The dangers of dialogue, tags that is.

So I have been doing quite a bit of critiquing lately, I actually really love it, too much perhaps. What I particularly enjoy about it is the benefit for my own writing, I have learnt almost as much reviewing others work as I have writing my own.

One of the things that really stands out for me as a problem area is dialogue, I have already written one post about it  this time it’s not the actual dialogue itself but the words that attach themselves to it in some cases inextricably that are causing no small amount of irritation.

The, she said, he joked, she flirted. STOP! When I read I want to be there – unless it’s something particularly scary, then I might want to just be nearby – I do not want to be in a TV style live audience. What is she talking about I hear you cry. Well when I am avidly reading through you well constructed prose I find it very disturbing when some one jumps up out of nowhere holding up a sign saying LAUGH. Which is exactly what the dialogue tag, he joked, says. We do not have a little man in real life interpreting people’s mannerisms, tone and body language and telling us what it means, we do it ourselves, so why do we feel compelled to do it in our writing. Have faith in your readers they were intelligent enough to pick up your writing!

Dialogue tags



Some things are better left unsaid……..

Writing natural dialogue can be difficult, which, is weird when you think about it as most of us spend a considerable amount if time talking. Depending on which study you read we actually use in the region of 15000 words per day, women a few more, men a few less, but either way that’s a whole lot of chatter. So with all this practice we should be experts right?

Apparently not, but we aren’t alone, even the “experts” get it wrong.  Recently I was watching Arrow, I saw the trailer, all dark and mysterious hunky guy, bow and arrow, comic book type excitement. Woot! I thought, I am going to love it. After a couple of episodes despite still loving the premise the dialogue was killing it for me.

A great example being when our rich hero, pays for an injured guy on death’s door to go to a better hospital. He then meets the guys wife as she’s getting into the ambulance, she launches into a monologue of, “Why thank you for transferring my husband from Mercy general hospital to the critical care ward of Starlight city private hospital, where they have the most advanced medical care and well-respected surgeons” ( I may have paraphrased a little, but you get the idea).  Okay so, I see the writers were trying to point out what a grand gesture it was, but really? No one talks like that, especially someone supposedly terrified by the potential loss of a loved one. Perhaps a sincere, “thank you” would have sufficed, some things are definitely better left unsaid.

For those of you who are still struggling, take heart, it’s not necessarily what you say but how you say it. 93% of any message is conveyed via non verbal means (Dr. Albert Mehrabian, Silent Messages). So break out and liberally apply those action tags people and show me what your characters are saying.

Piechart communication

How long is too long?

After recently sending a piece of my writing, to the lovely Gareth Worthington (@agresticpublish, he wrote a book. Its good, go read it!). He politely pointed out that I had, in fact, written a contender for the world’s longest sentence clocking in at a whopping 93 words. Yes I am a little full stop phobic. I have a tendency to write how I talk, fast with no pause for breath. So it got me thinking about sentences. How long is too long?

A grammatical unit of one or more words that expresses an independent statement, question, request, command, exclamation, etc., and that typically has a subject as well as a predicate, as in John is here. or Is John here? In print or writing, a sentence typically begins with a capital letter and ends with appropriate punctuation; in speech it displays recognizable, communicative intonation patterns and is often marked by preceding and following pauses. (

So if one is the minimum what’s the maximum, well, there are a few contenders for the longest sentence in English.

  • 469,856 words      – Nigel Tomm’s one-sentence novel, “The Blah Story
  • 1,288 words      – From William Faulkner’s Absalom,      Absalom!
  • 11,282      & 12931 – Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from James Joyce’s Ulysses (two sentences).
  • 13,955 –      Jonathon Coe’s 2001 novel The      Rotters’ Club contains a 13,955-word sentence


At 93 words mine is looking pretty miniscule when measured up to these monsters. But these really are the exception so I headed to my bookshelves to see what my favourite authors sentences looked like. I studied pages from each book and counted the number of sentences. Never being able to entirely shake off my science background, I opened excel and started recording my findings. The lure of the graph button was too much and, well below is what it spawned


It would appear, over the years, the trend has been to decrease sentence length, so I conclude that I am not full stop phobic just born after my time!

Please note no full stops were intentionally removed in the course of writing this post.

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