Friday, November 19, 2010
Non-standard Dialogue Tags
Well here's something I missed, possibly because I've been wrapped up in cotton wool here in Tokyo these past nine years, or more likely for the reason that I just get bored with the standard dialogue tags like "said" and "asked".
Which brings us to the final edit of TSMG, which was sent out to readers this month prior to publication. Lucky indeed, as one of the readers - after nicely saying "Amazing tale!!! I love the references to other texts!" - pointed out that "The non-standard dialogue tags are grating to the ear. Since you cannot
frown, ruminate, or mug words, sometimes the tags are not just distracting but also bewildering."
Which, on second thought and a reread of the novel taking this in mind, is so darned true that I'm kicking myself I didn't notice earlier! Having nutted over this manuscript for years (really!) and editing it pretty much solidly over the past three of 'em, it's unbelievable what can slip through the net.
The reader went on to recommend that "I'd go with the standard, non-distracting 'said' or simply delete dialogue tags when the speaker's identity is obvious. Also, a gesture before or after the spoken words can convey the frowning, mugging, grousing, quipping, declaring, responding, grumbling, pontificating, parrying, countering, complaining, ruminating, agitating, etc., without interrupting the fictive dream or making readers go back to reread a line and insert the grousing they missed."
Heh-heh... I had no idea I'd added so much unnecessary (and hilariously over-the-top) colour, though my editor Kris obviously did. He tactfully suggested that "some do add flavor, but you have a tendency to put too much flavor in sometimes."
So I've just reviewed the whole novel with a meat cleaver and some sewing tools, attacking the non-standards but occasionally saving some. I think it does definitely read better as a result.
And funnily enough I just decided to Google "non-standard dialogue tags" and came up with this interesting blog (called Help! I Need A Publisher!) that addresses precisely this issue, and makes me feel how outlandishly silly the whole concept is. The author points out about non-standards that "their unnecessary use is now regarded as a bad habit and poor style."
Man, why hadn't I twigged on this before?
Then again I did grow up early on with '70s reprints of British author Enid Blyton (shhh), whom Nicola points out to be one of the old school villains of the non-standard dialogue tag - so I'm going to blame her, along with the unflappable, occasionally ham-fisted shenanigans of Jo, Bessie, Fanny and The Saucepan Man.
Still, Blyton did pen The Naughtiest Girl in the School, so she had something going for her.
Out, damned tag! Out, I say!