Dialogue tags – a quick guide

A lot of writers now a days are concerned about the fact that they use ‘said’ a lot in their story, and for a good reason, it is normally used a lot! I am here to tell you it is not only okay to use ‘said’ – it is recommended – but there are ways you can avoid repeating it as well. Don’t feel like you have to look up different ways of saying ‘said’ – in this case – it is best not to be too creative.

First things first;

If your character is whispering something – use ‘whispered’.

If your character is shouting or yelling – you can use ‘yelled’ or ‘shouted’.

If your character is mumbling – definitely use ‘mumbled’.

Adverbs are also not recommended in dialogue, but as a beta reader and proof-reader – I do still see this a lot. Instead of just writing about why not to use adverbs, I will present a dialogue below and show you how I would change it – replacing adverbs and limit the use of ‘said’.

Example:

Erica closed the door behind her and walked up to the desk. Jamie turned around in his seat and looked up at her. “What do you want?” he said sternly.
“What?” Erica said, “You know exactly what I want Jamie!”
Jamie smiled and gently rose from his seat. “You have come to yell at me, right?” he said.
“Yes! How could you do this to me?” Erica said angrily and slammed her fist onto the desk.

As you can see, there is a few unnecessary adverbs and a lot of ‘said’ in here. Here is how I would change it:

“Jamie.” Erica closed the door behind her and walked up to the desk.
Jamie turned around in his seat and looked up at her, his eyes narrowing. “What do you want?”
Erica took a breath, she could feel her cheeks getting hot. “What? You know exactly what I want!”
Jamie smiled and rose from his seat, he didn’t seem concerned. “You have come to yell at me, right?”
“Yes!” Erica slammed her fist onto the desk and flinched at the sudden pain. “How could you do this to me?”

In this example, both the adverbs and the word ‘said’ is completely gone. It is good to keep in mind, however, that as this dialogue goes on, you may have to use ‘said’ ‘yelled’ ‘shouted’ or ‘asked’, the point is to mix it up and make it interesting to read. The second, edited, example feels and reads more real and natural than the first.

Always remember – actions speak louder than words.

Let me know if you have any questions or if you can add to the tips above.

Happy writing!

© Melina Wedin 2017

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