemen, coroners, and police psychics. It may have been popular, but in real life, Angela Lansbury would never stumble across hundreds of murders. There aren’t too many shows about water department workers for a reason.

This applies to novels too. There has to be a reason for things to happen. In a novel, an average guy can stumble across something bad, spectacular or amazing. He isn’t going to have access to the big guns or the cool science though.

Character is important. I watch Once Upon a Time, but for the wrong reasons. I’m watching it for a bad example. Some of the main characters are flat and boring.

Regina/Evil Queen is horrible. She is always going to say the most vile thing. She is the first person to bully or make a threat. She’s the one who says, “You’re lying.” Lana Parilla is being wasted here. She’s smoking hot and looks great in fairy tale clothing and her mayoral suits. The minor background they gave her is too little too late.

Mr. Gold/crocodile/Dark One/Rumplestiltskin/Beast is great. He’s evil too, but he’s a complete character. He has a touch of humanity, and I feel for him when he loses his son or Belle.

Snow White and Prince Charming are boring. They’re always goody goody, and are as predictable as sunrise.

Story is important. I’ve never seen it, but how can Hostages go any further than one season? Bad guys take a family hostage and force one of the parents to do something horrible. I just don’t see this lasting ten years.

Dr. Who is at the other end of the spectrum. It’s been going for fifty years and shows no sign of slowing down. The possibilities are limitless.

I have a lot of words down, so I’ll start summing up. Our stories need believable circumstances, even in science fiction and fantasy. We need sympathetic and believable characters. We need a fully fleshed out world too. One that allows for twists and turns in the plot, and might even allow for a sequel if fans support the first one.

So, back to my question. What can TV teach us? I’d like to get the comments going. Let’s hear some opinions or issues I didn’t address.

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