Wheezing, Hissing, Coughing, Saying
The best dialogue tags don’t consist of strange noises. People aren’t hissing, barking, roaring, or anything like it when they’re in fact, speaking.
When people speak, they talk, and the final word should be said in any work.
Perhaps use other tags, but do so sparingly.
“I’ll get it,” Jackson grunted.
He didn’t grunt. He said it.
Jackson grunted. “I’ll get it.”
Better yet, what about this?
“I’ll get it,” grunted Jackson.
Okay, I want to scream and will always, always, always put your book down.
Said is the only dialogue tag that makes sense. Sure, some people mouth, whisper, and yell.
But you don’t need to impress readers by using the words ‘roared,’ ‘shouted,’ ‘seethed,’ or anything of the case.
It takes away from the story.
“I can’t stand this,” Peter said angrily.
That’s first grade. Leave it to the amateurs.
Peter threw the textbook on the table and pushed it away. “I can’t stand this.”
In other words, avoid adverbs.
Below, I’ll highlight the do’s and dont’s of dialogue tags.
The Power of Said
As I said throughout this article: people say things. Sure, they could state, declare, or whatever, but again, you’re slowing the story down.
When I first drafted Northern Knights, I mixed up dialogue tags as often as possible.
I found out the hard way it wasn’t a good idea.
Sure, some authors do this and after you’ve succeeded as an author, maybe you can, too.
But for the time being use ‘said,’ and nothing else except in rare instances.
Said keeps the story going.
Said allows the reader to stick to the main topic of the story.
Said keeps the story at the center instead of the author’s ego.
So, if you’re a new author, use said and don’t try to impress readers with your ego, especially if you haven’t sold any books yet.
Action, Not Tagging
But, I want to take it a step further.
Use action in favor of dialogue tags.
Not like jam-packed melodramatic action. Just action. Show the characters in motion.
For instance, consider the following.
Asha opened a notebook, clicked her pen, and stared at Cain.
Cain leaned over the table. “Give me a diagram of the field, Sweetheart.”
Asha clicked her tongue and drew a rectangle. “There. Happy?”
No tagging needed.
Cain and Asha are both utilizing action for the reader to understand who’s talking.
If you’re an author who prefers a deeper point-of-view, I recommend taking this route.
Said, yes, even said, or any dialogue tag will make the story sound distant if you’re using too many tags.
By showing the characters in action, it’ll give the book more of a movie feel. It’ll make the reader forget they’re reading, instead allowing them to experience the story. They can see Cain and Asha in motion as the scene progresses.
If possible, don’t even use dialogue tags. Usually, if I’m writing a scene with two characters, I prefer to show action by using beats, or short tags of action, like ‘Cain nodded,’ or ‘Asha doodled on the margin.’ Something that shows the reader who’s speaking, not telling.
If you’re a great writer, give each character their own distinct voices.
For instance, let’s use Cain, my main character from Northern Knights. Cain is a foul-mouthed, arrogant person who loves to nickname others. He has a James “Sawyer” Ford personality which shows in his dialogue.
Lira, on the other hand, emphasizes every few words and loves to use trigger words.
Micah is the king of one-liners.
Blaze loves to smirk or use body language before speaking.
Jed is rather short and snappy.
Savannah uses bright and energetic vocabulary.
The list is endless. My point is by giving characters a voice, the reader immediately knows who’s speaking in a scene.
I believe I used the word ‘said’ maybe one-hundred times in Northern Knights, usually when there were more than three characters per scene.
Get Rid of Adverbs
Ugh, nothing is weaker or annoying like an adverb.
In my writing, I’ll go out of my way to ensure there are no adverbs in my narration. You might have a character who uses adverbs in dialogue, and that’s fine, but don’t tag it.
Adverbs tell. They never show.
And there’s nothing weaker in creative writing than an adverb.
As such, get rid of these:
Jill said wryly.
Ashley said angrily.
John said humorously.
Leave it to the amateurs.
And never, never, never do this: said John humorously, or said Jill wryly.
Unless your goal is to get panned by Amazon reviewers, I wouldn’t recommend it.
And again, if you’re a household name and you write this way, feel free to ignore this advice. If you’re a newbie, take this advice and run with it.
I know we’re talking about tags today, but in narration, get rid of all the ‘ly’ words, as they’re your adverbs for the most part. There are some ‘ly’ words that aren’t, but most are.
Again, purge your work.
Now, it’s Your Turn
Okay, now that you know some of what to do and what not to do, get to work and edit your manuscript. If you’ve already published to KDP, D2D, or Smashwords, update your manuscript and get rid these distractions.
Once you’ve gotten rid of the tags, the ‘ly’ words, and gave your characters distinct voices, reread your manuscript.
I guarantee once you’ve gotten rid of the clutter it’ll read much better. Your characters will sound real to your readership, the book will flow like a movie, and your credibility as an author will skyrocket.
It’s one reason why I’m such a proponent of the indie-author route. You can always change everything but the story. You can change the title, the dialogue, the narration, everything, but by keeping the story the same, it’ll be even better on Edition Two.
So, what are you waiting for? Get to work and change your story for the better today.
I’d like to thank everyone for coming across My Freedom Flame, please come back soon.