Dialog Tag Question

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Editing for authors: because every writer needs a good editor.

VCAckerman

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Both are incorrect.

Again, as someone stated above, action beats are punctuated differently than dialogue tags. Dialogue tags have to do specifically with the way words are spoken: said, asked, shouted, whispered, mumbled, etc.

Action beats are not part of speech. You cannot "shrug" words. You don't necessarily have to break them into a separate sentence from the dialogue - e.g. "I'm not sure." He shrugged. or He shrugged. "I'm not sure." - but action beats must, at least, be set apart from the dialogue tag.

"I'm not sure," he said with a shrug.
"I'm not sure," he said, shrugging.

I have a feeling you've been punctuating action beats as dialogue tags for so long that it's become ingrained. It may take you a while to break the habit.
Well, crap. I really have quite a bit of editing to do.

This is good to know. Thank you.
 
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Paul Lamb

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I certainly think someone can "shrug" some words out. C'mon! We're creative writers. We're permitted to write expressively and evolve the rules.

He shrugged, "I'm not sure." <-- this is showing. Can't you picture this, hear this in your mind? I don't think any reader will have a problem understanding what the writer meant with this structure. I write this way all of the time, and never once has an editor objected or suggested changing it.

I think creative writers hinder themselves by too much adherence to the s0-called "rules" of grammar. That's fine for term papers and legal documents, but for fiction and CNF -- and certainly poetry! -- grammar is a tool, not a rule (as the writer Emma Darwin has said). We use it if it gets our point (or tone) across, and we discard it if we can do better. (Look at Junot Diaz or Jose Saramago.) We have that privilege! I would hate to pause when reading a passage because I care that the writer has split an infinitive or dared to use a comma "improperly." Is it perhaps the correct grammar devotees who need to break a habit?
 

mrsmig

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If a writer decides to flout "the rules" in a deliberate and considered fashion, to create a particular style, that's one thing (see Cormac McCarthy). If a writer is doing it out of ignorance of or inexperience with what's considered standard for the industry, that's another.

The OP asked for clarification about punctuation for dialogue tags and action beats, and received advice on same. They're free to take it or leave it, as is any other writer.
 

Maryn

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I cannot agree, Paul Lamb. I can shrug while I say words, but the act of shrugging cannot be a manner of speaking. It isn't creative, it's wrong. This is a hill I'm willing to die on.

You might have made an argument for sighing or laughing words, but not a physical motion.

And until you or I become a writer of the stature of those whose names you drop, many agents and publishers who consider our manuscripts may well look at lines like He shrugged, "I'm not sure." and realize there are heavy edits ahead, despite the fact that you have not yet worked with such an agent or editor.

Most of us who are trade published have.

Maryn ****ed, "Ooh, baby, right there."
 

be frank

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He shrugged, "I'm not sure." <-- this is showing. Can't you picture this, hear this in your mind? I don't think any reader will have a problem understanding what the writer meant with this structure. I write this way all of the time, and never once has an editor objected or suggested changing it.

1) That's not showing.

2) Yes, I know what someone shrugging looks like. I know what someone saying those words sounds like. I do NOT know what someone shrugging those words sounds like, because it's not a thing you can do.

3) No editors have ever objected to this structure or suggested changing it? I can see three ways this might have happened:

a) Not all editors are copy/line-editors. So if you'd hired a structural editor (for example), it's not their job to look at this stuff.
b) Your editors didn't know what they were doing. You should ask for a refund.
c) Your editors knew exactly what they were doing, decided you'd fight them on this, and opted not to waste their time correcting it.

I know plenty of editors. We're all pretty flexible with grammar and punctuation, so long as it's consistent and meanings are clear. But this is not that.
 

ChaseJxyz

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I think creative writers hinder themselves by too much adherence to the s0-called "rules" of grammar. That's fine for term papers and legal documents, but for fiction and CNF -- and certainly poetry! -- grammar is a tool, not a rule (as the writer Emma Darwin has said). We use it if it gets our point (or tone) across, and we discard it if we can do better. (Look at Junot Diaz or Jose Saramago.) We have that privilege! I would hate to pause when reading a passage because I care that the writer has split an infinitive or dared to use a comma "improperly." Is it perhaps the correct grammar devotees who need to break a habit?

There's grammar, and there's punctuation. Grammar says "I runned to the store" is wrong, because you're using the wrong verb tense. Punctuation says "I, ran to the! store///" is wrong, because that's not how you use any of those things.

I really hate grammar nazis, because, 9 times out of 10, the fix they're proposing doesn't matter, or they are trying to push their version of grammar/style onto others. There is no one universal set of grammar rules, but big publications like the Associated Press and NPR and whatever have their own internal stylebook to make sure it all matches. So splitting an infinitive, to a grammar nazi, is the end of the fucking world, but for creative writers, they're fine doing that...if it has a purpose. As long as you're communicating what it is you're trying to communicate successfully, then you can be as weird as you want with your grammar. Like, look at Push, the grammar in that is atrocious, BUT THAT IS THE POINT.

Punctuation, though, has a lot less wiggle room. Punctuation is how we signal to a reader that a thing is to be read a certain way. "If I put dialogue like this, then you assume it's normal." But, «If I do this, then this signals to you I'm now using dialogue spoken/signed in another language.» What if we had questions but we didn't end them in question marks. Well, you could probably figure out that one was a question, right. Because it started with a wh questioning word, but what about the previous sentence. What about that one. The fact that I didn't end those with question marks makes them hit different, i.e. reduces clarity. Readers don't like having to go back and re-read a sentence because you did a bad job puncturing it and what you're doing is unclear.

The whole business of dialogue tags is a mechanical one, just like scene breaks and chapter headings. You are signaling to the reader "okay this is a conversation and this is the actions and how people are saying it or whatever." People who aren't writers, I've found, don't actually know these rules, like if they wrote their own fiction, they probably won't use them. BUT! When they read, they DO get a sense that something is off, but they don't know why. Some of them might even go "wait...can you really shrug a sentence?" and they'll get that uneasy feeling that you have no fucking idea what you're talking about. That's usually the point of no return for a reader, because they'll lose faith in your ability to write something enjoyable, because, well, a good writer would know all the rules of punctuation, right? And if they don't know that then, CLEARLY, they don't know how to write an interesting story!

You and I both know that's bullshit. Some of my favorite written works have awful punctuation/grammar but everything else is awesome. But most people who are going to read your writing are not writers. They won't know that you are attempting to re-write the rules of punctuation, they'll just get the sense that you're an idiot, and you don't want that. But if your breaking of the rules is in conjunction with a lot of other things (like in Push), THEN it will work. But you'll still get some idiots in the Amazon reviews saying "I don't like this book did an editor even go over it." Most people will get it, though.
 

Lakey

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You’re right, Paul, that the conventions of grammar are a tool, as are punctuation conventions. And like any other tools, you have to learn how to use them. You don’t just go around shooting your nail gun at things or cutting random miters and bevels. You learn to use your tools properly, effectively, and you apply them with thought and care.

Authors who play with the conventions of grammar and punctuation do so with intent and knowledge, with the expertise that comes of a deep understanding of convention and of what bending those conventions actually conveys. They don’t simply reject the conventions because they feel like it, or because hide-bound rules are somehow stifling their genius. They bend conventions because the very bending of them carries a specific and considered meaning. A writer who bucks convention for its own sake doesn’t come across as a brilliant innovator — they rather come across as someone who just doesn’t know how to use their tools.

:e2coffee: