#AmWriting Back to the Basics – Dialogue 4

 ***Don’t forget to read the Caveats***

For information on Boring Dialogue, see Part 1 and for Dialogue Punctuation, see Part 2, and for “As you Know Bob” and Repetition, see Part 3

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags come in many forms:

He/she said

He/she said angrily

He/she whispered – shouted – screamed – mumbled

‘Said’ is one of those words that readers don’t even really see. A good rule of thumb is when in doubt, go with simple.

Some people also use the reverse, rather than ‘she said’, authors will write ‘said she’. This reverse is becoming less common and sounds, or ‘reads’ unusual to many readers.

Motion Tags

Rather than writing “I didn’t know,” she said, an author can use movements.

 “But,” she ran her hands through her hair, “what about Joe?”

 She ran her hands through her hair. “But what about Joe?”

 “But what about Joe?” She ran her hands through her hair.

 Movement tags not only act as attributes (letting the reader know who’s doing the speaking), but also convey character emotion and act as ‘Beats’.

 Which is more interesting to read: (Gets into Show Don’t Tell)

      “You wouldn’t dare,” she said angrily.

     “You wouldn’t dare.” She slammed her fist on the table, making the fine china and silverware rattle.


Sometimes, you want the reader to stop at certain points emphasizing different words or to draw out suspense.

“There was just so much…” Sally took a deep, shaky breath. “So much blood.”

Breaking up dialogue can also control pace:

 “Will you marry me,” Tom asked, bending down on one knee.

Sally’s eyes burned as tears welled. “Tom,” she whispered. “I…”


Sally took a deep breath. “Yes. Yes, I will.”


 “Then?” Tom asked.

“Well, then I…” Sally shook her head. “Then I decided I had to do it.”

“You did it?”

“Yes. I took his old shotgun and raced outside.”

“And the dog?”

“That mean ol’ mangy mutt never knew what hit him.”

Tom Swifties

Back in the 60’s, a comic book artist wrote about a boy named Tom Swift, and his many adventures. The author commonly used adverbs as dialogue tags.

“Yes, Joe,” Tom said happily.

“The sun’s too hot,” Tom complained hotly.

“Well, that makes me mad,” Tom said angrily.

Tom ran and ran. “I’m tired,” Tom said with exhaustion.

Now, adverbs and adjectives are not the enemy, but they can distract from the dialogue itself. They can also become a bit silly.

It’s always better to use ‘said’ than a string of -ly words.

About Amber Kallyn

Amber Kallyn is the author of paranormal erotic romances and urban fantasy.

Posted on May 4, 2011, in #AmWriting, Basics, Dialogue, Writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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