Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Quote tag verbing

I'm not one of those who hates quote tags or restricts them to "he said." I like verbs that tell what the quote IS: asked, remarked, commented, observed, shouted, whispered-- verbs that are "say" words (that is, they specifically refer to speech) but are giving the extra info you might get if you were there and could see the facial expression and hear the tone. I also have no problem with adverbs that modify (she said softly) or contradict (he yelled lovingly) the quote verb, as long as it works and isn't redundant (not so fond of "he murmured softly," though I'm sure I've written that :).

So I'm hardly a puritan when it comes to quote tags. But of course, I do draw the line. Now I want you all to think about what you find acceptable and what you find objectionable as a tag for dialogue. (Assume that, for purposes of rhythm and/or speaker identification, you need a quote tag, and an action tag might be too much, distracting from the speech, etc.)

So here are some tag verbs I've seen recently, and maybe you can pick out the ones that annoy you and the ones that don't, and if you have a rationale, let us know. :) Now before or after these is a line of speech, like:
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said.
That is, these are TAGS. They are to be connected (like she said above) with a comma before or after the speech. They are not sentences on their own. Okay? And the speech line presumably has something to do with the chosen tag, like "You can't divide by zero," he instructed.

he growled
she smiled
she laughed
he grunted
she hissed
she whispered
he ground out
he grated (what is it with "gr" words? Reminds me of the Crazy English guy who pointed out that most English words that begin with "sn" have to do with the nose)
she attempted
she blurted
he added
he teased
he taunted
she explained
he instructed
he snorted
she sneered
he exclaimed
she lectured
she interrogated
he insisted
he rasped
she muttered

Thoughts? Other tags you like or hate?


Laura K. Curtis said...

I generally prefer "said," but I don't object to verbs. The ones I don't like at all from the list are:

"she interrogated"--I don't know whether interrogated has to be transitive, but it sure sounds better to me when it is. As such, I can't see using it as a tag. I'd only use it in a full sentence--she interrogated him for hours.

"she attempted"--why are there words if someone's just attempting? I need more than that.

"sme smiled"--that's not a verb I associate with speech, so it sounds very odd to me. It should be its own sentence, not a tag. Smiling makes no sound. Sneering doesn't have to, either, but it seems to me that it *can,* so I don't mind "he sneered."

Maree Anderson said...

I've always been a bit startled by this particular tag: "Hi there," she greeted.

Maybe it's just my non-American origins...

Ian said...

@Maree That seems really redundant to me. "Hi there" is already a greeting. It's like saying "I say," I said, or "Watch out!" he warned.

I like dialogue tags, but it's easy to overdo it and make the tag redundant due to the nature of the dialogue.

Word verification: SHLEDS, which suggests somebody's been drinking around the toboggans again...

Anonymous said...

Ah tags. I have no objections to any tag that has to do with making a sound related to speech like growled, grunted, hissed, whispered, etc. Though some of them I think can be implied through description of facial features, getsures, etc., to avoid "telling" the reader what you could be "showing."

The ones that made me pause are the one I don't equate to speech. She smiled. She laughed. She attempted. The interrogated one I've never seen before and didn't like either.

I didn't mind "he instructed" under a certain set of criteria, that being that he's actually instructing. LOL. "Put this over there," he instructed, "then leave this in the garage." I can see that.

I'm not a 'said' purist and while I don't mind the occassional adverb added to a tag when it helps with the flow of the writing, I see it a lot when the writer could easily find a strong, concrete verb that sounds way better.

Anonymous said...

she smiled - you can't smile dialogue
she laughed - you can't laugh dialogue (kind of hard to do!)
he snorted - you can't snort dialogue. You can snort before dialogue or after dialogue, but not snort the words out.
Attempted - doesn't make sense as a dialogue tag

teased, taunted, explained, instructed, exclaimed, lectured - shouldn't these all be unnecessary because it should be obvious in the dialogue that's what's happening.

Personal pet peeve: he ejaculated. I saw this one in a children's book no less!

I don't mind dialogue tags as long as they fit in naturally with the flow of the story. I do a lot of crits, and I'll see writing where it's obvious the author is making every effort not to use the same one twice. The worst offense of this is that they're spending a great deal of time collecting the tags--some actually go to message boards with lengthy lists of a hundred and ask for more! Problem is that while they're doing all this collecting, they're not writing.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the use of tags when the manner in which something is said isn't obvious from the dialogue itself. As Ian wrote, "Hi there!" is pretty self-explanatory as a greeting, but it could also be used under other circumstances (perhaps to wake up someone who's fallen asleep at a family meeting?) in which case a tag such as teased or taunted might be appropriate & not immediately obvious.

As for the use of smiled, I tend not to connect it to the dialogue but to consider it an action taking place before or after the dialogue.

Anonymous said...

He hissed.

This one stops me every time. I always go back to the dialogue and see if there are any 's's. You can't hiss if there are no 's' words!

Thanks for the chance to get that off my chest.

WandaV in AL

PatriciaW said...

As a reader, I don't like "smiled", "laughed", "ground out", "sneered" or anything else that suggests the mouth is doing something other than talking.

I think the ones that give another layer to the dialogue that wouldn't otherwise be apparent, like "whispered" would be okay. NOT words like "ranted", "explained", "interrogated", etc. The dialogue in context should give me a sense of this.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I can't stand the ones that are obvious. ..." he interrogated. Well, duh. The dialogue showed that. Why tell again?

I caught myself doing it in an outtake I posted earlier in the week (and promptly groaned because, of course, I didn't see it until I was reading the post over, post-publication). But... I've never apologized for my outtakes being first draft-ish. If I revise that one for anything, believe me, Scott's arguing will be shown, not told.

And that's the crux of it. Does the dialogue SHOW what you're TELLING? Then shut up and stop telling -- or so I remind myself. If I'm pointing it out to you, I'll be much nicer. (This seems redundant to me because the dialogue makes it obvious this is an interrogation. Maybe use said or another generic word?)

Edittorrent said...

GR== most "GR" verbs have to do with the mouth! Interesting. I kind of get the SN words having to do with the nose, as most of those words come from the Scandinavian languages, and runny noses are probably common up there. But why "gr= mouth?"


green_knight said...

I think you can have a hissy tone of voice without an abundance of 'sssssss' so I don't object to/use "Get out of here. Now," he hissed. For me 'hissing' conveys a low, somewhat forced tone of voice and a certain urgency, not an overabundance of sibilants.

Personally, I find 'said' very intrusive when it appears frequently - it jumps out at me and annoys me, mostly because it's the unmarked state anyway. We use speech tags to indicate that a line of text is spoken, rather than narrated, and 'he/she said' is the most neutral way of talking aobut speech - so a lot of the time, it feels redudant.

"Remember where we are."


"Remember where we are," she said.

have identical information content other than that the second tells us who is speaking.

Add more information, and things improve a little.

"Remember where we are," she said gravely.

"Remember where we are," she hissed.

"Remember where we are," she said, with laughter in her voice.

(Doesn't that sound like three different places/situations?)

My prefence is, where I can, to tie speech with action.

"Remember where we are." She tapped her toe lightly.
He stared. "Your boots. There's no mud on your boots."

Edittorrent said...

I prefer beats to tags, too. They're cleaner.