Character words: “Say what?”

When writing my first draft,
I often make the same mistakes.

One of the mistakes that I can’t seem
to catch the first time around is
the tone of my character’s delivery.

We all know that dialogue tags deliver a ton of info,
including tone, style, and the
pace of your character’s words.

Tags have to be placed well,
to make sure that the reader’s tracking,
or the reader will get peeved.
(Timing is everything.)

Take tone, for instance.

If I write the “how it was delivered part”
after the reader has already “heard” the line
in his or her head, then the reader will do a double-take…
and maybe even get ticked at me,
for changing up what was in her head.

I know you’ve been there. You’ve felt the same pain.
(Because it takes you out of the flow of the story.)

In our dialogue,
we simply can’t change the character’s voice
after the reader has already read the lines.
(Readers don’t like it.)

Here’s what I mean:

“So, did I miss anything?” Sal whispered.
As a reader, I’ve already read the line
as if Sal spoke in a normal voice.

In my head I didn’t hear him whisper
until after I read the words.

Oh, phooey.

I, the reader, have to go back and read the line again…
or at least make a mental change, before I move on.
I’m now out of the flow of the story.
(Bad. Very bad.)

Dialogue tag order is as important as the info.

I admit it: When I read, I’m super critical.
I can be forgiving, to a point.

But if the author keeps messing with the order,
I put the book down.

In my head, I’m saying to the author
(if it’s even for a split second),
“Hey, dude (or dudette) —
I want to know that he’s whispering earlier on.
Quit mixing up the order in the dialogue tag.”

Order is an easy fix, though.

Here’s our too-late-tone example again:
“So, did I miss anything?” Sal whispered.

And here’s a fix:

He leaned into her ear. “So…” whispered Sal.
“Did I miss anything?”

Now the dialogue flows.
And while I read,
I heard the words in the right tone, in my head.
Because of order.

Here’s another one:
“The answer was staring us in the face. We just missed it.”
Her voice was cold and measured.

Same thing. Cold and measured.

Shoot. I didn’t get that.
I already read the line as normal voice, in my head.
Not cold and measured.

Here’s a fix:
She didn’t mean to, but her words came out measured and cold.
“The answer was staring us in the face,” she said.
“We just missed it.”

Or here’s another possible fix:
“The answer was staring us in the face,” she said,
her voice cold and measured. “We just missed it.”

(There are many right ways to write.)

So. Tone. Help your reader out.
(Keep him or her in the story.)
Put tone first.

Oh. And readers won’t thank you
because they won’t notice.

They’ll be oblivious and read on
smoothly, as if nothing happened.

* Thup.
waterstreet pumpkin

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