He Said/She Said - Dialogue Tags




A dialogue tag is a phrase that comes before, in between, or after written dialogue. It clues the reader in as to who is speaking, sets the tone of dialogue, and lets the reader know when a new character is talking. Creating a narrative using dialogue tags correctly, avoids confusion.


Example of a dialogue tag: “It’s snowing,” said Dawn with glee, as she peeked out the window.

The phrase, said Dawn with glee, as she peeked out the window, is the dialogue tag.



He Said/She Said

There is debate among writers as to whether using said or asked throughout a novel is boring and lazy, or so simple it blends seamlessly. I aim for somewhere in the middle, using said and asked where simple is best, and more descriptive words, when warranted, to enhance my writing.


Example: “It’s snowing,” Dawn said. This sentence, as is, lacks enthusiasm, so unless that’s the goal, I’d spice it up.

Example: “It’s snowing, come and see,” Dawn yelled to her siblings. This sentence tells the reader that Dawn is excited.



Give the Mundane Some Zing


Still not convinced? Add zest to the boring he said/she said.


Example: “It’s snowing,” Dawn said with a smile.

Example: “Is it snowing?” she asked with a sigh.



Use Action as a Dialogue Tag


Replace the, he said/she said with action.


Example: Dawn’s face lit up when she peeked out the window. “It’s snowing.”

Example: “It’s snowing.” Dawn’s lips curled into a wide grin.



Use Less Dialogue Tags When Writing Dialogue Between Two Characters

Sometimes dialogue tags can be too much and too distracting. It’s not necessary to keep them all if you’re writing concise dialogue between two characters. Don’t sweat it. Readers are smart, they’ll follow along.


Example 1 – too many distracting dialogue tags:

“It’s snowing,” Dawn said.

“Is it enough to cancel school?” Joel asked.

“I think so,” Dawn answered.

“Cool,” said Joel.


Example 2 – omit unnecessary dialogue tags:

“It’s snowing,” Dawn said.

“Is it enough to cancel school?” Joel asked

“I think so.”

“Cool.”


The reader can ascertain which character is speaking by the flow of dialogue, so the tags become unnecessary. The second example is less cumbersome and reads faster than the first example.



Mechanics of Dialogue Tags: Punctuation and Capitalization:


Beginning: A dialogue tag preceding a complete sentence needs a comma after it, followed by open quotation marks, then a capital letter that begins the dialogue, and last, ending with punctuation inside the quotation marks that close the sentence.


Example: Dawn exclaimed, “It’s snowing!”


Mid-Sentence: Dialogue tags used in the middle of a sentence require a comma before the closing quotation marks, then again after the dialogue tag but before the opening quotations marks of the next in the sequence of dialogue. Unless the next section of dialogue begins with a proper name, the first words should be lower case.


Example: “It’s snowing,” Dawn said, “that means no school.”


End: A dialogue tag and the end of a sentence or question still requires punctuation inside the closing quotation marks. The word in the dialogue tag begins with a lower-case letter unless it is a proper name.


Example:

“Is it snowing?” she asked.

Is it snowing?” Dawn asked.




Hi. I'm Liz Ambrico, freelance proofreader and aspiring author. I too am querying agents, editors, and publishers in hopes of becoming a published author.

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