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Another Take on Dialogue Tags

December 4, 2013 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified December 4, 2013

I’ve written about dialogue tags before—The Use and Misuse of Dialogue Tags—but after recently talking with a writer about them, I thought it time to revisit the subject. I may touch on some of the same issues we looked at in that other article, but for the most part I want to come at dialogue tags from a different direction.

While dialogue tags can be used in ways that actually detract from dialogue, they are necessary and you shouldn’t think you can’t use them when they’re needed. You should definitely feel free to use said for the majority of your tags—doing so is not a sign that you aren’t a creative writer. In fact, the use of common dialogue tags reveals that you know their purpose and limitations.

Let’s start with the basics; we need dialogue tags. Every novel needs them. Yet relentlessly creative tags and tags that describe actions rather than speech shouldn’t be paired with dialogue. Not usually, that is. Though, as with anything to do with writing, there are exceptions.

There are a couple of issues here, so let’s look at them one at a time.

Dialogue tags are used to let readers know who is speaking. That is their primary purpose, and that purpose should guide their use. You should not need to use a dialogue tag in every sentence—show readers who is speaking through the words spoken and through actions and through the tags, using a variety of means to show who is speaking. If only two characters are speaking, you may only need dialogue tags every fifth or sixth paragraph or so.

We can also use dialogue tags for sentence rhythm and to change the sound of a sentence, maybe to interrupt when too much of the spoken word needs an interruption.

Tags are not intended to be used as a way to describe the manner in which dialogue is spoken. They show who, not how. Use the dialogue itself and the surrounding text to convey character emotions, to show how a character is speaking or feeling or behaving.

Think of dialogue tags as signposts, not as the message of the sign. They are aids that support the message; they are not the message itself.

Said and asked are the most common tags. They serve their purpose without distracting from what’s being said. They simply let readers know who is talking.

As long as they aren’t overused (and I have seen them overused, repeated in almost every paragraph of dialogue in some books), said and asked usually fade into the background. They don’t distract or confuse or slow the read.

I’ve seen some writing suggestions that encourage every verb other than said and asked to be used as tags, advice that encourages writers away from these basic tags. My suggestion is that you don’t follow such advice.

Don’t think you need to run from said and asked—their purpose is to identify the speaker. As a period (full stop) is a signifier of the ends of the majority of sentences, said and asked are the signifiers of the speaker in the majority of paragraphs of dialogue. Periods don’t draw attention to themselves and neither should dialogue tags.

A writer’s use of dialogue tags is one instance when variety and creativity are not needed. You don’t want your dialogue tags to stand out. In fact, you want them, for the most part, to blend into the text. You don’t need to check a thesaurus to ensure variety for your tags.

Some genres are more lenient in their use of creative dialogue tags. Romance, YA, and children’s literature do allow for other tags. I can’t tell you why other than to say their use is expected and welcome in some genres. If you write in genres that allow for tags other than the very basic, then use them.

Yet you still want to use only verbs that indicate speech rather than action. Which leads to the next point.

Overly Descriptive Tags
One reason you don’t want to use overly descriptive tags is that many of those are action words, not speech words. Smile, laugh, giggle, consider, babble, demand, bark, snarl, whimper, sneer, shriek and so on are actions. People perform these actions, yet they are not delivery methods for speech.

Some action words are given leeway as dialogue tags in a number of genres—typically whisper and murmur, and others such as mutter, yell, holler, and cry. Romance also allows for words such as groan and moan, although those are also action words.

Using these accepted words sporadically is allowed—it’s likely you’ll find them in many books and in many genres. But their use is rare. It should be rare.

Again, the purpose of the tag is to identify the speaker, not provide information about how the spoken words are delivered.

Successive Creative Tags Get Noticed
A reason you don’t want to overuse descriptive tags, especially a different one with each bit of dialogue—even if the tag is one that’s generally accepted—is that readers will start to notice and then they’ll start wondering what word the writer is going to use next. Once readers start looking at the foundations of the story, they’re outside the fiction, outside the story events. The foundations should be nearly invisible. It’s the fictional story—unfolding events and interesting characters—that should have a reader’s focus.

If readers see any part of the setup, if they start wondering about it, they are no longer lost to the fictional world. As a writer, you’ll want to do whatever you can to keep readers from seeing the lines and boundaries that border your story. You want readers inside, not outside. You don’t want them even remembering that there is an outside world. Anything that points to the author or to craft or to our real world should be hidden. Dialogue tags that catch the reader’s attention can shatter the fictional mirage.

