Reader Question

In last week’s post Read This If You Want to Be a Better Writer, I talked about Joanna Bourne. who talked about double tagging dialogue, and Shelli asked a good question in the comments.

Are things like double tagging things your editor is suppose to recommend?

I started to reply on that post and realized my answer was running long, so I thought I’d answer it fully here.

It’s a really good question. And it has a short answer and a longer answer.

First answer, I wish!

Longer answer, not really. By the time writers submit to agents and editors, they’re supposed to know how to write. They shouldn’t need hand-holding through the process of editing a book. And what I mean by that is that authors should have the mechanics of writing down, and if they don’t, chances are the agent or editor wouldn’t be offering representation or a contract because teaching a writer how to write isn’t their job, and it’s time consuming.

But I double tagged in Shades of Treason. (I searched through the first third of the book and took most of them out, and will search the last two thirds before it’s published.) I double tagged in the first two chapters of my current WIP. And, I just opened up to a random page in The Shadow Reader, Page 199, and found this:

He gently closes the door. “McKenzie, talk to me.”

I shouldn’t say anything. I should pretend everything is okay, but something in me snaps.

“Talk to you?” I snarl as I turn on him. “Why don’t you talk to me, Kyol? Why don’t you try telling me the truth?”

(Ohmygosh, I love that scene. It hurts so much!)

Better writing would have been, “Talk to you?” I turn on him. “Why don’t you…”

The fact that I found that double tag so quickly means there’s probably a lot in there. There won’t be a lot in my future books. (Look at me becoming a better writer. :-))

Obviously, I’m a double tagger, and yet no one has ever pointed it out to me. I’d still be double tagging if not for Joanna Bourne’s post and realizing, on my own, that I have a problem. So why did no one point out this writing crime?

I have great beta readers, a great agent, and have had a great editor, and I think the reason no one has pointed this out is because I haven’t done it to the extreme. I am certain one of these people would have drawn attention to the double tagging if I did it five times on every page. The double tagging construction isn’t exactly wrong, it’s just not good writing. It’s putting unnecessary words in a story, and every time you can delete unnecessary words, you should. Okay, maybe not every time, because I will admit to leaving one or two double tags in because the writing flowed better than without it, or because, in a few cases, it felt like it fit my character’s voice in that moment, and maybe I was just making excuses for myself, but in every case, double tagging should be looked at.

A very detailed editor who overly focuses on the mechanics of writing might point out double tagging, but my agent (who has done content editing for me) and my editors focus more on story issues. They want to make sure all the plot points make sense, that the secondary characters are well developed, that there aren’t gaping plot holes, etc. As far as mechanics go, they mostly focus on confusing sentences/paragraphs, asking for clarification or rewrites.

A copy editor might catch it. In fact, I think they are the ones more likely to take notice, but I think they also try very hard not to mess with an author’s voice. Since it’s not technically wrong, and if it’s not overly done, I doubt a copy editor would mention it.

So, there’s my long answer.

And it was fun to answer. If anyone has a writing related question, and you care for my thoughts on it, ask away. I won’t be as knowledgeable and profound as Joanna Bourne, but I’m happy to opine. 🙂