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Thread: Dialog tags and punctuation question

  1. #1
    practical experience, FTW
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    Dialog tags and punctuation question

    I have been told that I use too many exclamation points. I am trying to prune them out. I also agree with advice that 'said' is a near invisible dialog tag. On rare occasion it strikes me as the wrong choice.

    I have a question. The phrase:

    “There’s hundreds!” Jane exclaimed.
    Sounds correct to me in my current project. I could prune the exclamation point, change the tag to 'said' or do both.

    “There’s hundreds,” Jane exclaimed.
    “There’s hundreds!” Jane said.
    “There’s hundreds,” Jane said.
    But none of these sound as right to me. In particular, the last one sounds blasť.

    So, despite the advice that I receive, that I use too many exclamation points and should be careful with dialog tags, my instinct tells me the first version should be left as is. I understand that it is my call, but I am curious if you agree with my instincts, ... because I want to learn the ropes from people actually writing.
    Last edited by Patty; 12-05-2017 at 02:53 AM.

  2. #2
    practical experience, FTW cmhbob's Avatar
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    When I use exclamation points, I try to let the dialog stand on its own, and make the speaker obvious in other ways. Maybe an action sentence right after.

    "There's hundreds!" Jane nocked an arrow, ready to let fly at the nearest brigand.

  3. #3
    practical experience, FTW benbenberi's Avatar
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    Jane said, "There's hundreds!"

    Jane looked into the microscope and gasped. "There's hundreds!"

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    I have been told that I use too many exclamation points.
    If a reader notices them, you probably are using too many.

    caw
    Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

    -- Terry Pratchett

  5. #5
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    One exclamation mark for every page (not literally) is an okish rule. By that I mean if there's 3 in a row, don't have another until the fourth page.

    Re tags, as two have said, an action, then the exclamation mark.

    But in general, there's a trade-off in writing between rising tension, and surprise. An ! usually shows unexpected reaction (surprise). So the issue might be the deeper one of an imbalance of surprise over tension. Take a peek at it's use using the one per page rule. If you've say more than 20 in 2,500 words, you've too many. I'd even say that 5 per 2,500 words is enough, unless it's a MG or younger, where acceptance is a bit higher.

  6. #6
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    Thanks you four,

    Yep, that's the ticket, put in an action. I forgot.

    Davy - FWIW I'm in the middle of pruning them and a quick count puts me between your two final estimates. Looks like I have about 15 per 2500 words, but again, I am halfway through the pruning so may be closer to 5 in the end.

  7. #7
    Beastly Fido Roxxsmom's Avatar
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    I use exclamation marks sparingly, though I've certainly run across trade-published writers who use them quite a lot, and most likely use them more than I do. I use dialog tags sparingly too, probably more so than do most published writers. The example benbenberi used for using an action to attribute dialog is as example of how I often do it (when the action makes sense, of course, and provides context. Adding actions just to attribute is generally a bad idea and results in way too many shrugs, nods, frowns etc).

    It's hard to say what works best without seeing more of your work and getting a sense of its voice etc. These kinds of things can be very subjective.
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  8. #8
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    Yes, Roxxsmom, I agree with this too.

    Shrugging and frowning and furrowing one's brow all trigger me. (Exclamation points do not! And certain dialog tags like she asked, replied, or exclaimed don't usually trigger me, though ones like she observed, or suggested do.)

    Anyway, I find when I sit and think about a character who is merely shrugging, and dig around in it a little bit mentally, I either realize why the line doesn't belong at all, or more often realize what the unspoken subtext was that I was missing, that prompted the line in the first place. It makes for more satisfying action.

    I'll SMW before too long, but I only joined last week. I want to critique a few more on SYW before I submit anything.

  9. #9
    Such a nasty woman SuperModerator Old Hack's Avatar
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    You don't need to say "exclaimed" when you have the exclamation mark in place. You're being tautologous.

    "Exclaimed" is a horrible dialogue tag. It never sounds right. Don't use it.

    I like benbenberi's suggestions. That's the sort of way I'd deal with it. It makes the dialogue tags unnecessary, and adds to the depth of the text.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    Thanks you four,

    Yep, that's the ticket, put in an action. I forgot.

    Davy - FWIW I'm in the middle of pruning them and a quick count puts me between your two final estimates. Looks like I have about 15 per 2500 words, but again, I am halfway through the pruning so may be closer to 5 in the end.
    Ultimately though, go with your gut. If it absolutely has to stay, and alternatives (like the one you gave) are weak, then hey, do as need be done, ie 15 if need be. Aint no absolute absolute in writing rules.

  11. #11
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    I think I have the action I want.

    "There's hundreds!" The sun was directly in front of them, and Jane shaded her eyes as she spoke.
    I think it gives her an action and a tag, but also helps with time of day and direction they are facing. I think I like the action phrases that paint something new about the surroundings, not just the person.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~

    Aha! Haha, Old Hack -
    You don't need to say "exclaimed" when you have the exclamation mark in place. You're being tautologous.
    So, 'she asked' is also right out when there is a question mark.

    See? I can learn! hee hee!

    (do like me some exclamation points though.)
    Last edited by Patty; 12-05-2017 at 08:24 PM.

  12. #12
    Let's see what's on special today.. Bufty's Avatar
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    Only you know if that wordy and perhaps over-explanatory tag really adds anything worthwhile, but be careful to make sure the reader has no doubt about to whom pronouns refer.

    Another option (alter to suit) :- Jane shaded her eyes and glanced across the field, then gasped. "There's hundreds of them!"



    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    I think I have the action I want.



    I think it gives her an action and a tag, but also helps with time of day and direction they are facing. I think I like the action phrases that paint something new about the surroundings, not just the person.

    "There's hundreds!" The sun was directly in front of them, and Jane shaded her eyes as she spoke.
    Last edited by Bufty; 12-05-2017 at 10:04 PM.
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  13. #13
    practical experience, FTW DanielSTJ's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hack View Post
    You don't need to say "exclaimed" when you have the exclamation mark in place. You're being tautologous.
    +1
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  14. #14
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    Tautologous...

    I was just about to say that. That word. The taut thingy. Of the tip a ma tongue. totes.



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  15. #15
    writer, rider, reader...ex-pat! BethS's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Patty View Post
    So, 'she asked' is also right out when there is a question mark.
    There's nothing wrong with it, IMO. Of course, it's not the only option, but if you need a quick tag to identify who asked the question, then it's perfectly fine.

    Absolutes in writing are a rarity. Common sense is your friend.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by BethS View Post
    Common sense is your friend.
    As is simplicity. Both tend to serve well the interest of clarity. Many of the discussions about these confusatory punctuation issues arise because the sentence structures are just too damn complicated, and unnecessarily so.

    caw
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  17. #17
    Needs More Hands.... Fallen's Avatar
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    I'm not keen on exclamation marks at all. As for dialogue tags, most times action can carry the speaker. With anything that repeats too much, readers see the repeated phrases, not the imagery you're creating.

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