Writing Session One: Dialogue Tags
As I discussed in the video, there are certain rules to using dialogue tags:
Use ‘said’ or ‘says’, depending on the tense, almost exclusively. Occasional uses of ‘whispered’, ‘hissed’, murmured, etc. are fine, but don’t over use them.
If you feel the need to end the tag with an adverb, instead consider a beat of action. So rather than, “It’s going to be all right,” John said softly, consider, “It’s going to be all right.” John leaned close to Mary’s ear, breath tickling her cheek, words spoken only for her. Now isn’t that more intimate and tell you much more about the characters than the word ‘softly’?
Another note—when using dialogue tags, place them at natural breaks inside the dialogue, rather than at the end, especially if you have more than one sentence. For example, “Hi, John. It’s nice to see you again,” Mary said. In this instance, the flow of dialogue would read much better if we identify Mary right away, as in, “Hi, John,” Mary said. “It’s nice to see you again.”
That’s it! Dialogue tags are merely identifiers—don’t try to convert them to beats of action by attaching an adverb. If a beat of action is needed, go for it, have fun with it and leave your tags alone.
Next month: Writing and Editing—which side of your brain are you using?
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