Dialogue tags

He said, she said…dialogue tags. We put them in during dialogues to tell the reader who is talking. Easy right? Hm. Not so much.

If you repeat them too often, it sounds monotonous and pretty artificial. That’s bad. If you don’t put them in, no one has any idea who’s talking any more. You’ll lose your reader and that’s bad too.

It’s tricky.

To try and avoid repetition, I once tried to replace the famous ‘said’ with something more…flowery. I got horrid things like: ‘sarcastically rebutted’. It wasn’t pretty. So, I started reading and seeing what the pros did.

Some work it in. Watch.

Here’s an example with the tags.

‘”Have you seen the man who works on the third floor? Who is he?” Anna asked sipping her coke.

“I have no idea,” Michael said, seating back on his chair and scratching his nose.’

Here’s an example without the tags.

Anna sipped her coke. “Have you seen the man who works on the third floor? How is he?”

Michael sat back on his chair and scratched his nose with gusto. “I have no idea.”

In the second example. We know who’s speaking, even if the writer doesn’t actually say it.

Did my example help or make things worse? No worries, here come the experts! 🙂

Jodie Llewellyn has a great post about dialogue and tags here.

Here are three other great links about dialogue how-to’s and questions I never dared to ask; scary things like hyphens, comas and ellipses.




9 thoughts on “Dialogue tags

  1. Repetition of he said / she said is something I try to be really conscious of and I’m always on the lookout for new ways of avoiding the problem altogether so that example was really useful. Great post! 🙂

  2. I try to do a combination. I think I use dialogue quite a lot, and in a revision I will have to sit down and read through all those sections to make sure it has a good flow. I’ve read a few blog posts also on how difficult it is to write good dialogue because we tend to speak in a less formal way than we write, but for me the challenge is not so much what they are saying, but how they say it.

    I’m currently reading a Norwegian novel that won the a big award this year and the author is adding ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ to every, bloody dialogue sentence. Obviously it’s done deliberately and the critics loved it, but it’s driving up the wall. I’m not even sure I want to finish the book.

    • Cay, you’re hilarious! I can totally relate to having to read something that’s driving me crazy. Good for you for not liking something even if the ‘critics’ love it. I suspect those repetitive tags would drive me nuts too!

  3. Grea post and good point. Dialogue is something I am still working on, getting it to flow nicely in the story, always fun to learn more about it! Thank you for sharing the links and your what you found 🙂

  4. Pingback: Top 10 posts for March | Taylor Grace

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