Posted by: victanguera | September 5, 2011

Inflection: Writing Prompt #352

Infection can totally change the meaning of dialogue. This is easy to convey in film, but a bit more challenging in writing. Think about the following conversation I overheard between a group of teenage girls:

“But why would she–”
“It doesn’t matter.”

The inflection on the second sentence would completely change how the girls feels. In the overheard conversation, the girl snapped her response, so even though she said it didn’t matter, the inflection conveyed the idea that it did. Now if she’d sighed, or had a resigned tone, you could maybe deduce that although it mattered, it might matter, but that maybe she didn’t care anymore. A hand wave with the statement could convey another response.

Over and over, we are told not to use any dialogue tag but “said”. But I wonder if that is always the best for our writing. Think of situations where this wouldn’t work. Your main character is walking out of a room and two people say the above. The words said on the second line tells the reader nothing. If your character doesn’t see the two talking, you can convey nothing about body language or visual clues. But this snippet of dialogue could be very important. Maybe, for example, the MC pushed the person up against a locker door in order to find out some information. The response of the second person allows him or her to judge how they felt about that action. If you only use said, now the main character doesn’t know. And neither does the reader. Instances like this can allow for more plot development, internal growth, or mystery.

So for today’s prompt, think about dialogue. Where is “said” the best tag (probably in most situations), where can you convey everything you need the reader to know via body language? And what places call for just a little extra snap. Because you can’t always turn around and stare. Then they know you are listening.



  1. I’m always suspicious of writing rules that say “always” or “never.” I just read that there’s a rule going around now that you should never use a prologue. Ever. That seems awfully arbitrary to me.

    Yes, some people really abuse the alternatives and should use plain old “said” more. But to much saidsaidsaid can get tedious, too. Sometimes it doesn’t convey enough, as you say, and sometimes you just need the variety.

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