Tag s | Writing Craft

Tag, You’re It!

One of the most common habits I see burdening stories is overemphasis on conversational tags, which goes hand in hand with not making good use of action tags. Here’s an example I just made up:

“No,” she exclaimed. She looked at the the pot of stew bubbling on the stove and saw red juice splattering. She began to stir.

Unable to resist multitasking, I demonstrated several bad habits in the above sample of poor writing.

First, punctuation. When a character exclaims, use an exclamation point.

“No!”

“She exclaimed” adds no new information unless you need to designate a character from several, so in almost every case omit it. Same can be said for tags, such as “said” and “asked.” In fact, “asked” accomplishes nothing because the question mark says it all.

Any tag should reflect what the character is saying. “He’s a slippery snake,” she hissed trumps, “What a viper,” she hissed. If in doubt, entertain the office cat. Read sentences aloud to make sure the tag works.

And notice the character stirring. “She began to stir,” should be replaced with “She stirred.” Why? Because as soon as you begin to stir, you are stirring. Use “began” for a huge project a character can’t perform in one sitting. For example, “She began reading the Old Testament.” She can’t finish reading the Old Testament today, so “began” works here. Otherwise, the term puts a drag on vivacious verbs.

Some authors give action tags the college try, then ruin everything with an unnecessary tag. I made this one up, too:

“Fetch, Buster! Go!” Marissa threw the rawhide bone as hard as she could, hoping the collie would repeat the trick she had spent weeks teaching him. The bone took flight and then disappeared over the fence. To her shock, she heard a thump and a yelp–from a human. She desperately wanted to meet her muscular new neighbor, but not this way. “Oh no!” she exclaimed.

Again, the tag at the end adds no new information. Drop it.

And now, back to the bubbling pot:

“No!” Nearly tripping over Buster, Marissa strode to the stove, grabbed the spoon, and stirred the spaghetti sauce. She frowned. “It’s burned.”

Slipping behind her, Brad embraced her waist with his muscular arms. “Don’t worry. I didn’t marry you for your cooking. Or your aim.”

See how much can be accomplished by good use of actions tags? Even happily ever afters!

 

[A previous version of this post ran in August 2011.]

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Never Burn a Bridge!

The sale of Thomas Nelson to HarperCollins and last week’s sale of Heartsong to Harlequin brought to mind a critical piece of advice:

Never Burn a Bridge!

Ours is a small industry and both editors and authors move around with regularity. If you are in a business relationship and let your frustration boil into anger and ignite into rage…and let that go at someone in the publishing company, you may end up burning the bridge. And that person who you vented on might someday become the head of an entire publishing company.

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To Romance or Not to Romance

According to St. Teresa of Avila’s biography, the battle over romance novels has been going on at least since the 1500s:

Teresa’s father was rigidly honest and pious, but he may have carried his strictness to extremes. Teresa’s mother loved romance novels but because her husband objected to these fanciful books, she hid the books from him. This put Teresa in the middle — especially since she liked the romances too. Her father told her never to lie but her mother told her not to tell her father. Later she said she was always afraid that no matter what she did she was going to do everything wrong.

Those of us who write, represent, and publish Christian romance novels can be made to feel the same way when our brothers and sisters in Christ object to our efforts to provide readers with God-honoring entertainment.  I have spoken with authors whose pastors have derided their writing, read negative blogs, and heard conference speakers criticize Christian romance novels.

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Say It in a Sentence

Can you present your book idea in one sentence?

Can you present that idea in such a way that the reader is compelled to buy your book?

What motivates someone to spend money on a book? It is the promise that there is something of benefit to me, the reader.

Books are generally purchased for one of three reasons:

Entertainment Information Inspiration

If your book idea can make me want to read it, whether it is for entertainment, information, or inspiration, then you are well on your way to making a sale.

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C.S. Lewis on Writing

by Steve Laube

On June 26, 1956, C.S. Lewis replied to letter from an American girl named Joan with advice on writing:

Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure your sentence couldn’t mean anything else. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
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Always Be Learning

During the Summer of 1978 the #1 hit on Christian radio was the classic “He’s Alive” by Don Francisco (click here to listen). That same Summer I attended a Christian music festival in Estes Park, Colorado and decided to take a class on songwriting being taught by Jimmy and Carol Owens. I settled into my chair near the back of the room with notepad ready.

Just as the class was about to start a bearded man slide in the chair next to mine….notepad at the ready. To my astonishment it was Don Francisco. (I recognized him from his album cover.)

Here was a singer/songwriter who had the number one hit in the nation…taking a class on songwriting! What did he think he needed to learn?

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Oxymorons

Oxymorons can be fun. Two words that can have contradictory meaning are put together to create a new phrase. Or it can be expanded to mean two separate thoughts or ideas that are in direct conflict with each other but when combined create something new.

For example, if you’ve ever worked in a cubicle you can see the humor in the description “office space.”

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Criticism Is an Unhappy Part of the Business

I would like to tell you about a most enjoyable day. Our agency’s guidelines request that unsolicited manuscripts come via the post (I know it’s old-school but it works for us), but we still receive e-mail submissions. I spent an entire morning going through that particular in-box, having an assistant send standard e-mail rejection letters, since none were anything our agency could/would handle.

Very soon I received three separate responses:

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Even the Best Get Rejected

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I’ve written about rejection before and yet it is a topic that continues to fascinate.

Recently Adrienne Crezo did an article on famous authors and their worst rejection letters. I thought you might enjoy reading a couple highlights of that article and some additional stories I have collected over the years.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm was rejected by Alfred Knopf saying it was “impossible to sell animal stories in the U.S.A.”
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