Posted at May 1, 2020

Writing Tips: Dialogue Tags (When and Where to Use Them)

Listen up, writers.  This is important, mostly because dialogue tags get in the way of a pretty manuscript.  Also, readers get a bit annoyed with them as well.  That’s because most of the time authors’ use of them is completely unnecessary.  Here are a few tips to help get over our inevitable desire to scatter “he said/she said” all throughout our dialogue (and a few tips on how to use them wisely).


First, when authors use dialogue tags, it tends to be a reassurance that their reader will always know exactly who is speaking.  The things is, readers can follow along just fine with just two or three tags.  For example:
“Hello,” Jane said.
“Good morning,” John said.
“Nice to see you today.”
Notice that after the speakers have been introduced, there is no need to continue with the dialogue tags.  A problem that some authors have is that they underestimate their readers, not believing that they can follow closely with what’s going on.  Try to remember that readers catch on pretty quickly, and nobody likes an author who dumbs things down.


In a situation with three or more speakers, dialogue tags are very much needed to keep it clear who is addressing who.  You can also use the method below…


To avoid dialogue tags all together, here’s the best tip any writer could give you: DESCRIBE.
The problem with dialogue tags is that they “tell” the action of speaking instead of “showing” it.
For example of how to describe the action:
Jane approached a man on the street.  “Hello.”
John appeared before her, a face she recognized.  “Good morning.”
“Nice to see you today.”  She smiled.
While writing dialogue, watch for opportunities where characteristics of the speakers can do all the speaking for them.  Maybe they can nod, smile, wink, tilt their head.  The description of this action would eliminate the need for a dialogue tag by showing who is speaking rather than telling who is speaking.  It’s more effective, more creative, and makes for a better read.


Overall, dialogue tags become redundant, ugly, and boring.  Use too many, and they become an annoyance.  Don’t use enough, and dialogue becomes confusing.  To fix this problem, use the master advice of description.  It’ll work wonders and catch the eye of an agent or publisher.



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