Author Topic: Craft question about dialogue tags  (Read 1985 times)  

Offline Becca Mills

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Craft question about dialogue tags
« on: December 03, 2020, 11:24:28 am »
This is sort of a weird question, but ... you know how you can put dialogue tags in three different places:

Bob said, "I don't know."
"I don't know," Bob said.
"I don't know," Bob said. "Why don't you ask Sally?"

Are there official terms for those different placements? Like, initial dialog tag, terminal dialogue tag, and mid-dialogue tag? (I made those up.) I feel like writing moves usually have names, so there probably are terms for these different tag locations, but I've poked around a bit on Google and haven't found an anything.

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    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #1 on: December 03, 2020, 12:50:58 pm »
    I have no idea, but I do note that with the "mid-dialogue" tag, I tend towards "said" coming before the person's name. Sometimes I do that with the other two tag placements as well, just for variety's sake, but for some reason I do it the most with the "mid" tag.

    i.e. "I don't know," said Bob. "Why don't you ask Sally?"

    I have no idea why my manuscripts lean towards this preference, or if there's a name for that kind of thing either. It may even be improper. Not sure. Looking forward to reading the responses.


    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #2 on: December 03, 2020, 01:00:39 pm »
    I've followed craft discussions since the 90s, read several craft books specifically on dialog, and I've never noticed any formal terms for tag placement.
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    Offline Becca Mills

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #3 on: December 03, 2020, 01:32:21 pm »
    I have no idea, but I do note that with the "mid-dialogue" tag, I tend towards "said" coming before the person's name. Sometimes I do that with the other two tag placements as well, just for variety's sake, but for some reason I do it the most with the "mid" tag.

    i.e. "I don't know," said Bob. "Why don't you ask Sally?"

    I have no idea why my manuscripts lean towards this preference, or if there's a name for that kind of thing either. It may even be improper. Not sure. Looking forward to reading the responses.

    Yeah, I've wondered about the practice of putting "said" before the name rather than after. Sometimes I feel the impulse to do it, but it feels more noticeable to me, so I usually end up changing it back. I wonder if it's just a convention that we usually now put the name after. I think I see it the other way around in some older novels.

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    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #4 on: December 03, 2020, 01:54:23 pm »
    Yeah, I've wondered about the practice of putting "said" before the name rather than after. Sometimes I feel the impulse to do it, but it feels more noticeable to me, so I usually end up changing it back. I wonder if it's just a convention that we usually now put the name after. I think I see it the other way around in some older novels.

    It seems like accepted practice to me and doubt readers notice, but I can't stand it personally. I never use it. The oddity of it really stands out if you put it at the beginning:

    Said Bob, "This looks totally weird."

    So, for me, it's Bob said beginning, middle, or end.

    I could see a case where a particular name with alliteration or something might read better in the reverse, but I'd probably change the name first. (Historical fiction might be the exception that proves the rule.)
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    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #5 on: December 03, 2020, 02:05:44 pm »
    It seems like accepted practice to me and doubt readers notice, but I can't stand it personally. I never use it. The oddity of it really stands out if you put it at the beginning:

    Said Bob, "This looks totally weird."

    So, for me, it's Bob said beginning, middle, or end.

    I could see a case where a particular name with alliteration or something might read better in the reverse, but I'd probably change the name first. (Historical fiction might be the exception that proves the rule.)

    Yeah, the "Said Bob" at the beginning is especially glaring when I read that back. Ick. Well, I'll probably continue using it sparingly on the "mid" or "end" tags, just to switch things up from time to time, but I'll definitely be more cognizant of it now.


    Offline psnew

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #6 on: December 03, 2020, 02:14:23 pm »
    i.e. "I don't know," said Bob. "Why don't you ask Sally?"

    I see this in books written by British/South African/Australian authors all the time, but rarely in books written by American authors.

    Offline Becca Mills

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #7 on: December 03, 2020, 02:20:09 pm »
    It seems like accepted practice to me and doubt readers notice, but I can't stand it personally. I never use it. The oddity of it really stands out if you put it at the beginning:

    Said Bob, "This looks totally weird."

    So, for me, it's Bob said beginning, middle, or end.

    I could see a case where a particular name with alliteration or something might read better in the reverse, but I'd probably change the name first. (Historical fiction might be the exception that proves the rule.)

    I think putting "said" before the name is, in fact, an older fashion. I grabbed an early twentieth-century novel off the shelf, and sure enough, it's all said Bob, not Bob said.



    But you really could not do that if the tag comes before the dialogue. Quoth the raven, "It would sound affectedly poetical."  ;D

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    Offline Becca Mills

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #8 on: December 03, 2020, 02:22:42 pm »
    I see this in books written by British/South African/Australian authors all the time, but rarely in books written by American authors.

    Ah, maybe that's the difference! Hardy (my example above) was British.

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    Offline psnew

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #9 on: December 03, 2020, 02:33:55 pm »
    Ah, maybe that's the difference! Hardy (my example above) was British.

    Yeah, I think it's just a non-American thing/standard.

    J.K. Rowling does it throughout the Harry Potter series.


    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #10 on: December 03, 2020, 03:43:15 pm »
    British/aussie author here and I always use 'said Bob'.  To me the other way round - 'Bob said' - sounds wrong.  However, as long as the writer is consistent either way works.


    I would never start a sentence with the dialog tag, so Bob said, "x" or Said Bob, "X" are both out as far as I'm concerned.
     

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    Offline Becca Mills

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #11 on: December 03, 2020, 04:14:13 pm »
    British/aussie author here and I always use 'said Bob'.  To me the other way round - 'Bob said' - sounds wrong.  However, as long as the writer is consistent either way works.

    I would never start a sentence with the dialog tag, so Bob said, "x" or Said Bob, "X" are both out as far as I'm concerned.

    Ah, English, with its different norms!

    I occasionally find myself beginning with a dialogue tag in this kind of situation: Bob said "Heads up!" and threw the ball.

    I'm not sure that's really a dialogue tag, though. It seems more that Bob is the subject, said is the verb, and "Heads up!" is the object.

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    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #12 on: December 03, 2020, 05:41:04 pm »
    Trying to think how I'd phrase that, and I'm pretty certain it would be

    Bob threw the ball. "Heads up!"

    or maybe

    "Heads up!" said Bob, and he threw the ball

    or

    "Heads up!" said Bob, throwing the ball.

    and then, reading those, I've realised I'd use this:


    "Heads up!" said Bob, as he threw the ball.



    You have to love English and the variety it affords us.


     

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #13 on: December 03, 2020, 06:56:09 pm »
    You have to love English and the variety it affords us.

    Lol, yes ... it's both wonderful and sort of crazy-making!

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    Offline J. Tanner

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #14 on: December 03, 2020, 07:19:36 pm »
    I would never start a sentence with the dialog tag, so Bob said, "x" or Said Bob, "X" are both out as far as I'm concerned.

    It's super handy if you have characters speaking in an unexpected order, or a long bit of dialog. I get annoyed when I read something in the wrong "voice" and then have to adjust internally. So I prevent such cases when I see the potential of tripping a reader up.
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    Offline Jena H

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #15 on: December 03, 2020, 07:39:51 pm »
    I see this in books written by British/South African/Australian authors all the time, but rarely in books written by American authors.

    Guess I'm rare, then.   ;)  I'm American and I do this (put the tag in the middle) quite often.
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    Offline ShawnaReads

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #16 on: December 03, 2020, 09:36:02 pm »
    I never thought of the placement of said as a UK/US thing. That's interesting. I'm American and usually use 'Bob said', but occasionally I'll switch it up and put 'said' first. Though whenever I can, I try to use (natural-sounding) descriptive tags instead. Like:
    "That's interesting." Bob crossed his arms and leaned against his desk. "Tell me more."
    Though that can be hard to do as much as I'd like, especially in really dialogue-heavy scenes.

    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #17 on: December 03, 2020, 10:37:07 pm »
    I never thought of the placement of said as a UK/US thing. That's interesting. I'm American and usually use 'Bob said', but occasionally I'll switch it up and put 'said' first. Though whenever I can, I try to use (natural-sounding) descriptive tags instead. Like:
    "That's interesting." Bob crossed his arms and leaned against his desk. "Tell me more."
    Though that can be hard to do as much as I'd like, especially in really dialogue-heavy scenes.

    Yes, I prefer tags like that (beats, I think they're called?)

    My problem is overusing some, and trying to find new ones to replace them. There's only so many times someone can glance, snort, gesture impatiently and so on.
     

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    Offline jb1111

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #18 on: December 03, 2020, 11:55:18 pm »
    I never start a sentence with something like Bob said, "I don't know."

    It reminds me too much of what one sees in prose written by beginners, where they're talking at you as opposed to placing you in the middle of the scene. It probably doesn't hit anyone else that way, but strikes me that way, so I avoid it always.

    I know the placing of the tag at the start is acceptable, I just can never bring myself to do it, so I don't.

    Offline Lady Runa

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #19 on: December 04, 2020, 02:10:41 am »
    It's super handy if you have characters speaking in an unexpected order, or a long bit of dialog. I get annoyed when I read something in the wrong "voice" and then have to adjust internally. So I prevent such cases when I see the potential of tripping a reader up.

    Well, although I never actually start a line of dialogue with "said", I do make sure I identify the speaker as soon as humanly possible. For instance, "Wait," Bob said. "Blah blah blah blah blah."
    « Last Edit: December 04, 2020, 02:42:01 am by Lady Runa »

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    Offline Simon Haynes

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #20 on: December 04, 2020, 03:06:28 am »
    Well, although I never actually start a line of dialogue with "said", I do make sure I identify the speaker as soon as humanly possible. For instance, "Wait," Bob said. "Blah blah blah blah blah."

    Agreed. It's also why I get rid of all my extra characters before 2 people then have a conversation... fewer dialogue tags ;-)
     

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #21 on: December 04, 2020, 05:45:33 am »
    When people speak, they often put it first, especially if telling a story, and they use the word "then" with it a lot.

    Bob asked Carol to marry him. Carol said, "Yes." Then Bob said, "Let's tell everyone."

    Offline ShawnaReads

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #22 on: December 04, 2020, 06:40:36 am »
    It's super handy if you have characters speaking in an unexpected order, or a long bit of dialog. I get annoyed when I read something in the wrong "voice" and then have to adjust internally. So I prevent such cases when I see the potential of tripping a reader up.

    Usually when I put the tag at the front, it's to prevent confusion in these kids of cases. I do get annoyed when I read a whole long bit of dialogue before the author decides to tell me who's speaking (and it's not obvious in context), so I definitely agree with you here.

    Offline Corvid

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #23 on: December 04, 2020, 07:02:45 am »
    Bob threw the ball. "Heads up!"

    Interesting. For some reason, I prefer this phrasing. Would it be an example of parataxis? Not sure.


    Offline Ross Harrison

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    Re: Craft question about dialogue tags
    « Reply #24 on: December 04, 2020, 08:16:22 am »
    I'm English, but I always put 'Bob said'. Or almost always - I'll put 'said Bob' if it seems to fit better for some reason, though I can't think of an example of when it would. It fits with 'he/she/they said'.

    Usually when I put the tag at the front, it's to prevent confusion in these kids of cases. I do get annoyed when I read a whole long bit of dialogue before the author decides to tell me who's speaking (and it's not obvious in context), so I definitely agree with you here.

    If I think it's not going to be entirely clear who's speaking and the sentence is longish, I'll think of something the speaker could do before speaking, like 'Bob considered it. "Marzipan is the best food, because blah blah blah..."'


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