There’s a general writer’s rule that dialogue tags are bad, and no word other than ‘said’ should follow a character speaking. The idea is that someone’s dialogue should be strong enough to stand on its own without the need to explain how it’s pronounced. Dialogue should show characterisation and allow the reader to form an opinion of that character without the author shoving their own opinions down the reader’s throat.
One such book that is guilty of dialogue tags is Twilight. I promise this isn’t going to be an attack of Twilight but more of an exercise. I’ve always had an issue with the character Jessica, Bella’s frenemy. She’s considered a bitch, right from the start, but in the reader’s introduction to her, does she ever actually do or say anything nasty? I decided to take away all dialogue tags, all exclamation marks and all italics, to let the dialogue speak for itself. Below is the result:
http://www.movieline.com/2009/12/anna-kendrick-the-movieline-interview.php?page=5 (This photo is not mine!)
When Bella firsts sees the Cullens.
Bella: Who are they?
Jessica: That’s Edward and Emmett Cullen, and Rosalie and Jasper Hale. The one who left was Alice Cullen; they all live together with Dr Cullen and his wife.
Bella: They are very nice looking.
Jessica: Yes. They’re all together though – Emmett and Rosalie, and Jasper and Alice, I mean. And they live together.
Bella: That’s really kind of nice- for them to take care of all those kids, when they’re so young and everything.
Jessica: I guess so. I think that Mrs Cullen can’t have any kids though.
Bella: Have they always lived in Forks?
Jessica: No. They just moved down two years ago from somewhere in Alaska.
Bella: Which one is the boy with reddish-brown hair?
Jessica: That’s Edward. He’s gorgeous of course, but don’t waste your time. He doesn’t date. Apparently none of the girls here are good-looking enough for him.
At the front of the cafeteria line, Bella is distracted because she sees Edward for the second time:
Jessica: Hello, Bella, what do you want?
Mike: What’s wrong with Bella?
Bella: Nothing. I’ll just get a soda today.
Jessica: Aren’t you hungry?
Bella: Actually, I feel a little sick.
Jessica: Bella, what are you staring at? [a moment later] Edward Cullen is staring at you.
Bella: He doesn’t look angry, does he?
Jessica: No. Should he be?
Bella: I don’t think he likes me.
Jessica: The Cullens don’t like anybody. Well…they don’t notice anybody enough to like them. But he’s still staring at you.
Bella: Stop looking at him.
Discussing Jessica inviting Mike to a dance:
Jessica: Are you sure you don’t mind…You weren’t planning to ask him?
Bella: No, Jess, I’m not going.
Jessica: It will be really fun.
Bella: You have fun with Mike
In the cafeteria again:
Jessica: Edward Cullen is staring at you again. I wonder why he’s sitting alone today.
[Edward indicates for Bella to join him]
Jessica: Does he mean you?
Bella: Maybe he needs help with his biology homework. Um, I’d better go see what he wants.
One thing I would state is that Jessica seems there to prop Bella up- to be the admiring/jealous friend who makes Bella feel even more special by letting her know how unusual it is for Edward Cullen to take an interest in her. Which really just leads me to think poor Jessica, as every boy she’s ever fancied seems to like Bella, and that would be hard for even the saintliest of girls.
This experiment works even better with Lauren. Yeah, yeah, I know, who the f– is Lauren? (Alex reads Twilight, hilarious videos on Youtube) If you’ve read the book, or own it, or can borrow it from someone, turn to page 104 (In the British paperback version anyway) and read Lauren’s dialogue without dialogue tags. What the hell? If Lauren’s a bitch, make her a bitch; don’t just tell us that she’s acting bitchily. The result of that, (for me anyway) is that the narrator comes across as petty and unreliable and paranoid, turning every innocent sentence into something suspect.
This is definitely a post where I need people’s comments. How does Jessica come across to you? Especially if you’ve never read the book. Knowing all of the dialogue tags, it’s interesting to see if someone who hasn’t read the book will pick up on the ‘finer’ aspects of Jessica’s personality. So let me know!