Dialog Tags

For some reason that I cannot figure out myself, many of the writers for whom I have edited have had trouble with dialog tags and formatting. I guess it’s that I just ‘know’ how to do it so I don’t understand the confusion, but dialog is frequently done incorrectly in the manuscripts I see.

The biggest problem I have with dialog in fiction writing I edit is that many writers do not know that each change of speaker requires a new paragraph.

For example, you cannot write:

“Joe, do you want a piece of cake?” Mary asked him. “Yes, Mary, I’d love some cake. Thanks.” “No problem, Joe. I’ll get you a slice.”

The proper way of doing this would be:

“Joe, do you want a piece of cake?” Mary asked him.
“Yes, Mary, I’d love some cake. Thanks.”
“No problem, Joe. I’ll get you a slice.”

If your text is indented (which is standard for fiction), then there is no need for double spacing after each speaker, just be sure to start a new paragraph. If your writing is not indented, that is, blocked text (more common for non-fiction, but not necessary), then a double space is required after each speaker change.

Yes, I am aware that this may take up a lot of space on the page, and I’m aware this will increase the page count of your book, but that’s the breaks. You cannot sacrifice proper dialog for page count – you just can’t.

Truth be known, you probably need to check your dialog anyway. If you have your characters telling your story for you in dialog, it’s going to get pretty boring, pretty fast. YOU tell the story and the characters enhance it with their dialog. The story will become jilted, boring, mundane and unrealistic if you have your characters tell your story.

Classic examples of a situation where a character is telling the story instead of the author – think about adventure stories with a villain in which the bad guy basically uses a monologue at the end to ‘recap’ the story and reveal all his secrets to the good guy right before the good guy makes his break and wins, in the face of certain defeat (rolling my eyes). The monologue from the villain is a case of the character telling the story for the author.

I’ll talk more about dialog tomorrow when I discuss tagging issues, such as how to properly punctuate dialog.

In fact, I might rant a bit about the use of the spelling ‘dialog’ vs. ‘dialogue’ – it is just me, or does dialog just look wrong?

Until tomorrow!

Love and stuff,

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