To speak, or not to speak

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For the past couple months, two things have happened. I’ve been off work from my much-loathed job on a maternity leave, and I’ve increased the amount of freelance editing that I perform on the side.

I can’t stress how often this grammar and writing mistake crops up. We’ve all done it. It’s easy to not even realize we’ve done it. But it’s peeving nonetheless.

Dialog tags are mechanisms of speech. Period. Dialog tags convey to the reader exactly how a character enunciates dialog. I’m not sure about you, but it is hard to imagine how a person can growl, hiss, or purr a sentence. Much less, how can a speaking human hiss an entire word? Or growl vowels?

Consider these examples:

When I learned that Donald Trump is running for President, I mumbled, “Oh jeez.”

When my husband turns on the tv, I whisper, “If you wake up the baby, you put her back to sleep.”

“Don’t put that in your mouth,” I yelled at my toddler when she discovered an interesting foreign object on the floor.

Can you picture me saying all those things? Now consider these examples:

“Kiss me,” the woman purred.

“Don’t even think about it,” the man growled.

Really? The woman purred those words? Like a cat makes an animalistic sound from her vocal cords? And a man can threaten someone while he is mimicking the noises of a pitbull or deranged poodle? I can’t see it.

Besides the silliness of “fancy” dialog tags, it is telling. Show, not tell. We know it’s the number one rule in composition. Read my three examples again. Even if I replace “mumbled”, “whisper”, and “yelled”, with the preferred dialog tag of “said”, I bet you can picture me with annoyance, warning, and discipline. Let the dialog be strong enough to show the emotion, and omit the silly or fancy tags.

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