Bookism: The Silent Threat to Good Writing

When creating fiction, writers will inevitable have to learn how to write dialogue. I have never read a novel without it though I suppose one exists somewhere out there. One vital key to good dialogue is attributing the spoken words to the proper character, so readers instantly know who is saying them.

We do this by using dialogue tags: “The last time I heard this song by Charlie Rich,” Liam said, “you were young, adventurous and in love with me.”

The words Liam said is a direct dialogue tag. It tells the reader without fuss or doubt that Liam said those words inside those quotation marks.

Another method of informing readers of who said what is through an action by the character. This is technically not called a dialogue tag, but it does the same job.

For example: “This was my favourite show when I was a kid.” Judy grabbed the clicker and turned up the volume. “My brothers and I watched it every Saturday morning.”

Both these methods of indicating who said what are clean and non-distracting. Readers often won’t notice them, which means they won’t be nudged or jerked from the story, but will continue to read without interruption.

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Said is Dead?

Said is Dead“Said is dead,” blurted Miss Crabtree.

“What happened to it?” asked eight-year-old Heather.

“It died of boredom,” grimly explained the teacher.

“It must have been very bored,” said Heather.

“It wasn’t Said who was bored,” cried Miss Crabtree, “but everyone who had to listen to it.”

“Said wasn’t boring to me,” said Heather.

“Wasn’t boring?” exclaimed the teacher.

“Not to me.”

“That’s because you haven’t been around as long as the rest of us, dear,” stomped Miss Crabtree.

“But I read a lot,” said Heather.

“Not enough obviously,” insinuated the teacher.

“But I liked Said.”

“How is that possible?” moaned Miss Crabtree.

“Because Said was quiet,” said Heather.

“Quiet!” cackled the teacher. “It was always in the way!”

Heather shook her head. “Said quietly did its job of informing who was talking. That’s all I needed to understand the story.”

“That’s ridiculous!” hooted the teacher.

“It’s true.”

“Said had no spice,” harped Miss Crabtree. “It had no colour, no pizzazz.”

“Exactly,” said Heather. “So it didn’t get in the way of reading the story.”

Miss Crabtree pursed her lips and glared at the child. Then she turned to the rest of the class and declared, “Said is dead!”

“Then I will bring it back to life,” said Heather.

“You can’t,” gasped Miss Crabtree.

Heather smiled as she walked to the chalkboard and wrote: “I am happy to say I’m back and ready to work behind the scenes to tell you which character is saying what without getting in the way of your story,” said Said.