Thursday, January 31, 2008

Terrible Tags

There are some dialogue tags that don't work in certain situations, and some that should never be used. Some publishers (like us) now accept action verbs as dialogue tags in commercial fiction--but don't get silly with them.

1. "I'm going to come!" he ejaculated as he thrust to her core. (The only ejaculating in a sex scene should be--well, it shouldn't be spoken.)

2. "I'll get you," he hissed evilly. (You can't hiss something with no sibilants.)

3. "I could go to the store," she enumerated. (Enumerating means to count something or make a list. One item doesn't count.)

4. "I have to use the bathroom," he pontificated. (Pontificating is saying something pompously--unless he's the pope of the bathroom, it seems out of place.)

5. "Oh, goodness," he gritted. (Grit your teeth, then try to say something with an O in it. Doesn't work--at least not in any way that people can take seriously.)

6. He walked into the room. "Good morning, everyone," he replied. (To whom is he replying?)

7. "I'm furious!" she said angrily. (That's really redundant, not to mention repetitive.)

8. "You're a moron," she sallied. (A sally is a witty remark--there's nothing clever about calling someone a moron.)

9. "How are you?" he queried. (Or enquired, or demanded, or questioned, or anything else that makes it clear that you've checked your thesaurus for synonyms of "asked". Especially if you have five or six of them on a page.)

10. "You have a lot of explaining to do! You've been out since last night, you didn't call, I called Bill and he said you weren't there, your mother didn't know where you were, the baby's sick, the dog's been..." he barked. (Seriously, try and bark something that's more than about three words. Unless you're McGruff the Crime Dog, it doesn't work.)

11. "Actually, the flux capacitor is what makes time travel possible--it takes the 1.2 gigawatts of electricity that's provided by first a plutonium-powered nuclear generator and then later by..." he interjected. (Interjections should be short asides to the conversation--"What? Hey! No!"--thank you, School House Rock.)

12. "I can't believe this!" she shouted softly. (Shouting is loud. Softly is not. You can't do both at the same time.)

13. "I wonder what that is?" she postulated. (To postulate is to maintain or assert as true--you can't do it to a question.)


RK Sterling said...

LOL - please tell me you made these up and they aren't actual examples you've seen.

Aimlesswriter said...

I like the word "said". Its an easy going word that lets the dialog speak for itself.
But for now I'm gritting my teeth and trying to say all the "O" words I know...

Chris Redding said...

Said works for everything. And if it doesn't you need to rethink your dialogue to make it stronger.
These are so entertaining.
cmr said...

I'm new to your blog, and love these little lists y'all make. They keep me coming back to see what's next.

Anonymous said...

May I add "quip?"

Unless you're Oscar Wilde or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you don't quip.

I like "said." "Groaned," "yelled," and "whispered" are good, too. Too much beyond that and you're just playing with your thesaurus, and we all know what kind of ejaculations that leads to.

Anonymous said...


I can grit my teeth and say O words. It's a little uncomfortable, though, and only to be used in cases of extreme and strained sarcasm.

I can also sort-of hiss "I'll get you," but it's more of the feline hiss-spit on the "get" -- so it'd probably be more appropriate as a snarl, at that.

Yes, I have a bad habit of trying to see if things are possible. (I hang my head in shame.)

Thht said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thht said...

When I grit my teeth and say "Oh goodness" I sound like Tim Allen right after he blows something up on Tool Time.