Let’s talk dialogue tags!
This has to be one of the most discussed topics when talking about the craft, and not everyone agrees on the dos and don’ts. But, as an editor, it’s clear to me that not everyone is up to speed. I set out to list everything I know about dialogue tags and then I found this great article that basically sums up what I was going to say 😉 Instead of inventing the wheel, I’ll just quote the article’s summary and give you the link if you want to read the rest. It’s a really good article with lots of examples.
- If you have no good reason not to use it, stick to the standard “he said.”
- Other simple verbs – she asked, she replied, she whispered – are fine.
- Fancy or over-the-top verbs – he thundered, he expostulated, he interjected – are best avoided.
- Never use adverbs (exceptions to the rule notwithstanding). Instead of telling the reader, show the emotion in action.
- Use only as many dialogue tags as you need for clarity. One every three or four lines is about right. But remember…
- Instead of tags, you can use other ways to indicate who is speaking (like having the character do something right before or right after they speak, or having them name the other character).
(You can find the entire article here. I mean it, it’s worth the read!)
One thing that I do want to bring up myself is the use of commas and periods when moving from the dialogue to the dialogue tag (or action, or what have you). As you can see in the examples in the article, the only time you use a comma is when you use an actual dialogue tag. If you use action to indicate who is speaking, or to paint the scene, always use a period.
- Not OK: “My dog just died,” not looking up from the floor as he spoke.
- OK: “My dog just died.” He didn’t look up from the floor as he spoke.
If you use a dialogue tag first and then action, you can keep the comma:
- “My dog just died,” he said, not looking up from the floor as he spoke.
Just don’t forget that you need a comma after the dialogue tag as well 😉
I hope this is helpful! Do you struggle when it comes to using dialogue tags?