Monday, May 18, 2015

He Said She Said What? #Editing #AmWriting

One of the most common mistakes I see with inexperienced writers is the overuse or misuse of tag lines. If a writer wants to scream "amateur," this is the best way to do it. Well, this combined with the overuse of proper nouns, but we'll cover that next time.

Tag lines are the "he said or he asked or he yelled" words following dialogue. Beginning writers often believe they need to add these to every sentence containing speech, which isn't true. In fact, too many tag lines invariably slow down pace and can create confusion when used too frequently.

Also, inappropriate tag lines that are actually actions scream "newbie" to any editor. For example, "I loved the party," he smiled. A smile cannot speak. He may have smiled after he said the words. "I loved the party." He smiled. Do you see the difference punctuation makes? In the first example, the comma makes the words 'he smiled' a tag line. In the second example, smiling is an action rather than a form of speech.

What difference does it make? A lot. Writing craft is important and needs to be embraced by all authors. No matter what demographic you're writing for, people know how to 'read' a certain way that's been taught to them from day one. It's unconscious on the reader's level, which is why authors need to make damn sure they are fully conscious about mastering writing craft.

Tag lines at the end of paragraphs where dialogue follows nonverbal actions also serve to deflate the impact of the words by creating "buried dialogue." For example: Nick crawled beneath the car to double-check that the bomb had been placed correctly. He didn't want anything to go wrong, not with this assassination. "Karma is most definitely a bitch," he whispered before smiling. Do you see how the words are lost? Any tag line at the end of paragraph where the dialogue is connected to nonverbal actions of the character creates buried words that are stripped of their power. Now look at this example: Nick crawled beneath the car to double-check that the bomb had been placed correctly. He didn't want anything got go wrong, not with this assassination. He smiled before whispering, "Karma is most definitely a bitch."

In regards to pace, using tag lines after each piece of dialogue will not only slow things down but will also inevitably irritate the reader. Once POV has been established and the characters are interacting, too many tag lines detract from the story. Below are examples of this:

           (the wrong way) 
"You know what would happen," he said. He grabbed her wrists and made her stop touching him. "What are you really asking me, Jess?" he asked. 
"I want..." she said.
"What do you want?" he asked.
"Us," she answered. 
 “No," he said.  
“Yes," she said.
“You're ashamed of me, of what we were to one another. Didn’t you say that last week? Yes, you said you don’t talk about Italy to anyone here.” He knew it was the truth when her eyes darted away from him. “You don’t want anyone here to know about our affair. You don’t want your lover to get upset—”
“You have the wrong idea about Marc. He—”
“Stop lying. Is it even possible for you to stop?” he asked. He pressed his thigh between hers, pushing her tighter against the bark of the tree. “You two are lovers. Deny it.”

She dropped her head against tree trunk and stared at him. “It’s complicated," she said.
“Of course it is. Nothing with you is simple. Come back to my hotel with me. Right now. Intervene," he said. 

"You think I won't, but I will," she said. Her lips trembled, eyes searched his. 

(the right way)
"You know what would happen." He grabbed her wrists and made her stop touching him. "What are you really asking me, Jess?"
"I want..." 
"What do you want?"
"Us."
 “No.” 
“Yes.”
“You're ashamed of me, of what we were to one another. Didn’t you say that last week? Yes, you said you don’t talk about Italy to anyone here.” He knew it was the truth when her eyes darted away from him. “You don’t want anyone here to know about our affair. You don’t want your lover to get upset—”
“You have the wrong idea about Marc. He—”
“Stop lying. Is it even possible for you to stop?” He pressed his thigh between hers, pushing her tighter against the bark of the tree. “You two are lovers. Deny it.”

She dropped her head against tree trunk and stared at him. “It’s complicated.”
“Of course it is. Nothing with you is simple. Come back to my hotel with me. Right now. Intervene.”
"You think I won't, but I will." Her lips trembled, eyes searched his. 

Do you see the difference? More importantly, do you hear it? The last example--the one that is published--is much more powerful. The tension is tangible. In the 'wrong example' the tag lines serve as a wet blanket on the scene--and they are completely unnecessary. 

Of course tag lines are needed--but sparingly. I am by no means suggested they are eliminated from a manuscript, but think of them as weeds in the garden of your story and cut accordingly. If the author has been successful at establishing point of view and has created a story that has drawn the readers in, then give your audience credit for being smart. Use the 'saids, asked, demanded, answered' sparingly to highlight rather than impede dialogue and pace. 

Write on!
Amber Lea Easton,



Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com