Don’t tell Me Show Me by Vonnie Davis
I’m thrilled to be a guest on the FF&P blog today. I’m new to this sub-genre of romance since my first paranormal released two days ago and yet, if you were to see my reflection in the mirror in the mornings, you’d realize I’d fallen into this category years ago. Oh, the sight I see as I pass by! Hair standing on end, red puffy eyes…I resemble an aging dragon lady.
Of course, most of you are asking yourselves who is Vonnie Davis? Well, I liken myself to a French croissant: warm, crusty, wrinkled, and somewhat flaky—and best served with strong coffee. I’m retired now, if one considers writing every day as retirement. Having fallen in love with the romance genre back in the sixties, I consider my writing a permanent vacation. Until recently, I mainly wrote contemporary, historical and romantic suspense. Then I discovered paranormal—and I’m still learning.
We keep our stories flowing by way of dialog. I love zippy, snarky, otherworldly dialog. Don’t you?
What I don’t like as a reader and avoid as a writer are dialog tags. “Don’t go in there!” Zolof said.
I blame it on my agent who deletes them from her clients’ manuscripts with a notation on the side: “Use action beats instead. Said tags are lazy writing.” Ouch.
You see, action beats not only show who is speaking, but display the speaker’s mood, hint at the speaker’s motivation and can show us some details of the speaker’s appearance. But can action beats eliminate confusion? How will the reader know for sure who is speaking?
I typically allow myself no more than six “said tags” per 80,000 word manuscript. I recently submitted an 86,000 word manuscript to Random House Loveswept with zero said tags. My editor inserted one for absolute clarity.
Allow me to share that my albatross is whispering. I can’t always show by action beats that he whispered or moaned a statement. I try. I write and rewrite, but more often than not, unless I can show his or her lips against or near someone’s ear, I end up using a said tag. I just can’t seem to conquer it.
Shouting without a said tag? That’s easy. Let me give you two examples.
- Derrick stormed into the kitchen. “I’ve had it up to here with your aunt and her ghost stories,” he yelled.
- Derrick stormed into the kitchen and threw the dirty silverware into the sink, their clang echoing in the room. His face was reddened and that telltale vein of anger pulsed in his forehead. He leaned toward her, his green eyes bugging out. “I’ve had it up to here with your aunt and her ghost stories.”
By using action beats instead of a said tag, we create a better visual for our readers, yet we still know who is speaking. We hear the dirty forks and knives making a racket. We see Derrick’s face turn red and vein pulse, so we know he’s angry. We don’t need the said tag that he yelled. We can sense and hear it by the way the author has written the scene.
The same thing applies to using he/she asked after a question mark. Think about it. A question mark only has one function. One. To indicate the previous string of words were asked in a questioning manner. So why insult your readers by slapping on he/she asked after using a question mark? It drives me crazy as a reader. I want to shout at the author, “I know what a question mark means, you dummy. I don’t need instructions.”
Yes, writing action beats takes longer, but your writing becomes more vibrant with their use. Remember, said tags tell. They tell who is speaking. Action beats show. If our mantra as writers is to “show and not tell”, then there is no, or little room, in our writing for said tags.
Vonnie Davis’s The Highlander’s Obsession, book one of a contemporary paranormal trilogy with bear-shifters was released two days ago by Random House Loveswept. Her website is www.vonniedavis.com and she blogs at www.vintagevonnie.blogspot.com. You can follow her on twitter @VonnieWrites.