I’m not directly imparting wisdom here. Instead, I’m pointing you to Joanna Bourne’s blog.
Joanna Bourne might be my favorite historical romance author. She’s at the very least in the top three, and every time I read one of her books, I learn something new. Her descriptions of characters’ appearances, their actions and mannerisms, are all unique and beautiful and profound. Not only that, but she tells a damn good story, mashing together a good romance with a plot full of action and suspense. I love her books. Whether you’re an author or a reader, go read them now. Then come back and tell me which one is your favorite. I bet you can’t choose. They’re all excellent.
But the reason I’m pointing writers specifically to her blog today is because she has a post on tagging dialogue. Or dialogue cues, if you prefer. I know the technical aspects of how to do this. I know where to put the commas and periods and quotations and all the fun punctuation marks. I know not to use adverbs or have a character laugh the dialogue or to put in some fancy word when a “he said” will do just fine. I know all of this, and yet, when I read through her tagging post, I realized that there were some things I could do more of if I just remember them while writing or revising.
And I learned something I can do less of, as well, and it’s going to make my books stronger.
I am apparently bad at item #10 on her list:
10) Do not double-tag. If an action or other method tags the dialog, don’t add ‘he said’. You will eliminate many ‘he saids’ from the manuscript by following this simple rule. Over a lifetime you will eliminate a small mountain of them.
….. NOT “You watch the door,” he said loading the second musket.
….. BUT “You watch the door.” He loaded the second musket.
Because I had this gut feeling when I read through that point, I went to my current WIP and did a search for “said”. I had double tagging all over the place. In just one chapter, I deleted at least six double-tags. Why did I put them on the page to begin with? I know less words often equals more impact. Did the double tag just sound better to my ears at the time? Perhaps. It definitely doesn’t sound good to my ears now.
So, I’m adding a search for “said” to my edit list.
Hmm. I should probably have an edit list, shouldn’t I? Things that I look for after the book is done? I have an informal one in my head. I search for “smile” and “grin” and “glance” and “look”. I overuse those words.
I overuse a lot of words. Lazy writer, that is me. But I’m working on it. I learn new things with each book. One of these days, my books will be awesomer. 🙂
But do go check out Joanna’s blog. You can click on the Technical Topics tag to absorb more of her wisdom. Or you can click on her books and buy them. I recommend doing both.