When written doesn’t translate to spoken: Dialog tags and audiobooks

The Musubi Murder audiobook is nearing completion. I’ve really enjoyed listening to the chapters as they come in. I should be well sick of the manuscript by now, so I have to give the credit to my talented (and, as you will see in a moment, very patient) producer.

In a printed book, when you have a conversation going on among three people, you’re going to need a few dialog tags. This is especially true when you’ve just introduced the characters and the reader doesn’t know them yet.

Who is saying what?

Now, let’s not all talk at once.

But in an audiobook, the listener can hear the different voices. All of the “said”s break up the flow of the dialog.

Unfortunately, I didn’t realize this until after Nicole had done a good amount of recording. She is now going back through the recordings and removing the superfluous dialog tags. This is beyond the call of duty, and I am extremely grateful. It’s a hassle for her, but it improves the listening experience.

Here’s an example from the print manuscript of The Musubi Murder:

“Who’s Moira?” Emma asked.
“His sister,” I said.
“What kind of Korean name is Moira?” Pat asked.
“Moira’s not a Korean name,” I said. “Why would it be a Korean name?”
“Yeah, Pat,” Emma said. “Stephen’s not a Korean name either.”
“Why would Stephen be a Korean name?” I asked.
“I didn’t say that Stephen is a Korean name. I said it’s not a Korean name.”
“All right,” I said, “why would you say it’s not a Korean name?”
Emma made an impatient, palms-up gesture.
“Because it’s not?”
“Why do you keep talking about Korean names?”

On the printed page, Emma’s words look a lot like Pat’s words or Molly’s words, so the tags help the reader to keep track of who’s speaking. But in the audiobook version, the characters sound distinct. Pat is the only male speaker; Emma is the only local. Too many “said” tags become repetitive for the listener. For the audiobook we’ll remove one or two of them.

What have I learned for the next audiobook? I’d mark in advance which dialog tags should be omitted by the narrator. I wouldn’t take them out entirely, because the narrator needs to know who is speaking, but maybe I’d strike them out to indicate they’re not to be read aloud.

And yes, I realize that this might mess me up with Whispersync. But maybe by the time the Kindle version of The Musubi Murder comes out, Amazon’s algorithm will be set up to deal with this.

Frankie Bow’s first novel, THE MUSUBI MURDER , is available at Audible.com, Amazon.com, and iTunes.

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2 thoughts on “When written doesn’t translate to spoken: Dialog tags and audiobooks

  1. […] That whole “said” issue really took me by surprise. My producer has gone back and clipped out the unnecessary […]

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