Monday, March 25, 2013

Weeding Your Tags

I’ve been doing more editing than writing lately, and I’ve noticed plantations of excess dialogue tags. Today I examined one of my own chapters, and though I may not have discovered a speech-tag plantation, there was a pretty green farm.
The idea of pruning my novel yet another time makes me wince and come suddenly aware of aches and pains in my every joint. But, I’m going to search only for needless tags on this run, so I’ll just grab the Bengay and get to work. (At least it’s my intent to focus only on these irritating dialogue labels, though I’m sure to find other pesky problems.)
To make it easier, I looked for a motivator, and though I desperately pray I do not have even two excess tags per page, I’ve calculated something that can get me moving. My novel is not 300 pages long, but for example’s sake, I’ll pretend it is. With two dialogue attributions deleted from each of 300 pages, that would kill 600 tags. Also, I’ll consider each to be at least two words. That would mean an elimination of 1,200 words.
Now that’s something to tag about.
A lot of speech attributions aren’t necessary. If a line of dialogue ending in a tag is followed by the speaking character doing something, no matter how trivial, readers will know who’s talking as soon as the name is mentioned. There’s no reason to tag then. I have found that by purposely squeezing out a number of speech tags, I’ve had to reword the sentences following dialogue. The rephrasing has often resulted in the prose becoming more active and much more concise. That’s a double whammy in one shot–no speech tag and a clearer meaning.
That, too, is worth tagging about.
 Please let me know if you have any great ideas on getting rid of these jarring weeds.