Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Things That Drive an Editor Crazy Revisited

Resident editor Maryann Miller recently wrote about things that drive an editor crazy here. She mentioned dialogue tags and the overuse of unnecessary words to explain a character's conversation. I had to laugh while reading a mystery novel today that, in the course of fifty pages, only used the tag "said" once. Here are some examples that were used:

she answered
she explained
she asked
she read
she questioned
she stated
she quizzed
she requested
she inquired
she exclaimed
she replied
she interjected
she rallied
she spoke up
she frowned
she added
she stated
she commented
she shuddered
she inferred
she mused
she purred
she advised
she argued
she wailed
she pouted
she shrugged
she shouted
she implored
she clarified
she rallied
she begged

Often she said these things in adverbial ways like distractedly, honestly, reluctantly, calmly, flatly, proudly, and even jokingly.

That's just our female romantic lead - the hero was just as amazing as he supposed, surmised, rationalized, declared, sneered, sputtered, and grunted his way through the conversations. What really intrigued me about the dialogue though, is that the author, being a skillful enough writer, weaved the tags in such a way that they were often imperceptible. The only word that really jumped in my face was "quipped", and it wasn't used as often as in prior novels, having been replaced by emphasizing, noting, sighing, chuckling, countering, and exclaiming.

I wonder if the author has a contest going with the editor to see how infrequently the word "said" can be used? So far, the author is winning, and since there is another in the series due out this year, the editor hasn't yet been committed to an asylum. ;) We'll keep you apprised if that happens... she laughed (wickedly).
Dani Greer is a founding member of this blog and edits mystery and history novels part-time while working on her own writing. If you have a completed manuscript for review, contact her for pricing at hotbuttonpress@gmail.com and for details of what is provided in an edit.

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  1. LOL - that's funny! Sounds like me tryin to eliminate 'was' in my books.

  2. I was horrible with dialogue tags, I guess it's only natural. You're trying to make your story more interesting, but sometimes it doesn't always come off that way.

    I stick to 'said' and the occasional 'asked', replied' now.

  3. I find it difficult to only write 'said' but I do it and once I've practiced, it becomes easier (like most things). And, it saves you from having to come up with a clever dialog tag.


  4. And it was published like that? Tut tut.

  5. That's amazing. Was this a published book or a manuscript you're editing?

    Straight From Hel

  6. Oh, that's painful!

    I probably don't use *enough* tags. My editors usually stick a few "saids" in there to help the reader keep track of who is talking.

    Mystery Writing is Murder
    Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen

  7. Published and successfully so. In each book, the tags are more skillfully woven into the conversation (the first book was a bit awkward). It works for a couple of reasons. 1. It adds to the humorous chit-chat between the two protagonists and 2.she moves the plot with about 75% dialogue, so the he-said she-said routine would actually be tougher to employ. There's always an exception to the rule.

  8. Since it's no longer possible for me to read books without critiquing the writing, things like odd dialogue tags grab my attention and take me right out of the story. Perhaps if used throughout a book, however, the reader would get used to it? Maybe?

  9. I have worked with editors -- admittedly fewer of them -- who go in and insist all those "saids" be replaced. Irks me. "Said" is invisible, she quipped.

  10. I try really hard, I really do, but sometimes "said" just isn't quite enough. But I figure, since I try darn hard to keep any of my "she answered," "she agreed," or whatevers down to a bare minimum ... that's okay, right? (grin)

  11. Said is the only tag you'll ever need. Anything else is spoonfeeding the reader. :D

  12. Ooh, interesting rebuttal link from my tweet of this post:


    Of course, the person who put that site together doesn't say WHY.

  13. I use ‘said’ as little as possible and when I do it’s to help the reader keep track of who is talking--John/Mary said. Using tags can add to the scene, like when a character snarls something as opposed to saying it.

  14. Oh dear. I hope you weren't too violent with that red pen (or pencil)

  15. I'm reading a book that uses "said she" and "said he" instead. Oddly disturbing, but then, it's an oddly disturbing book so maybe it works.

  16. You're trying to make your story more interesting, but sometimes it doesn't always come off that way.

    Work from home India

  17. I've read a lot of differing opinions on tags. I don't write a lot of dialogue, but I try to eliminate most tags. Thanks for the post, Simon.

  18. I particularly hate seeing "she averred." But those are all best used very sparingly, I agree.

    I used to think I had to change up the said usage, way back when I started to learn the craft of fiction writing. And I've observed that it's difficult to convince some folks that it's best to just use said 99% of the time. One person I did a crit for was using "said Name" endlessly, and refused to hear me when I kept gigging that as a Bad Idea.

    I think we need a tee shirt that says, "Said ain't dead" with some sort of graphic showing a page with editorial marks. :)

  19. I should probably clarify:

    "Yes," said Julie

    "Yes," Julie said.

    ack, I hate that construction. It's old fashioned and catches the attention.


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