Skill 4.3: Action vs Dialogue Tags

  • Dialogue tags include said, remarked, stated, etc. They are fine if not overdone. Most readers skim right over them. Do not feel the need to use other verbs if “said” works best. There are times, however, to use others: shouted, rebuffed, whispered, rasped, answered, etc.
  • You can reduce the number of dialogue tags by using action tags. Example: Henry swung Camille around the dance floor. “One, two, cha, cha, cha.” (No “he said” is needed. Henry took action—I know he is the one speaking
  • Camille dug her high heel into Henry’s foot. “Forgive me. I’m a klutz.”
  • Avoid “over-gesticulations.” Novice writers sometimes use gesticulations, thinking they are using good action tags. No. It sounds silly.

Example of bad writing:

The song softened to an close, and the band took a break. Camille cocked her head. “Oh, Henry, you’re a dear.”

Henry scratched his head. “Quite right.”

Camille touched Henry’s arm. “I take it back.”

Henry put his hands on his hips. “Never!”

  • If you only have two people speaking, you can skip tags—as long as it’s clear who is speaking. Take the example above:

Henry winced in pain. “You’re a ballerina to me.”

“Hardly! I’m a dancing bear. No, actually bears can dance. I’ve seen them.”

“You’re as cuddly as a bear.”

“Oh, Henry. Will I ever learn?”

“As long as we keep dancing. One, two, cha, cha, cha.”

Go on to Skill 4.4: Worst Words Ever–Omit Them!

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