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Old 07-01-2016, 09:53 PM View Post #1 (Link) Dialogue tags: before or after?
Keladry (Offline)
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Usually, I tend to put dialogue tags after the text. "Hello," he said. If a character is saying something longer, I might put the dialogue tags in the middle, like J.K. Rowling does here:
“I hope he’s listening next door!” bellowed Uncle Vernon, “with his sprinklers on at three in the morning!”
However, someone recently responded to my work suggesting that I tag the dialogue before the quote. He said, "Hello."

As an example, they suggested the edit from
“Hey," he says.
to
He bends closer, smiles, and says, “Hey.”
This gives the reader imagery of the speaker before they read his words.

Does it matter if the tags are before or after the speech? Which way works better?
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Old 07-01-2016, 10:19 PM View Post #2 (Link)
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Short answer: Go with how you've been doing it rather than how this person has suggested to do it, although I suspect it ultimately doesn't really matter.

Long Answer:

To figure that out, you really need to think of the purpose of a dialogue tag. The immediate use should be obvious--it identifies the speaker. For that reason, you do want to put the tag as close to the beginning of the dialogue as possible. I like to put the tag in after the first (relatively short) sentence in a line of dialogue, such as:

"I can't do this for you," Earl said. "The logistics are just impossible. Forget the ethics of trying to strap rockets to a cat, just imagine trying to get the damned thing to sit still. Whose cat will we even use? Because I sure as shit ain't going to give up mine. Mr. Fluffers is a part of the family, and I'll catch eight kinds of hell from the old lady and the kids if I use him as a science experiment."
Compare that to:

"I can't do this for you. The logistics are just impossible. Forget the ethics of trying to strap rockets to a cat, just imagine trying to get the damned thing to sit still. Whose cat will we even use? Because I sure as shit ain't going to give up mine. Mr. Fluffers is a part of the family, and I'll catch eight kinds of hell from the old lady and the kids if I use him as a science experiment," Earl said.
Subconsciously, the reader spends that whole second paragraph trying to figure out who's speaking (assuming they don't already know from context). That means either they're not focusing on what's actually being said and they'll end up having to reread the dialogue once they know it's Earl saying it to actually comprehend it, or they're skipping ahead to see who's speaking. Either way, the reader is breaking immersion with the text, which is bad. So you don't want to put the dialogue too late. In that regard, I understand where the person who gave you this advice is coming from.

That said, as long as you leave the dialogue tag relatively close to the beginning of the line, you shouldn't have this problem. It's not like readers are hauling themselves over a mountain to figure it out, and most of the time context will be enough to determine who is speaking. But let's imagine a conversation written the way that person suggests:

Bob leaned forward with a smirk and said, "Earl, we need you to give up your cat."
Earl said, "Mr. Fluffers? What for."
Bob said, "for science, of course!"
Earl's eyes widened as he said, "for science? Exactly what do you plan on doing with my cat?"
Bob shrugged and said, "we're going to launch it into space with a cat-mounted propulsion system."
"You're going to strap rockets onto Mr. Fluffers?"
"Yes"
Earl said, "I can't do this for you. The logistics are just impossible. Forget the ethics of trying to strap rockets to a cat, just imagine trying to get the damned thing to sit still. I sure as shit ain't going to give up Mr. Fluffers. He's a part of the family, and I'll catch eight kinds of hell from the old lady and the kids if I use him as a science experiment."
Maybe you see the issues, maybe you don't. Maybe you can sort of understand that that text is bad, but don't know how to articulate why.

Well, for one, it's because dialogue tags serve a secondary purpose: they help break up the dialogue. Look at that big wall of text that follows "Earl said" at the end. It's exhausting to slog through all of that, but it's somehow easier to read when even just the first sentence is offset by the dialogue tag. You don't really get that break, that breather, when you put all of your dialogue tags before the dialogue. Instead you get a script.

Additionally, dialogue tags should be invisible. The reader should glide over them, registering that they're there, learning who's speaking, and getting that momentary break from the dialogue all in an instant, and then moving on. They should not break up the flow or pacing of your writing. If you put them at the forefront like I did above, they're no longer invisible. Suddenly all those sentences begin with "So-and-so said" and it gets incredibly repetitive. This, I think, will lead people to rely on synonyms for "said" but this is often considered a sign of bad writing, and still doesn't fix the "Bob/Earl/Bob/Earl/Bob" repetition created by this dialogue. It also kills the pacing of your writing, as now your readers are actually slowing down to take in the dialogue tags, as they automatically do so with the beginning of any sentence. It takes a lot of the interest and spring out of the writing.

Again, the dialogue tags shouldn't be the focus of your writing, they should be invisible. Putting them at the front makes them noticeable, while also getting rid of the reader's subconscious breather, just for the sake of establishing the speaker a few nanoseconds earlier. So I say keep doing what you're doing, Keladry.

When in doubt, look at the books you're reading/that are popular. I honestly cannot think of any book I've read that has been written the way this person suggests. Can you?
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Old 07-01-2016, 10:36 PM View Post #3 (Link)
Keladry (Offline)
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I see your point, and at its most basic-- just he said, she said-- I would agree about the repetition, but what if it were interspersed better with description?

Interestingly, this person is a published author (self-published, but still) and the text in their book does describe the speaker almost entirely before the speech (but not always). It also seems pretty well-written, from the Amazon excerpt.

Mid buried his face in his hands. "Great."
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Old 07-02-2016, 12:34 AM View Post #4 (Link)
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Interestingly, this person is a published author (self-published, but still)
It might be elitist of me that this makes me disregard their credentials. Not that their book maybe isn't great, but the reason people often point to reading published books is that the "gatekeepers" (as publishers are often seen as) backing their book implies a certain level of skill (though it doesn't guarantee it, just as being self-published in no ways guarantees a bad book).

I see your point, and at its most basic-- just he said, she said-- I would agree about the repetition, but what if it were interspersed better with description?
I would agree that interspersing it would help, as varying your writing style often does. It is, also, a common piece of advice nowadays to try and avoid dialogue tags altogether and just establish who's speaking through blocking (though whether this is a good thing or not is a different discussion). But then I would point towards my point of dialogue tags being invisible, and how if you intersperse all of that with description then you're still just calling attention to the dialogue tag, so you'd have to be careful how you wrote that description.
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Old 07-02-2016, 12:38 PM View Post #5 (Link)
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Hmm. Yeah, that makes sense.

Thank you!
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