Dialogue Tags and How to Use Them

Dialogue tags are words which refer dialogue to a specific character. “Said” and “asked” are two common examples of dialogue tags.

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  • “I won’t help her!” said Christina.

Dialogue tags are an important aspect of writing. When scenes have several characters, they help determine which character is speaking. Novice writers use dialogue tags with adverbs to make it more colorful.

  • “I won’t help her!” screamed Christina furiously.
  • “I won’t help her!” Christina shouted angrily.
  • “I won’t help her!” shrieked Christina nervously.

Dialogue tags like these are distracting and pull the reader away from the true dialogue. There are better ways to make your character come alive without using adverbs. The actions of the character and dialogue will be enough to bring your story to life.

If possible, get rid of dialogue tags. Try using actions and descriptions to show who’s speaking and to increase intensity in your scene.

  • Christina slammed the phone down. “I won’t help her if she refuses to help herself!”

This is showing, not telling. In the passage you can see Christina’s frustration without using dialogue tags. Since the dialogue followed the action, the reader knows who’s speaking. Instead of using an adverb, you see Christina’s mad when she slammed the phone.

Here’s a great tip from Joe Moore, author of The Cotton Stone Mystery Series:

“If the dialogue is so weak that the writer has to re-explain what emotions or motivations are being conveyed, there may be more serious problems lurking.”

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