I’ve heard comments here and there from writers stating how much they loathe “dialog tags,” otherwise known as the “he said, she said” of book-writin’. As in, “I’d rather stab needles in my eyes than have to tag everything the characters in my novel say,” professed my writerly friend Reginald Peter-Beater. “But only after stabbing the needles in my mother’s neck for having my half-sister with Edmond Peter, then divorcing him and marrying Liam Beater and letting herself get preggers with me, then deciding to hyphenate rather than not share a surname with both her children,” he vehemently declaimed.
“Well count your lucky stars that your old floozy of a mum never slept with her neighbor Clive Pumpkineater,” I snarked at him. As I escaped his flat with my life in my hands and Reggie at my heels, I thought with relief, “I’m certainly glad that Reggie doesn’t knit.”
Of course, I’ve never been to London (would love to go), nor do I have any British friends other than in the blogging world, but that doesn’t matter if you’re trying to create a world for your readers. You just take them there, and if your characters talk, you must not leave the reader in doubt as to who said what. Nothing’s more aggravating than something like:
“You need to take the kids to school today,” she said.
“I can’t, I have an early meeting,” he said.
“The toilet’s backed up again. I wish you’d fix it.”
“The neighbor’s dog barked all night again, and you just slept through it.”
“If I can sleep through your snoring, I can sleep through anything.”
“You sleep the minute your head hits the pillow. I swear it’s so you can get out of sex.”
“Maybe it would help if you’d lose the 80 pounds you gained in the last 2 years.”
“That reminds me. What do you want for supper?”
“Anything, I don’t care, as long as you don’t try to poison us like you did last week with the potato salad.”
“That was your fault; you left it out too long.”
The reader is left having to go back and say to him/herself: “she said, he said, she said,” because it’s relatively easy to keep up with who the snorer is, but, the farther the reader is from the last dialog tag, the more one has to double-check to figure out who the cook is, especially if it’s a non-traditional role like this one where the man is apparently the chief cook.
So, writers and readers and critics generally agree that a writer needs to use some dialog tags and use them judiciously, putting them in where needed, but not overdoing them. As a firm believer of my own adage: “If some is good, then more is better,” I love overdoing things, so here’s a story with a non-judicious use of dialog tags:
Walking the Dog
“Are you ready for our Saturday morning walk, love of my life?” she liltingly inquired.
“I’d love to; just let me get my hat,” he joyously replied.
“I was speaking to the dog, you ninny,” she teased as she bent over and wrapped her arms around their Springer Spaniel, Molly. “But you can come too if you promise not to squat in the neighbor’s lawn again,” she guffawed as she slapped her husband Ron lightly in the butt with the dog leash.
“Behave, Penelope, or you’re going to get tied to the bed with that leash when we get home,” he seductively yet hopefully gambled.
“You should be so lucky, Old Baldy,” she jibed.
“Ouch,” whimpered Ron,”you knew I was losing my hair when you married me.”
“Well, thank goodness it’s growing back–in your ears,” she cooed as she kissed him. “Now let’s get going before it gets too hot.”
“I’ll grab some bags for Molly’s, um, souvenirs,” he chuckled at his own joke.
“Oh, here, I’ll take them,” she corrected him, “I’ve got some dog treats for Molly and donuts for us to eat in the park, in this paper sack here, and we can keep her ‘souvenirs’ hidden better on the way back home.”
They grabbed water bottles, one phone (for emergencies only) and, of course, the delighted pooch, and headed off down the street. They walked for a good hour, stopping at the park to eat their donuts and marvel at how beautiful the day was. They watched a couple lovebirds flying around, pooping on everything.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp,” one bird endlessly chirped.
“Chirp, chirp, chirp, chirp,” the other bird answered with mindnumbing repetition.
“Well, let’s head back home, how ’bout?” Ron predictably offered.
“Say, why don’t why go by way of Elm Street?” Penelope unpredictably proffered.
“Sure, that’s a pretty walk,” he acquiesced. “But, wait, doesn’t that old redneck bastard Smith from the bait shop live there?”
“Oh, yeah, in that rundown shack in that overgrown yard next to that abandoned mill. That’s right. Oh never mind him, and anyway the rest of that route is pretty,” she countered as if that was the end of the matter. It was, of course.
Elm Street was an old working class neighborhood that had become gentrified, except, that is, for old man Smith’s house. His next door neighbors had loved the area and the nearness to the newly renovated mill area, and, money being no object for them, had bought two lots, built a tasteful but large house on the lot farthest from Smith, then planted dozens of trees and a high wall next to Smith’s shack. Smith’s other neighbor was the last building standing from the old mill. The rest had been converted into upscale apartments and shops.
As they passed Smith’s craphole, a squirrel leaped from the wall to an elm tree, then zipped down the tree and tore across the yard. Molly broke loose from her leash and tore after the squirrel. Penelope tore after Molly; Ron tore after Penelope. Molly never caught the squirrel, but they cornered Molly up against the factory fence. Just then old man Smith came out on to his porch in his tattered t-shirt and droopy Bermuda shorts.
“You liberals get off my lawn,” he bellowed as he brandished an over-under shotgun with one hand while digging at his balls with the other, with his arm buried elbow deep in his shorts.
“This is for trying to dry-hump my ass as I was getting minnows out of your stinky tank the other day, you asshole,” raged Penelope as she pulled a pistol out of the paper sack and blasted the old pervert between the eyes.
“Coming, honey?” she impatiently questioned as Ron stared dumbfoundedly at Smith’s lifeless body. They dragged Molly off and hurried off past the old mill area. For some miraculous reason, in addition to the hidden location of Smith’s dump, it appeared that no one saw or heard what happened.
When they got home, she put the dog in the shade in his outdoor kennel, made sure he had food and water, and dragged Ron forcibly into the house.
“Wha-wha-what are we going to do?” stuttered Ron as they entered the kitchen.
“I’ll tell you what we’re going to do,” she commanded as she tugged at his running shorts, tore off her own skimpy shorts, and bent over the breakfast table.
“I love how huge you get after I murder someone,” she purred as she lustily ground back against him.
“I love how wet you get after you murder someone,” he gloated as he reached up to pull her hair, eliciting a little yip of joy from her.
“Oh, my God, I’m going to come–infrared gas grill!!” Ron ejaculated after 15 minutes of earth-shaking, table-bouncing pounding.
“Yes, yes, yessssssss–granite countertops!!” Penelope orgasmed out as she shuddered to a climax.
They detached themselves, rearranged their clothes, and let Molly in the house. “What do you think, brats and potato salad for lunch?” Penelope peppily popped out.
“Sounds great. For some reason I’ve worked up an appetite; I’ll fire up the grill,” Ron randily replied.
“Arf!” barked Molly, stupidly but happily.