Talking Dialogue Tags

Much has been written about dialogue tags, those he said, she said descriptors placed before, after, or in the middle of dialogue.

 There are writers who profess the only two valid dialogue tags are said and asked, and if you want to go crazy, replied is acceptable to them.  They take this position for a good reason. Dialogue tags shouldn’t distract from the dialogue itself. Also, using overly descriptive tags can duplicate what is better described in dialogue.  

That said (pardon the pun), you will find very successful writers who ignore the said/asked rule, using a variety of well-placed dialogue tags. Having learned from these authors, my recommendations are as follows:

  1. Use just enough tags to make it clear who is speaking. With two people in dialogue, look for places to skip tags. When multiple people are engaged in a discussion, it may be necessary to use more dialogue tags, but mix it up by using names.
  2. Don’t overuse any specific tag.  A series of quotes ending in he said, she said is very distracting.  It’s equally irritating to a reader if you overuse he shouted every time a character raises his voice.
  3. Mix up the positioning of tags by placing them before, after, and in the middle of dialogue.  When a character makes a long speech, position the tag in the middle to break it up.
  4. If you add action or description with the tag, make sure it contributes to the dialogue. Example–“Get out of here!” she growled, extending her arm toward the door. 

During the final editing of all my books, my wife and I will read the entire manuscript aloud. Hearing the dialogue helps identify unnatural flow and where the above rules need to be better applied.

I continue to focus on improving dialogue in my novels. Overuse and misuse of dialogue tags can detract from the reality of a novel, while good dialogue brings a book to life.  

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