If tags switch from retort to reply and then go on to confess, demand, correct, command, state, aver, avow, declare, promise, assert, and allege, the focus goes to the tag, not to the dialogue. A tag should do its duty without shining a light on itself.

Unusual words, or words that readers encounter unexpectedly, stand out. And then the reader has to process them. Said allows readers to speed through dialogue. Other words may actually slow comprehension and thus the read.

Said takes no effort to process; readers understand the word and understand its purpose. It is not a distraction. It points to the dialogue, which is the important part of the sentence. Other dialogue tags can distract.

One more reason you don’t want to overuse descriptive tags is that doing so is pure telling. This is especially noticeable in first-person narration or deep POV.

An example—

“Jake, don’t forget to invite your brother.”

“Mom, I always have to invite him,” he groaned in exasperation.

In many instances, this would not be how Jake, as the viewpoint character, would report this. This is instead a narrator telling what Jake is feeling. If this is Jake’s viewpoint—if it should be his viewpoint—what would he actually report?

Would the viewpoint character report that he wheedled or cajoled or complained or pledged? Would he use negative words about himself? Maybe, but probably not most of the time. Would he even report such kinds of things about himself, or would he be more involved in the unfolding moment? That is, would a character analyze his own response while in the midst of it, or would he simply live out the moment?

Sometimes characters do analyze, so it’s not necessarily wrong when they do so. Yet in the middle of an emotional moment or heavy-duty action, will a character have time to analyze what he’s going through? And if he did have the time, would he even be thinking about himself, about his response? Just as a character probably wouldn’t describe the setting as he’s being chased through city streets, so a character may also not look into himself and report his emotions through a dialogue tag while he’s dealing with a situation.

The impact is often strongest when the reader concludes what a character is feeling after watching him in action. The impact isn’t the same when the narrator (or viewpoint character) points out what the character is feeling.

Characters who are living out the events and adventures of their story are often so caught up that they’d never report how they delivered a line of dialogue. They are insiders, living out the moment. They are not outsiders looking into a story from a safe distance and merely reporting the facts, as if they’re aware of eavesdroppers listening in to their thoughts.

Thus narrative distance and POV can influence the word choices for dialogue tags. An omniscient narrator, looking on from a distance, might very well use many methods to tell us what is happening to a character and how the character responds. A first-person narrator, on the other hand, wouldn’t share the same way. Third-person narration would likely fall between the extremes.

We need dialogue tags, because otherwise readers would get lost. But they shouldn’t muscle their way into the unfolding drama. They are supporting elements, not star players.

Let’s go back to Jake and his viewpoint. Wouldn’t the impact be stronger if we actually saw the wheedling or cajoling or groaning? Or might the impact not be stronger if someone else pointed out Jake’s groaning?

“Jake, don’t forget to invite your brother.”

He banged his head against the counter. “Mom . . .”

“You heard me.”

“I always have to invite him.” He stomped out of the kitchen.


“Jake, don’t forget to invite your brother.”

He banged his head against the counter. “Mom . . .”

“Stop complaining.”

He stomped out of the kitchen. “I always have to invite him.”

“I heard that.”

Dialogue Setup
Dialogue is a peculiar thing; it has its own setup and way of working. And it can accomplish much for fiction. But it shouldn’t be asked to do what it’s not equipped to do.

And yes, many established authors do use a variety of words for dialogue tags. But that doesn’t mean their choices are the best ones.

I don’t want you to think that dialogue tags are bad or wrong, although some can be quite laughable; they do have a purpose. But they also have a format. They work best when we ask them to do their purpose and let other writing elements do theirs.

We need dialogue tags, especially the basic ones. But we need them to stay out of the way of dialogue and action.

You don’t need to scrub all dialogue tags from your fiction, not even the creative ones—please don’t think you need to do that. But do understand their impact and limitations.  Understand that you may slow your reader by your choice of tag. Know that you may disrupt the flow that you worked so painstakingly to smooth out and speed up. Keep in mind that the unusual may distract your readers, ushering them out of the emotion of the moment or straight out of your fictional world.

Keep readers inside the flow of the story’s events, helping them experience those events as if they were happening right in front of them. Refrain from using words and phrases and structures that remind readers they are not really in the story world. Words, including dialogue tags, that smack of telling, of reporting the how and why, are consistent reminders that readers are outside looking in rather than standing in the thick of the action, experiencing events as they play out.

