Dialogue Tags: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly!

images9d0tdr1tAt this point in the game, you probably know what a dialogue tag is. It is a phrase placed at the beginning, middle, or end of a quote, to identify the speaker.

When using dialogue tags, it is  recommended that you keep them simple. There is nothing wrong with the word ‘said’.  Don’t give in to the urge to use every big word you know. The wrong tag can overshadow the words spoken and draw your reader out of the story.

I critiqued a scene for a fellow writer this week and found myself annoyed at her use of tags. Her characters said flatly, said agreeably, said gruffly, said sharply, and said sourly. And if they weren’t saying things with mannerisms, they growled, cried, or added an impatient sigh.

People say things; they don’t wheeze, gasp, sigh, laugh, grunt, snort, reply, retort, exclaim, or declare them.

Josh dropped onto the couch. “I’m beat.”

Not: Josh was exhausted. He dropped onto the couch and exclaimed tiredly, “I’m beat.”

“I hate you,” Samantha said, narrowing her eyes.

Not: “I hate you,” Samantha blurted ferociously.

Sometimes people whisper or shout or mumble, but let your choice of words imply whether they are grumbling, etc. If it’s important that they sigh or laugh, separate the action from the dialogue:

Amy sighed. “It’s going to be a long day,” she said. [Usually you can even drop the attribution she said, if you have described her action first. We know who’s speaking.]

Keep in mind, when you use the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, they are so familiar to your reader, that they blur into the background and become invisible. This allows the dialogue itself to come to the forefront. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear who’s speaking. Overuse of tags can be just as annoying as using the wrong tag.

-Jan R

Dialogue Tags: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly!