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Using Dialogue Tags Effectively


Veering too much from "he said/she said" only draws attention to the tags. While readers tend to read over these phrases, obvious efforts to insert variety, through words such as "interjected," "counseled," or "conceded," pull the reader out of the action. If the writer is doing his or her work, the reader is already aware that the speaker is interjecting, counseling, or conceding. The writer won't have to say it again in the tag.

A member of the forum expressed this perfectly: "The main reason for all the 'he said' / 'she said' tags is so your readers can keep straight who is doing the talking. You can throw in other business to identify the speaker."

He went on to give the following examples:
  • "You're late again, Clarence!" Petunia looked at her watch. "How much time does it take to put on your shoes, anyway?"
  • "Didn't anybody do the homework?" Miss Smith tapped her ruler on the desk. "There will be a fifty point test on this chapter tomorrow."

You can often omit the tags altogether if it's obvious enough who said what.

"Hello, what's your name?" Tom asked.
"What an unusual name."
"It was in an opera my parents liked."

Return to "Top Tips for Writing Dialogue."

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