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  1. Every once in a while, we like to providing some writing tips to both new and seasoned authors. One thing I've learned as an author is that we never stop learning. Today, Graeme has written up a writing tip for you on the use of speech tags in your writing. Enjoy! Speech Tags Graeme Speech tags are important to stories, but they can be easily misused and abused. What do I mean by speech tags? Speech tags are the little bit of narration that proceeds or follows dialogue and is explicitly linked to dialogue. They're used to indicate whose dialogue is being reported. The simplest and most common example is the word "said". So what is there to talk about with speech tags? The answer is plenty. The first comment is simple: 1. Speech tags should be avoided as much as possible. Why? Because not only can they clutter up a story if overused, but often they are unnecessary, and alternatives can actually make the story stronger. For example, It's more verbose, but it's clear that Michael is the one speaking because of the narrated action, and so stating who spoke isn't necessary. Including the action also tells the reader more about what's going on because the speech isn't happening in isolation of any other activity. When possible, use that activity to not only inform the reader of what is happened, but who is speaking. By combining descriptive narration with dialogue, it's often possible to eliminate speech tags. Of course, the flip side is that you don't want to overload your story with description when it's the dialogue that's important, so using speech tags to identify the speaker is fine in those situations. This, however, brings us to the next comment: 2. Keep speech tags simple. What do I mean by this? I'll demonstrate with an over the top example: Yes, that's extreme, but all those different speech tags distract from what's being said. What's happening here is the author (okay, me) is trying to tell the user what's happening through the use of speech tags. This is almost always not needed, or even possibly inappropriate. In the above example, the "I apologized" and "I proposed" are not needed. All the readers will recognize the words spoken as being an apology (in the first case) or a proposal (in the second case) and they don't need to be told again through a speech tag. These lines could be left as simple dialogue, unattributed, if it's already been established that there are only two people present. If something is needed to indicate who is the second person in the conversation, narration can be used to indicate the speaker, as per the technique shown earlier: The "Michael sighed" speech tag is borderline as to whether it's useful, though I personally would recommend using something to indicate his disappointment. However, a speech tag is unnecessary for this purpose. The words make it clear that he's unhappy, so a simple piece of descriptive narration is all that's needed. Changing the comma to a period is all that's necessary to allow the reader to come to the same conclusion, but the sighing is now an action, not speech. As an aside, while it's possible to sigh speech, it's only appropriate if the speech is short. As an exercise, try sighing the this paragraph. I suspect you'll find it's impossible. You can sigh a handful of words, but not long sentences. The above also contains three examples of where speech tags have been used inappropriately: The first line has Michael grimacing dialogue, the second has the narrator laughing dialogue, and the third has Michael grunting dialogue. Now, I don't know about you, but I can't grimace, laugh or grunt statements (though I can come close on the last one if it's a single word). Grimacing and laughing are things you do alongside dialogue. I can speak while laughing, but I can't laugh a sentence. Laughing is not speech, it's an activity. Speaking happens before, after, or in parallel with that activity. Similarly for grimacing. Speech tags such as grunted, hissed, and growled, can sometimes be okay, but you should be careful. For example, you can't hiss something unless it contains sibilants. Growled implies a deeper tone which isn't always appropriate for the words being used. Overall, it's better to use a different option to portray what you want, rather than a speech tag. In the above example, the last line is better as: Though even that isn't that great. Personally, rather than a grunt, I'd have Michael roll his eyes, shrug, or maybe even smirk, either before, during, or after the dialogue, depending on what emotion I'm looking at portraying. Overall, it's better to keep to a handful of speech tags: 'said', 'asked', and maybe 'replied'. Other speech tags should be used sparingly, and even the simple speech tags should be used with care. If they're not needed, don't use them. In the above example, the opening statement was exclaimed. What other ways can you use to show someone exclaimed something? The answer is via a descriptive narration: My final comment is on the speech tag companion: adverbs. 3. Keep adverb use to a minimum. Adverbs are often used to strengthen speech tags, but it's often better to replace them with description narration: This is a good example of where description could be used instead of the speech tag and adverb. Sometimes, rather than trying to use an adverb to show the tone or volume, showing the response is stronger: becomes This avoids the adverb while also doing character development by informing the reader of something about both Michael and the narrator. Yes, it's more verbose, but it also reads better. Alternatives could be: That's not quite as strong, but it still gives the sarcastic feel to the dialogue without the use of an adverb. Remember, most adverbs are a shorthand for an observable action/reaction. As such, it's often better to show that observation and let the reader interpret it themselves, rather than spoon-feeding them with how they should interpret the dialogue. Even better than using narration would be change the dialogue to make the spoken words provide that information without support, though that can be a challenge at times. Beginning authors often use adverbs as a crutch to support weak dialogue. As an exercise, each time you've used an adverb, try to work out if you can change the words to make the adverb unnecessary: could be re-written as That last example also shows how you can use a speech tag to indicate a slight pause. The two statements are separated by the speech tag, and the reader will naturally view that as a pause between the two sentences. It's stronger than putting the speech tag at the end: Having said all of that, there are times when adverbs are very useful. In particular, when you want a contradiction between the words spoken and the tone used. For example: You can certainly write this to avoid the adverb, but it's simple and gives the reader the impression you want. This is not a common situation, but when it occurs an adverb is definitely a viable option. So, in summary, use speech tags carefully. Don't over use them, and try not to get too fancy. Try to avoid using speech tags and adverbs to support weak dialogue. Make the dialogue stronger so it carries the emphasis you want without support, or try using description narrative to support the dialogue. Both are both better options most of the time.
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