Charlie's Blog

Dialog Tags and NaNo 2022

Sunday, November 27, 2022 9:53 PM

             I've heard writers and editors talk about dialog tags for years—decades. Some explain what you can use and how. Some say never use an adverb. Some say use it sparingly. Some say don't use "said", some say it's "invisible" as we generally don't notice it when we're reading. All are both true and false, depending on how you handle them.

            I like adverbs, but use them sparingly. I heard a well-known sci-fi and fantasy writer explain why he uses them. He said that emojis are basically like adverbs in that they modify a noun, verb, etc. So, most teens and 20-somethings already use adverbs in their social media. When you look at it that way, he's right. 

            I recently heard someone say that "said" isn't invisible in audiobooks. I listened to a series of audiobooks by an author who used "said" a lot. It definitely stood out when it was used too often—and not in a good way.

            I've recently tried to avoid dialog tags as much as possible. I've tried using action instead. I'll have something in quotes that a character says, then use the name of the character and some action they take, something they see, or a thought they have (if it's the POV character for that scene). It works really well, most of the time. I've actually written a couple of short stories where I don't use a dialog tag at all. I am not doing so well with my novels, though. It's much harder in a longer form. But if I get it in my head that I need more action or description or thought with my verbal comments, I start looking at the scenes a little differently. I will still have conversations between two characters that go back and forth with occasional action to keep it from being confusing. That's when too much movement takes away from what's going on. There needs to be balance.

            So, why am I talking about this now? I've been writing for a long time. I've known about dialog tags for a long time. I sold my first short story as C. H. Lindsay a decade ago. It's only in the past year or so that this has really sunk in. You won't get everything right every time you write. You won't get all the lessons to stick every time. And not all lessons work for you as a writer. As long as you’re improving, as long as you're getting better, that's what matters. Not if you do X, Y. or Z just as author Q says. That works for author Q. But there will be things that you can learn from that author and apply to your own writing. Find what works for you. Develop your own path. Take workshops, attend conferences, write a lot. Find your voice and be the best writer you can be at this point in your life. Ten years from now, you'll find you've grown in ways you may not expect. Like me, finally getting dialog tags in a way that works for me.

            I still have a lot to learn. This year, my NaNo project was a new genre for me. I’ve read 100 cozy mysteries this year. (Yes. 100—and counting.) I wrote a cozy mystery. I intended it to be a one-off, but when I got to the end, I realized there needs to be a second. So, if I don’t get to it before then, I’ll do the sequel for 2023. I’m writing every day, and updating the NaNo website every day. I’m at 70,000 words and counting. I’m doing better this year than last, and next year, I’ll have another goal. There’s always more to learn! I have four novels to rewrite. With what I’ve learned this past year, I think I now know what I need to make them better. Hopefully, I’ll have one or more of them ready to submit before too much longer! 

            And while I'm working on that, my short stories and poetry are getting better, too!