Dialogue Tags

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Wed Sep 18, 2019 7:11 pm Post

I'm in no way contradicting @brookter; but I have a different view. Note the semicolon between my clauses :-)

I'd edit this as:

"I’m on my way now," Lizzie said. "But make sure the door is locked and have your Beretta in hand ready to go."

The two clauses in:

"I’m on my way now, but make sure the door is locked and have your Beretta in hand ready to go."

can easily be separated, and because semicolons in dialogue are generally not a good look – I use them endlessly elsewhere – I prefer to separate them, as above.

That said, personally, I'd remove the "but". Hence:

"I’m on my way now," Lizzie said. "Make sure the door's locked. And have your Beretta ready to go."

There's immediacy in short sentences, which is what this sentence seems to require. (I removed the "in hand" mainly because it wrecks the rhythm (which I regard as important) – say both options aloud to hear the difference.)

ymmv, etc.

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Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:42 am Post

Oh, I don't think there's any doubt the sentence can be rewritten, and of course you're right that if you split it into two sentences, you punctuate it the way you suggest.

But that's a more a stylistic matter (which way do I split the quotation?) than a grammatical one (how do I punctuate it when I've chosen to split it *this* way?), which I gathered was the point of the question.

It's all good stuff, though. Thanks!

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Jack Daniel
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Thu Jan 16, 2020 8:32 pm Post

I might see this slightly differently.

I think there are two cardinal rules in writing:

1) try not to confuse the reader

2) try not to write more words than are needed

It seems every single writing 'rule' goes right back there, as an extension of those rules.

Dialogue tags can be considered something that evokes a struggle between those rules. In a way, they can be somewhat mutually exclusive, or in tension against each other.

If you don't lead the reader to understand who is speaking, you've likely violated rule #1. But sometimes, such as when two characters think the same and believe the same and have a similar agenda, and one of them speaks to a third character in dialogue, it actually is not even important which of those two said the line. The reader can imagine it is either of the two, and the story goes on in essentially the same manner, regardless who the line belongs to. No blood, no foul.

If you put a dialogue tag where it is already obvious who is speaking, you've violated rule #2, pretty severely, IMHO. This happens constantly in amateur writing or writing where care is not taken, and that even includes a lot of published writing, some of which is reviewed well.

I think the trick is to write so there are enough clues for the reader to figure it out on their own, and only if there is no way to do that, then use a simple 'said' tag.

That's hard work, but fun work, and there are a lot of effective ways to accomplish this without resorting to dialogue tags. If you do it properly, you may only need a handful of them in a 100,000-word novel. And that will read like a bat out of hell.