If Walls Could Talk: Said Tags

M.H. Norris

Often times, when reading newer authors’ writing, I find one common problem. Their dialogue is accompanied by a said tag.

What are said tags? Why are they so bad?

“Said tags are when you leave a character’s name and ‘said’ at the end of dialogue,” Mary Helen said.

As I said above, tags are when they are put after dialogue, before dialogue, or in the middle to break it up.

Don’t think you can get away with responded, whispered, acknowledged, pointed out, asked, requested, sighed (though occasionally I’m guilty of that one, to James’ chagrin) or things like that just because they aren’t “said.” They’re worse. No matter what you tell yourself, they’re worse. No matter what author uses them, they’re worse.

Delete them all now and your book will be stronger for it.

This is a common problems writers face. It can be done. In fact, every so often, you need said tags or one of their friends to help you in a scene with multiple characters.

But that doesn’t excuse you from going “he said” “she said” every other piece of dialogue. I have read articles that argue against substitute tags and say that “said” will suffice, and while they might have a point, I don’t think any of them are necessary.

After all, instead of using a said tag, you can use that space to do one of several things.

Description

What’s going on in the scene? What is your character observing? Use the five senses and take time to paint us a picture.

Also, keep in mind that both of these will help you build up that word count (something to keep in mind in a few months when NaNoWriMo comes around again).

Not only that, but these things can help you build-up your story and create the world your characters inhabit.

Like I said earlier, go back through your latest piece and circle every time you used the word “said.” Then go and see if you substituted it for something “creative.” Then go and see if you can add an insight from the POV character or some description in its place (hint: you can). Make that change.

Doing that, you’ll find your story is much stronger.

Here, let me give you an example. I got permission to use this piece.

“We have been watching you.” The man suddenly said ending the stare down.

“No kidding” Harry said with sarcasm in his voice. It hadn’t been hard for him to spot them.

“You are very observant, but I don’t think you were seeing us with your eyes. (2)” The man responded.

“How else could I see you?” Harry responded curiously.

“That is one of many things we have to teach you.”

There are several things wrong, here. Let’s focus on the said tags.  Instead of giving us a picture of the person—said is used as a crutch. Even with description, we see the said tag used here.

We see the two main problems with said tags. First, it tells us rather than shows. We’re told something is said “suddenly,” we’re told Harry is sarcastic, we’re told Harry is either curious or he spoke oddly (context is unclear). It’s already clear from the context that Harry is sarcastic, and being told he’s speaking “curiously” doesn’t add anything. A sudden burst of speech could be indicated by leaving the preceding paragraph off, unfinished, with a dash.

Second, the telling doesn’t advance character, story, or setting. We don’t learn anything about the characters. We don’t know anything more about the story. We don’t know where they are, or how the characters are placed in the world. It gives the excerpt an empty, displaced quality.

Additionally, I feel like said tags and substitute tags bog down your story, giving them weight they don’t need. The excerpt would be much quicker, and easier to read without the tags.

Let’s take a look at one of my older pieces and see the difference.

“What will help is to know where Zack and Aaron were taken.” Angie looked at the plans. “There’s two stories above ground and three below. That’s a lot of ground.”

“Which is why we had a team of 40 people make their way through it. Divide that building into half two teams of 20 four to each half of each floor. Supposed to be a quick in and out.”

Angie looked up to see Nathan Adams standing in the doorway of the room, hands in his pockets and a rifle strapped across his back.

He brought his hand to his head and grabbed the earpiece in his ear, slipping it into his pocket before walking over to the group. Turning the chair across from Angie around, he sat down and held out his hand. “So you’re the new girl that crashed the party. Nathan Adams.”

“Angie Thompson.” She shook his hand. “And you’re the one who has managed to lie to the world.”

“That’s one way to word it.”

“How do you word it to sleep at night?”

“Not telling the whole truth.”

