All posts for the month February, 2018


Published February 27, 2018 by swankivy

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“But Ms. Teacher,” say the students, “if those words exist, why aren’t we supposed to use them?”

I’m not saying you can’t.

What I AM saying is that the labels for who’s talking are not the part of the writing that’s supposed to be colorful.

When you write, the job of the words is to get out of the way of the story. Be as invisible as possible. Tell the reader what they need to know without individually trying to get attention. If you need a special speech tag to identify, specifically, how something is being said, then you should use it. But most of the time, you should be able to write well enough that we know HOW the character spoke based on WHAT they spoke.

No need to say “‘But I don’t want to go,’ they protested.” The words themselves are a protest. No need to say “‘Sorry,’ he apologized.” The word is an apology by itself. In rare cases, dialogue will be enhanced by dressing up a speech tag or adding an adverb. But in nearly all cases? It’s a distraction. Enhance the dialogue, not the words that come after the dialogue to tell us how we should have read it. Let us hear it by braiding the intent into the context of the lines, into the lines themselves. Write them so there’s no other way we can interpret them.

“I know you can do it,” she assured you confidently.