Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Writing Help - Dialogue Tags, Part 3

Yesterday we talked about grouping text as a way to eliminate dialogue tags. But another spiffy way to both eliminate tags and beef up the characterization and plot is to add SENSES in place of tags.

There are five senses: sight, scent, hearing, touch and taste. Every piece of fiction,no matter what genre, can benefit from the use of the senses. Very often, in the rush of the plot and movement, new writers forget about at least two of the senses. They remember sight and hearing. Sometimes even touch. But scent and taste are two AMAZING tools in the author's arsenal that are often overlooked. The senses not only convey information about the character's surroundings, they often bring conflicting emotions to the table during conversations. How many times have you tried to concentrate on something dull, only to have the scent of something wonderful, like baking cookies (or something horrible, like a sewer back-up) distract you from the task? A woman's perfume can linger in the air long after she leaves. A taste of hot chocolate can trigger happy memories of playing in the snow as a child.

"Yes, yes," I can imagine you saying, "Emotions are well and good, but how can they REPLACE dialogue tags?" Very simply. What is more interesting reading? This:

"I can't believe you said that!" Jane said angrily.

or this:

"I can't believe you said that!" Jane inhaled a harsh breath. Even the scent of cookies baking in the oven couldn't calm her.

Readers know that speaking expels air, meaning she has to breathe in. Using that moment to SHOW Jane's anger with both the exclamation point and a harsh breath, reads better. Also, "angrily" doesn't say how angry Jane is. By adding that cookies couldn't calm her reveals more about Jane's character---she likes to bake, and scents can calm her. This is important stuff to a reader. Little things like this become part of the character's backstory and give the reader both insight and depth into your world. "Angrily" simply can't do that. :)

Taste is also a vital replacement to dialogue tags (provided not overused). How many times have you been nervous enough to taste bile on the back of your tongue? What about a metallic taste when you're sick, or even tasting really strong perfume when someone walks by? Taste adds richness to the text and allows the reader to become more immersed in the story without even realizing it's happening.

Tomorrow we'll give examples and please feel free to ask questions about your specific WIP.

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