Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Reader's Guide to Author's Jargon 13

Tags - you're IT

dialog tag or active dialog tag - the he said/she said dialog tag - when the noun or pronoun is the the subject of the clause. Nelson said. Mary said. He said/she said. It is the most commonly used and acceptable dialog tag.

passive dialog tag - when the noun or pronoun is the object in the clause. Said Nelson. Said Mary. Said he, said she. Most common in Youth books - less so in mainstream fiction, although not uncommon in older 19th Century works. Because it is used in YA genres (Harry Potter comes to mind), some traditional acquisition editors will reject adult works that are passively tagged.

unvoiced dialog tag - commonly, this is the word said, which, although written, falls into white noise and is unvoiced by the reader. Writers are cautioned when using any other word to replace it.

voiced dialog tag - any verb in a tag that expresses a sound or verbiage - he stammered, she yelped, Mary chuckled. Misaligned tags in this category are such things as He smirked or she careened - physical attributes beyond verbalization.

inferred dialog tag - the omission of a dialog tag (unwritten as well as unvoiced), because the reader can infer who is speaking by tonality, dual participation or content.

revoiced dialog tag - the omission of dialog tags to the exclusion of all other text types, so that their omission is noticed by the reader. It intensifies the dialog, makes it claustrophobic and, when done well, has a powerful emotional effect.

adverbial dialog tag (the modified tag) - a dialog tag that includes a tonal adverb. He said quickly. Mary said, sweetly. Nelson said, sourly. These are sometimes necessary, but point to an author's lack of character and mood development, relying on adjectival adverbs. Some mentors call it lazy writing.

Swifties (a derisive name for a special breed of adverbial dialog tags) - Derived from the Tom Swift novels, a long standing joke whereby the adverb is created to underscore the action or environment. "I'm riding as hard as I can," he said from the saddle callously. "I'm on fire," Mary said alarmingly. etc. etc. In fact, there's a game that authors play called Swifties to see who can make up the most ridiculous one. In every one of my novels (as an Easter Egg, and to annoy my editor), I include at least one Swifty. Some day I might run a contest for readers to find them.

Well, I'm all tagged out.

Edward C. Patterson

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