So, on twitter there was a discussion about dialogue tags, and when/if it’s appropriate to use anything other than ‘said’. Willaful made the bold claim that Michelle Reid is the Queen of the Dialogue Tag and, I admit, her evidence is impressive. But I think that while Reid is a contender, there can only ever be one Queen of the Dialogue Tag, the incomparable Lynne Graham.
Readers, I adore Lynne Graham. No matter what flaws I can see in her writing (and there are plenty), I cannot help but gobble up every word. She can be funny, tender and above all, romantic. Her books are the ultimate Presents/Modern fantasies and I love them. But boy, does she have an issue with dialogue tags.
I took a relatively recent example, The Pregnancy Shock, and examined it. In chapter one, there are 44 dialogue tags. Just TWO of those are ‘said’, and in both cases they are modified by an adverb. Thirteen of the 44 tags included an adverb. One tag includes a made-up word: chokily. One tag uses a non-speech verb: incised.
Alexei (hero): drawled (2), volunteered, repeated, told, asked, incised, pressed, declared, said, derided, countered.
He did them: deadpan, with a shrug, harshly, drily, silkily and with amusement.
Billie (heroine): told, cut in, declared, said, whispered, reminded, told, asked (3), argued, answered, protested, shrieked, launched, snapped, flung.
She did them: sharply, ruefully, chokily, innocently, stiffly, in a positive rage.
Other female characters: raged, prompted, demanded, scolded, reasoned, pointed out, remarked, prompted, queried, volunteered, asked, replied.
They did them: impatiently, soothingly, firmly, wryly
Other male character: questioned, added
You are starting, I hope, to get the picture. Ms Graham likes us to know exactly how every word is intoned. In the entire book, there are just 21 uses of ‘said’ in a dialogue tag. All of them are modified by an adverb or adverbial phrase:
Billie says things: sharply (2), jerkily, gruffly, shakily (2), ruefully, valiantly, deadpan, with a determined lack of enthusiasm, awkwardly, guiltily, in surprise, wryly, uneasily, apprehensively.
Alexei says things: drily (2), very drily.
Other characters say things: with an artificial smile, cheerfully.
Some of the best dialogue tags:
“Please don’t put me in a position again where I have to escort your lady friends around while they discuss your sexual performance during the night before,” Billie framed in a tone of tremulous rage, her green eyes as bright as emeralds, her face pink and set in censorious lines.
“I don’t sleep with hookers,” Alexei cut in, his rich dark drawl harsh in reproof.
“I don’t need this, Mum,” Billie breathed tautly.
“You have a long scratch and blood on your cheekbone and I suspect you may have a black eye by morning,” Alexei enumerated in curt explanation.
“Blamed you as well, no doubt,” Alexei incised with a gritty lack of hesitation.
“But Lauren’s gone as well, driven out of her own home,” Billie condemned emotively.
“As far as I’m concerned you invaded my private life last night in a way that you had no right to do,” Billie responded brittlely (sic).
“You couldn’t care less about my good name,” Billie riposted.
“Stop trying to change the subject,” he husked.
They also: vent, pronounce, proffer, proclaim, comment, enquire, instruct, forecast, censure, opine, rasp, bite out, needle, complain, command, warn, condemn, groan, confide, concede, and carol. Willaful, I see your Michelle Reid and I raise you a Lynne Graham.