• Joanne Paulson

I'm talking here: Dialogue tag tips for authors



While wearing my second hat as editor, I see a lot of dialogue tags that are perhaps not perfect. And so, I thought I’d share a few pointers for those who don’t feel 100 per cent comfortable with a very important aspect of writing a novel. 1. Use sparingly. When we must use them, 99 per cent of the time we use a comma after the comment, then quotation marks, followed by ‘he said’ or ‘she asked.’ Question marks and exclamation points do not require commas. “Why are you teasing that dragon?” he asked. “I want to see the fire come out of his face,” she said. 2. There are several tricks you can use to identify your speaker without peppering your copy with tags. For example, stop a longer bit of dialogue in the middle and add a bit of action. “This murderer must be caught.” Adam poked the photo with his finger. “Today.” In this case, punctuate with periods, not commas. There is no direct tag. 3. Any breaks in the action will take your reader out of the story, but let’s face it. Dialogue tags are often necessary. To keep that disruption to a minimum, restrict dialogue tags to said or asked most of the time. This gives you some leeway to add punch when you’re writing a particularly powerful or climactic scene. For example, my main character – yup, Adam – has a very loud voice. So once or twice in a book, I’ll use a big verb to demonstrate that – like roared or bellowed. Something you don’t see every day. It also helps define the character. 4. It’s best not to use a different tag after every single quote in a conversation. It will drive your reader mad. For example, “he inquired” followed by “she answered” then “he expostulated” then “she demurred” and so on. It becomes wearisome. 5. Be sure your tag IS a tag, not an action. She inquired, maybe; but not she shrugged. He continued, perhaps, but not he smirked. Shrugged and smirked are actions, not tags. Should you REALLY want to add a smirk or smile or laugh or frown, try this: “I’ve decided that I will now stop writing this boring blog,” she said, grinning.


35 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All