Tuesday, July 10, 2012


On the subject of tags. No not the kind that the boys used to poke out of their shirts so girls would reach behind and tuck them back in. I’m talking about a different kind of tag. The kind of tag that tells you who is speaking. There’s a rule. It’s unofficial. I’ve never seen a place where these rules are written down – unless you count the several dozen books on writing I’ve digested over the last five years.

Here’s what I hear from agents/writers/editors and the like: stick with said/answered/asked. (Although, in my opinion – which counts for like, nothing - the asked is redundant if there’s a question mark.)

Apparently, the reader’s mind doesn’t actually read those words. They skim the meaning by the shape of the letters. So they register the character’s name by the first letter of their name and completely skip the said/answered/asked. If you add more, it interrupts the reader’s flow.

For example: “I hate peanut brittle,” John drawled. “It always sticks to my teeth.

Vs.: “I hate peanut brittle,” said John. “It always sticks to my teeth.”

Even better: “I hate peanut brittle,” John said as he chewed the candy like a cow working its cud. (Can you tell why? There’s a little more show in this one and a little less tell. I don’t tell you it sticks to John’s teeth; I show you by the way he chews.)

Let me just do one more example.
“Do you like peanut brittle?” Sarah asked.

Isn’t it obvious she asked by the fact that there is a question mark? So I find asked a little redundant. (But that might be the proofreader on the one side of my brain who likes to poke things with a sharp stick.)

You might try to fix it like this:
“Do you like peanut brittle?” Sarah asked with a shy smile.

Little better, but try this.

“Do you like peanut brittle?” Sarah’s soft, round eyes were wells of hope. Caught in their depth, John found himself reaching for the largest piece.

So, stick to the basics. Said/Answered/Asked and if you can get away with it – get rid of asked. 

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