Archives for posts with tag: dialogue tags

“How do you do that?” he asked.

“Do what?” she said.

He tipped his head and blinked. It reminded her of her of that scene in Return of the Jedi, when Leia met Wicket. She liked Ewoks. But she really needed to study, not talk to a guy from fiction writing class that just happened to be in the library at the same time.

“That.” He pointed to her laptop’s screen. “How do you punctuate a conversation? In dialogue. I always get confused.”

She sighed. By the second semester of college, one should know how to punctuate dialogue, should they not? “Well,” she said, shifting in her seat. “First rule. Punctuation goes inside.”


“Yup. At the end of whatever you write, punctuation goes inside the quotes.”

He nodded. “Okay.” He scribbled in his notebook. “Got it. Is that just for commas? How about the periods…or question marks…or exclamation points? Our assignment says to use lots of emotion, so, hey, I plan on using everything in the arsenal, you know?” She grinned. She never thought of punctuation as a weapon. But on a lot of levels, he was right.

“It’s all the same,” she said, pointing to different places on her screen. “See?”

He scooched his chair forward and leaned in, nodding. “All punctuation goes inside the quotation marks. Got it.” He wrote in his book again, then leaned over. He felt awfully close.

“So,” he said, “I’m noticing something. You only use said and asked. Isn’t there stuff like yelled and replied …or squealed?”

She tried not to laugh. “Stick with said. Said is invisible. Our brain is used to said, so the word does the job in a way that’s…incognito.” She might as well talk his language. “And if you write squealed, I can guarantee your professor will squeal — at you — and it won’t be pretty!”

They both laughed. It felt good to laugh again.

“One more thing,” he said. As he studied her screen, she noticed how his collar stuck out from under his sweatshirt. Who wore collared shirts under sweatshirts? And was that a Michael Kors watch?

“You’re missing dialogue tags.”

“MIssing tags?”


“No, I’m not.”

“Yes, you are.”

She shook her head. “If you know who’s talking, you don’t need them.”

Okay, that was a Michael Kors watch. Daddy said to avoid anyone wearing anything but a Timex. Momma said Michael Kors was the sign of a good family. And her brother said that anyone who wore a watch in this day and age, when they can look at their phone for the time, isn’t very smart. But her brother also knew — and spewed — every line of every Star Wars movie and wanted to be Han Solo. Hence the bazillion references to Star Wars that infiltrated her mind on a daily basis.

“Look,” she said, “There’s really much more to it, with commas and capitalization and all. But I have to study for a midterm….” She hated to offend him, but it was the truth. Well, mostly. She could take the time. But after overdoing last semester’s social calendar, she needed to stay with her vow to focus on grades. He was really interesting. Obviously new to fiction writing. But nice. The kind of guy you’d go to coffee with.

“Right. I’m sorry. I’m taking your time.” He closed the notebook and moved his chair back. He paused. “But since you took the time to answer my questions, if you’re free tomorrow, can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

She smiled. Who could say no to coffee?

* Thup
(time for a second cup)

You may have noticed.
Sometimes. Okay, many times.
I like to mess with punctuation
(among other things).

Now, before you look at me cross-eyed,
Keep reading
to the end.

I’ve been wielding the red pen
for over 20 years
with college writing courses on down.
Yes, I’ve written the book (literally)
and designed a buncha courses
on how to “do it right.”

So, yes, I know about these things.

But sometimes, it’s better to break the rules.
For appropriate audiences, that is.
(that’s you)

For effect.
For power.

Don’t get me wrong.

Here at *Thup,
Certain Rules have to stay.

I mean. You know.
Like not using colloquialisms.

And writing in complete sentences.
And putting Capital Letters in the right places.
And spelling thingz right. Becuz we have dicshonaries, you know.
And not. overusing. techniques. for. emphasis.

Fiction writer.
Think of your WIP.
Changing things up can be powerful.

Difference gives the fiction reader
and a sense of emotion.

(Short equals Powerful.
Much stronger than long sentences.)

Think of your draft.
Changing things up can be powerful.

Difference makes dialogue distinct.
(Distinct dialogue = stronger characterization.
Memorable characters your audience wants to follow.)

Think of your first scribblings.
Changing things up is what you’re all about.
(I’m jealous.)

You have the most freedom.
Of. All.
(Freedom = enjoying language play.
A bigger sandbox means endless possibility.
funn. coolness.)


If you’re writing in academics
(especially in a class I designed)
ignore this post.
Stick. to. the. rules.

But if you’re a creative
(and I bet so, if you’re reading this to the end),
then lift your cup
and *Thup with me
across the miles
as we bend
and break
the rules



Sometimes it’s what’s not said
that counts the most.

For example (the cliche) —
if you say, “I love you,” to someone
and they don’t respond…
we all know.
That’s not good.

Or if you say, “What’s up?”
and you’re met with total silence.
(something’s up)

Or if you say, “What do you think?”
and they don’t move or breathe and lick their lips
and look down…
(believe me, they’re thinking something…
and, most likely, you don’t want to hear it)

Or if you say, “Don’t you agree?”
and they don’t respond.
and. don’t. respond.
and. don’t. respond.
(entire fields of crickets are chirping)

Silence is more powerful than any words.
More devastating.
More piercing to the heart.
More gut-wrenching to your character.

We know this, from life.

Sometimes, few words
make the worst case scenario
pound with intensity.

(The stuff between the lines
makes the story powerful.)

* Thup


Since the beginning of time (it seems),
we’ve been told by every writing guru on the planet:
show, don’t tell.

Your character’s angry.
What does she do?
Slam her hand down onto the table?
Thrust her arms into the air?
Kick something?

(By the way, when confronted or questioned
no character e.v.e.r. says, “I’m so angry!”
We 3-D, flesh-n-blood people don’t admit anger. Uh-uh.
If anything, we deny it and say,
“I’m not angry.”)

Is showing anger really about
large physical movement?
I don’t think so.
(Watch someone who’s angry.)

Usually, those large physical responses —
hand slams, arm thrusts, kicks —
don’t come first. Oh, no.

It’s the silence. It’s the breathing.
It’s not looking at your eyes and getting busy
and those micro-movements like thin lips and staring eyes
(and snide comments)
that show anger.


Another one.
Your character’s sad.
What does he do?
Cry? Sob?

(By the way, when confronted or questioned,
no character e.v.e.r. says, “I’m feeling sad.”
We 3-D flesh-n-blood people don’t admit that we’re sad. Uh-uh.
If anything, we deny it and say,
“I’m okay.”)

Is sadness really about tears?
I don’t think so.
(Watch someone who’s sad.)

Usually, crying doesn’t happen right away.
Oh, no.

Sadness is about staring into space.
It’s holding your breath.
Then it’s breaths that make your chest rise and fall and rise and fall —
and those micro-movements like biting the inside of your cheek
or blinking eyes that look down
(and not being able to speak at all)
that show sadness.

Do you see the pattern here?
(I sure do.)

When we show emotion, it would be prudent to
back up a bit.
Maybe it’s not just show emotions.
Maybe it’s show emotions honestly.
From the beginning.

(Start the emotion in the right place.)

* Thup

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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