More Style Stuff–Speech Tags

Style!

You may recall that I put up a post a while back about style. I addressed participles and appositives, and I mentioned that I got the idea for the post from reading self-published books with a critical eye. I considered making a thing out of commenting on style issues I notice in self-pubs, but since then I haven’t had the privilege of reading very many self-published works.

The main reason I haven’t been reading many self-pubbed books lately is that my own work, The Tiger, is in heavy editing right now and I’ve been committing every spare minute to it. Because of this, I’ve decided to do something better than criticizing others’ works–I’m going to criticize my own! There are a few things worth mentioning that I’ve noticed during my edits and that I’d like to point out and warn others against. They are: Speech Tag Abuse, Unnecessary Descriptions, and General Weak Writing Through Half-Actions.

Today’s topic is:

Speech Tag Abuse

I’m a fan of my dialogue. I think it’s one of my strong suits. I spend a lot of time eavesdropping–er–that is–accidentally overhearing conversations that make for high quality character studies–and I’ve become adept at creating solid, realistic conversations. One point where I dropped the ball, however, was in the general area of speech tags. I had waaaay too many of the damn things, and they muddled up the conversations to the point of making my dialogue less enjoyable.

You don’t need a speech tag every time somebody talks. My advice to you, based upon examination of my own shortcomings, is to use a speech tag only when the reader may be confused about who is speaking. If I were to make a general rule and say that any given paragraph is “about” one person in particular, then the speech tag is unnecessary. Observe:

Iris opened the jar and looked inside. “How many of these things do we have?” she asked.

The fact that Iris is the sole occupant of this paragraph, if you will, reasonably makes her the person who is speaking. The “she asked” is rendered useless, and can muddle up the flow.

And remember: it’s all about flow.

Like all style suggestions, I recommend that you not take this to the extreme. Cut back on your speech tags if you need to, but don’t forget that we still need to know who’s talking. Nobody likes to reread a section of a book to find out who’s saying what.

Tune in next time for Unnecessary Descriptions!

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