Dialogue Tags

Dialogue Tags

Natalie Bright

Dialogue is spoken communication between characters. The purpose of a tag line is to let your reader know which character is speaking.

Most commonly used dialogue tags:






As a reader, we hardly notice the tag lines. “He/she said” is boring, and our eyes are used to reading said. We want to know what’s between the quotation marks.

Seriously, can a person “screech” or “Sigh” or “acknowledge” words? Can you “laugh” a sentence? Instead use descriptive words to create motion or response in your characters. Over use of anything besides “said” can be annoying. Think of how you can use narrative in place of tag lines.

One of the best resources for an explanation of dialogue is the book WRITING REALISTIC DIALOGUE AND FLASH FICTION by Harvey Stanbrough. I highly recommend this book as an addition to your writing reference library.

Here’s an example from Mr. Stanbrough’s book:

She approached him cautiously. “Come on now, Baby,” she cooed. “You don’t want that knife. What are you going to do with that?”

He swung the knife in a wild arc. “I just can’t stand it anymore!” he exclaimed. “I’ve had it?”

If you read the same passage above out loud omitting the tag lines, it reads the same. In fact, we might even say that the tag lines of cooed and exclaimed are somewhat annoying. You could add a he said or she said if you want, but the action and narrative helps us know who is talking. The imagery is still the same no matter what tag lines you use.

Happy writing and thanks for following WordsmithSix!


Dialogue that Rings True

Dialogue that Rings True

By Natalie Bright


I’m reading an excellent novel this week, however I find myself distracted from the story line because the dialogue between the male characters doesn’t ring true for me.

With two teenage boys and a husband, I know all about guy talk. Let me take that back, I try to understand the chatter around me but honestly, half the time I have no idea what’s so funny. Men don’t chit-chat the same way as women. In addition, teenagers have a whole lingo going that’s all of their own, which is very different from middle graders, for example.

Dialogue is important in moving your plot and story along, but it has to ring true for your character. It’s a distinct part of the character profile, as much as their motivation and personality.

Self-editing check list for dialogue:

1)   Read your work out loud, from beginning to end in one sitting, if possible (as recommended by Stephen King, ON WRITING). This really makes a difference in how you perceive the plot, character motivation, and if the dialogue stays true to moving the story along.

2)   Don’t take away the intensity of the scene on pleasantries: Hello, How are you? I’m doing fine today. What’s new? Get right to the heart of the matter between these characters. In business this is good manners. In fiction it’s just boring.

3)   Be careful about dating your manuscript with trendy jargon.

4)   “Writers who use tag lines other than “he said” or “she said” most often are young in the craft and are trying to spice up the text…the reader hardly notices the tag line at all; he quickly checks with a sidelong glance to determine, almost subliminally, which character is speaking and then leaps back into the story.” Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction by Harvey Stanbrough. (This book would be an excellent addition to your writing reference library.)

Happy writing!