Yelling, Wailing, and Other Issues with Tone #amwriting #atozchallenge

During this A to Z challenge, we’ve touched on all sorts of topics, from reading to blogging to how to deal with humor in your story.

But we haven’t talked that much about dialogue and the various tones involved: yelling, whispering, crying, wailing, etc.

IMG_9482 by aophotos

We often rely on dialogue tags to convey this information, using “she  complained” or “he whined” to convey the tone and attitude behind the words. But is this really necessary?

“You might have called.” He kept his place by the door, one hand hovering about the deadbolt.

“Called? You? After what happened?” She turned her back to him and walked across the room.

“Please…”

She stopped.

“Never mind.” He slammed the door closed.

There are no dialogue tags in this conversation, yet I think the tone is still detectable through the words and body language. But, for argument’s sake, let’s see if the dialogue tags actually add anything.

“You might have called,” he stated. He kept his place by the door, one hand hovering about the deadbolt.

“Called? You? After what happened?” she retorted. She turned her back to him and walked across the room.

“Please…” he cajoled.

She stopped.

“Never mind,” he snarled. He slammed the door closed.

If anything, I think the dialogue tags just add clutter and rob the actions of their job–showing what a person is feeling through body language and movement. If you’ve set up a scene effectively, know your characters, and can personally tell how they are saying a line, then all you have to do is let them say it.

You just have to trust your reader to interpret what you’ve written, without the “shouted,” “exclaimed,” “spat,” “growled,” “or “begged.” Highly descriptive dialogue tags are a form of telling, and if the reader can’t figure the tone from the words, characters, and action, then maybe you need to focus on sharpening what they say and what they do, instead of relying on “he said emphatically” to bail you out after the line. 🙂

What do you think? Did the sample scene need the dialogue tags? Did they help or hinder the reading experience?

Copyright 2016 Andrea Lundgren

Photo byaophotos, Creative Commons

4 thoughts on “Yelling, Wailing, and Other Issues with Tone #amwriting #atozchallenge

  1. I’m in complete agreement! Most dialogue tags seem unnecessary. And sometimes, when I read a dialogue tag, it changes the way my mind read the original bit of dialogue and I actually find myself going back to read it the way the tag indicates, which is distracting.

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  2. Since I’ve read so many older books my entire life, I don’t have any issue with dialogue tags, though they should be used in moderation, when it’s appropriate to conveying what you want to convey. The particularly bad example regarding this is the Five Little Peppers series, where the characters (esp. in the first book) scream, cry, shout, shriek, cry, wail, etc., at the drop of a hat.

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    1. It’s funny, because some of the older books don’t have that many dialogue tags, and if you lose track of whose turn it is to talk, you end up wondering who’s talking. Dumas was particularly bad at this, where you can have pages and pages of dialogue and no dialogue tags–no action–nothing to tell you who’s talking. 🙂

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