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Playing Tag - Walter Shillington's Author's Workshop

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Writing Skills

Tags are used to identify places, people and things.  Proper usage will ensure the reader pictures exactly what the writer intended.  Tags also decrease the possibility of confusion.  Consider these examples:

• Peter moved toward the door.  “I’m headed to the store.”
In this example the reader cannot picture the store.  There is too little information.

• Peter moved toward the door.  “I’m headed to the store to pick up a pair of socks.”
The information about socks, while helpful, might not be enough.

• Peter moved toward the door.  “I’m headed to Walmart to pick up a pair of socks.”
Now the reader has a solid image of Peter walking down the aisle of Walmart, looking for socks.

• Peter moved toward the door.  “I’m headed to Johnson’s Department Store to pick up a pair of socks.”
While the reader has never heard of Johnson’s Department Store, the tag provides enough information to form a picture.

• Peter moved toward the door.  “I’m headed to Johnson’s to pick up a pair of socks.”
“Hold on a second,” Kate demanded.  “I could use a new frying pan.”
Simply using the tag Johnson’s is not enough.  Maybe Johnson is a friend and Peter left his clothes at his place to be washed.  The addition of Kate’s line shows that Johnson’s is a department store.


The proper tag will help bring the reader into your story.  Sometimes, however, tagging can be overdone.  

• I walked into the bathroom and picked up my Gillette Fusion ProGlide Power razor.  
The reader will wonder if Gillette is paying the writer a commission!  

• I walked into the bathroom and picked up my razor.
This is best because the reader will use his own imagination to picture the razor.  It is, after all, a simple, everyday item.

• I moved steadily through the brush, carrying my Heckler & Koch G36 assault rifle.
The reader will believe the writer is showing off his technical knowledge.  Certainly nothing is left to his imagination.  

• I moved steadily through the brush, carrying my assault rifle.
This is good for the average reader, although they would like additional description as the story moves on.  For gun enthusiasts, this might not be enough.  For them, you could adjust the tag to G36 assault rifle.

• I moved steadily through the brush, carrying my rifle.
Without a tag or description, the reader will not picture the weapon as intended.

• I moved down the trail, carrying my rifle.  At times the long, box-like magazine would catch on passing brush.
The description helps the reader picture the weapon as an automatic rifle.  With enough description, a tag is not necessary.


Tags are a useful method of removing ambiguity.

• Jim tackled the quarterback just as he raised his arm to throw.  The football fell to the ground.  He picked it up and ran for five yards.
In this example the writer intended Jim to pick up the ball and run.  There is room for confusion because the possibly exists that the quarterback had recovered the football and ran for five yards.

• Jim tackled the quarterback just as he raised his arm to throw.  The football fell to the ground.  The burly tackle picked it up and ran for five yards.  
Here, there is no room for doubt.  The tag tackle clearly identifies Jim as the player who picked up the football.  


TAGGING DIALOGUE

There’s a demand for romance novels.  A top novelist can put together four or five of these gems every year.  I could use the paycheque so, in the following example, I tested my ability to write romance.  I don’t think Harlequin will be giving me a call.  In dialogue, tags are used to indicate the speaker.

I snuggled inside Brett’s warm embrace, my face pressed against his massive chest.  “Please don’t go.”
He nudged my forehead back and hooked a ham-like hand under my trembling chin.  “I must.”
“I will miss you.”
“I must go.  The ship leaves in an hour.”
“Too take you away forever!”
Brett laughed and nuzzled the top of my head.  “How could I not return to my beautiful red-headed goddess?”
“I do not feel so beautiful.  When you go I will wilt away.”
“Do not speak like that.  Once the war is over, I will return.  Then we will be together forever.”
“But what if you...”
“Hey, we’ve got to go!”  A uniformed man stepped briskly across the cobblestone street.”
Brett squeezed me tight one final time, and then stepped back.  “Goodbye, my love.”
“Just five more minutes,” I begged.  Tears streamed down my cheeks.
“Sorry, miss,” the newcomer said softly, his voice tinged with regret.  “The ship is about to leave.”
Brett blew me a kiss and turned away.

This story is written in first person.  The first line is tagged with an I, indicating the speaker is Brett’s adorable, if clingy, girlfriend.  The second line is tagged with he, indicating Brett.  The next few lines are untagged; in conversations between two people, it is not necessary to tag each line.  To do so would impede the pace of the dialogue.  Once the newcomer arrives, the possibility of confusion rises and most lines should be tagged.  


 
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