While the dialogue helped to set the mood the lack of said tags helped the flow a bit more. The closest I came was perhaps mentioning them shaking their hands, something to break up that dialogue, but even then it helps to move along the story.

Never put anything in your story that doesn’t help it move along. That’s a lesson I’m still learning myself.

Do not use said tags after every piece of dialogue.

From now on, if you do, you will get the mental picture of me giving you the death glare.

If Walls Could Talk: Suffering Through Synopses

M.H. Norris

Most people know that, as a writer, I tend to be rather spontaneous. At the same time, I like to have a plan when I’m being spontaneous.

Sounds like I’m contradicting myself? Well, perhaps I am.

I’m working on an entry for a contest and, as part of the entry, I have to have a synopsis. This isn’t my first time dealing with synopses, in fact I’ve done several. But over time it doesn’t seem to get any easier. In fact, my inner writer seems to rebel at the idea.

Why should I have to know, before I even begin to write, every single thing that’s going to happen?

I change my mind all the time.

Potentially, you can change your story from what you submit. I always worry, since the publisher accepted that idea—but changing the story might change that.

I hate synopses. I feel like they limit me as a writer. I know, I know that there are people who swear by them, and cannot begin a project without either that or an outline (or both). But me? I love the idea of going in with an idea and no outline and being surprised at what happens. And hopefully, my readers will be surprised alongside me.

That’s not to say I have no idea what I’m doing when I start a story. Remember the contradicting thoughts? I like to have a vague idea of where I’m going, but I don’t necessarily want a map to tell me how to get there.

But for the sake of being practical and because James likes for me to include advice here, let’s talk synopses for a bit.

Synopsis are not query letters

When you first venture into the world of writing you quickly discover that we have a language of our own. Terms like query letter, synopsis, CV, credits, and bios quickly become apparent.

And often, when you’re submitting a short story for an anthology, you find they want a synopsis, a query letter, and/or a sample of your work.

In a query letter you often out a summary in but it is nowhere near as comprehensive as a synopsis.

A synopsis helps publishers see your passion

I have to give it to synopses. They are useful for seeing if someone thought an idea through. You’ll know going in that the problem is indeed solvable.

I’ve had some trouble with figuring out where to go with a story and I have to grudgingly admit that maybe with a synopsis I wouldn’t have been stuck. That doesn’t mean I like them though…

But if you are passionate and creative with your synopsis, publishers are going to notice. Don’t write something you’re not interested in for the sake of a publishing credit—it’s not worth it.

Know you can change it

Publishers, generally, are buying the idea—not the general execution. You have room to expand and play.

The synopsis is a chance for you to sell your story and as a result it should not be taken lightly. Take your time, put in the effort, and give your story its best chance.

Synopses have their place in the writing world. And speaking of, I need to get back to mine…

The Horror Crossovers Encyclopedia: Star Trek: Assignment: Eternity

Join us each week as we share a new excerpt from Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s book, The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia, now available in print and digital editions!

ASSIGNMENT: ETERNITY (NOVEL BY GREG COX)

Assignment Eternity

Release Date: 1998 (Setting is 2269 A.D.)

Series: Star Trek

Horror Crosses: Kolchak the Night Stalker

Non-Horror Crosses: The Avengers (television); The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. The Questor Tapes; Mission Impossible; James Bond; The Prisoner; The Andromeda Strain

The Story: Gary Seven and his partner Roberta Lincoln travel from the year 1969 to the 23rd century and once more encounter the crew of the Enterprise, commanded by Captain James T. Kirk.

Notes: This novel is a sequel to the Star Trek episode Assignment Earth, which introduced Gary Seven in what was meant to be a pilot for his own series. Gary and his assistant mention having knowledge of the people or events from all of the above listed crosses.

If you’re dying for more, you can find The Horror Crossover Encyclopedia on Amazon, and more of Robert E. Wronski Jr.’s work on The Television Crossover Universe. You can listen to Robert’s crossover podcast right here.