Daily Writing Tip 67 of 100, Speech in Narration

For one hundred days, I’m going to post a writing tip each day. I have a whole bookshelf full of writing books and I want to do some reading and increased studying of this valuable resource. This will help me keep track of anything I’ve learned, and help motivate me to keep going. If anyone has a favorite tip of their own to add, contact me. I’d love to put it up here.

Today’s tip – Speech in Narration

Source – Dialogue How to get your characters talking to each other in a way that vividly reveals who they are, what they’re doing, and what’s coming next in your story by Lewis Turco

“A tag line is a couple of words or a phrase that tells you who is speaking. The simplest and least obtrusive tag lines are ‘he said’ and ‘she said’ or minor variations like ‘he replied’ or ‘he asked’ as in this conversation between a man named Horace and a woman named Gail”:

“Hello,” he said, “my name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked.

“Hi,” she replied, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Horace said. “I’ve been watching you for about an hour.”

Fred looks thoughtful. “That’s kind of blah it seems to me. Can’t you just set up a bit?”

“Sure,” The Author replies, “but it’s best to keep things simple. Using adjectives, adverbs, and fancy verbs to describe tone of voice or show what’s going on just gets in the way of the action and characterization. This is what can happen”:

“Hello,” he croaked nervously. “My name’s Horace. What’s yours?” he asked with as much aplomb as he could muster.

“Hi,” she squeaked uncertainly, turning in her chair to look at him. “I’m Gail Adams,” she said, blushingly.

“Pleased to meet you,” Horace declared, “I’ve been watching you for about an hour,” he offered with a quaver in his voice.

Author Intrusion

Fred nods. “I see what you mean. The dialogue looks sort of amateurish, too – stilted and forced. What’s the reason for that?”

“It’s called ‘author intrusion.’ The wish of a modern author generally is to create the illusion of reality, to make the reader forget he or she is reading a story rather than a living it. Therefore, an author tries to hide himself, to make the story seem as natural as possible. Adjectives and other sorts of descriptions tend to remind the reader that somebody’s controlling his or her interest.”

It is hard when writing to simply say “he said” or “Nancy said” over and over. Harder still to go over a section of dialog and remove all tag lines that aren’t absolutely necessary (if there is any way the reader can figure out which character is talking through context – take out the tag line) and reducing all the others to ‘she said.’

It looks terribly plain and boring.

But then, pay attention to yourself when you are reading. All the “he said” and “she said” – simple tag lines – completely disappear from your consciousness. They don’t even register – no matter how repetitive and boring they appear to the author that has to type them in over and over.

There are other ways to make dialogue interesting (read the rest of the book).

So, keep those tag lines simple and remove them if they aren’t necessary.

And for God’s sake – get rid of any word ending in “ly.”