Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Tags—Identifying Your Speaker

Some more notes connected to dialog--Helping your reader stay with you while maintaining a small tag footprint.
  • Always clearly indicate who's speaking using 'he said', 'she asked', etc.
    • Never force your reader to stop to figure out who's saying what.
    • This is especially crucial when several characters are conversing.
  • Never let attributions get in the way of your story.
    • Cute tags like “he barked” or “she whimpered” pull the reader's attention out of your novel's spell and aren't needed when dialogue is strong.
    • The tone of a character's language should emerge from both the words themselves and the dramatic context.
  • Use dialogue and the description around it to more powerfully convey what you might be tempted to describe by attaching adverbs to tags.
    • Don't write dialogue like "I'm going home," she said happily.
Write Every Day!



  1. This is so hard. In writing historical romance you see these kinds of tags all the time...
    He snapped.
    She laughed gaily.
    He whispered provacatively.

    Then in writing for the real world you have to show not tell. It's enough to drive me insane.

  2. I've been to a discussion about diaologue where they said only to use "he said & she said", and it was proven to be wrong. we all looked through books in our library and not one of them used something so simple as "he said". The rule of using only he said is something taught to beginners to help them refrain from using adverbs in there dialogue tags. Otherwise dialogue tags such as "he whispered" is a lot more effective.

  3. "Proven." By whom? Just because you find something in currently published texts means an agent will accept it from a new writer. EVERY style book recommends limiting the verbs used in your tags. I'll go with the "experts," until I'm a famous, published author. :O)

  4. I think that well known, published authors are given liberties that we as aspiring or newly published writers must not assume. It seems that agents and publishers are perhaps more picky than the average reader and we've got to make it through them before we can use fluffy tag lines..interesting posts!

  5. As an unpubbed it's best to try to follow the rules. It's irritating to see rules broken so widely by pubbed authors when we have to be so careful.

  6. I also agree that they should be limited, just not taken out altogether. I think the points you made are helpful, I'll share it with the discussion group. Thanks Mac!

  7. I find it truly ironic that you’re telling us writers not to use Adverbs when you do it yourself. I went over to the website where you posted your writing and most of the dialogue tags you used involved adverbs. It’s hard for me to take advice from you when you don’t even take your own advice. There are some instances where it is actually okay to use adverbs (my source is a credited book on writing novels) and until proven otherwise I will use them where I see fit (just not as much as you do).

  8. Hi Anonymous

    I laughed aloud from your note. I'm human. I err. I even use ain't and gonna. (Intentionally.)

    Imagine. I don't keep my hands at ten and two o'clock when I drive either.

    Rules were invented to be broken. I hope I don't over-use heavy tags, but gosh, how boring would writing be without adverbs and adjectives.

    I AM a firm believer that you want the reader to pay attention to your narrative, more than your tags, though. Tom Swifties are fine to make a point, but certainly shouldn't be the rule.

    Now I must rush over and look at my chapter excerpts and crush all those heavy tags. I can't be a hypocrite, after all.

    Thanks for challenging me, Anonymous.

    I love a challenge.

    -- Mac