Action Beats
Make sure that readers always know which character is speaking, but keep in mind that dialogue tags aren’t the only means to identify the speaker. In addition to dialogue tags, another method is the use of action beats.

Action beats can be overused since they can get in the way of dialogue, but they’re quite useful when used to flavor fictional conversations.

Action beats help break up dialogue, and they can be used in place of dialogue tags. In scenes with multiple speaking characters, action beats can turn the reader’s focus from one character to another.

“I think I need a drink,” Vanessa said.

Mary turned to her. “You buying?”

“Isn’t it your turn?”

“I bought the last three times.”

“But that’s because you keep losing bets, not because you were treating.”

Hands on her hips, Lisa stepped between Vanessa and Mary. “I’ll treat if we can get out of this dump this minute.”

There’s only one dialogue tag here, but it’s clear who is speaking each line. And the dialogue itself reveals the characters’ attitudes. We don’t need special tags or adverbs attached to the tags to convey character attitude. And we don’t need too many tags—the action beat introducing Lisa’s dialogue clearly lets the reader know that Lisa will be delivering the next line.


Dialogue tags are necessary because readers need to know who is speaking. Any time readers are lost and have to reread several lines of dialogue to see where they got off track, you risk losing those readers. And any time a reader is confused or distracted and has to backtrack, he is pulled from the fictional world. He loses the emotional buildup and the aura that surrounds him as he reads an involving book.

Any time that connection to the fictional is broken, the reader can grow annoyed or disappointed or exasperated. If someone from the reader’s 3D world interrupts a story, that’s bad. But when the writer creates an interruption, that’s worse. The reader may not fully engage when he gets back into the flow. He may expect to be thrown out again and thus hold back. Or it may simply take him a while to get back into a story once he’s been distracted.

We all know how frustrated we get when we’re reading an especially engrossing scene and are interrupted—we lose momentum and the emotional connection to the characters and their problems. As writers, we want to keep that connection strong for our readers. As far as dialogue tags are concerned, that means using enough of them to keep speakers identified. It also means using tags that don’t distract from the words of the dialogue itself.

Use dialogue tags, but use them as signposts. Let the dialogue be the message.



Tags:     Posted in: Craft & Style, Writing Tips

42 Responses to “Another Take on Dialogue Tags”

  1. Tom Bryson says:

    Hi Beth,
    “One of the best posts I’ve read about dialogue tags,” Tom said. He punched the computer keyboard, “I’m saving it in my personal ‘writing tips’ file!’

    Thanks, Tom

  2. Martha says:

    Excellent post. You’re right when you imply that proper tagging is striking just the right balance. I’ve read books with too many — and too few. One requires I sift through extraneous words; the other requires that I re-read to figure out who said what. Tagging is critical for uninterrupted comprehension and successful flow.

  3. Tom Bryson says:

    Whoops -should be…writing tips file.” (Used single curly quote above). Importance of editing?

  4. Brock Hagan says:

    Thanks, I just wrote my. First novel and going to go back and edit. This gives me more to look back on.

  5. Linda says:

    Great post. You’ve helped me so much in my writing. Keep the advice coming.

  6. prissy elrod says:

    Great article. Thanks, Beth!

  7. Rosi says:

    Terrific article. I will be posting this link on my blog. Thanks so much for this.

  8. Peter Pollak says:

    As always Beth, your piece forces me to think more deeply about how I go about my trade. Thank you. I’ll be sharing your piece via social media. You deserve a lot of readers.

  9. Peter Pollak says:

    As always Beth, your piece forces me to think more deeply about how I go about my trade. Thank you.

  10. Thanks, Tom. And while editing’s important, I’m sure most people wouldn’t ding you for typos in comments.

  11. Martha, that balance is important. Another reason why writing is not so simple. Each story requires a unique balance of elements.

  12. Brock, I hope you enjoy the editing. One of my favorite parts of the creative process. I’m glad the article was helpful.

  13. Linda, Prissy, and Rosi—thanks so much for letting me know the article had something for you. It’s always good to know when something strikes a chord with writers.

  14. Peter, thanks for sharing the article. I love when more writers get a chance to read the tips and suggestions. And I’m glad to prod you to think—one of my intentions.

  15. Cynthianna says:

    Spot on! I wish I could convey this info to many of the authors of “big house publisher” books I’ve read for review. My pet peeve is “She said sweetly…” What exactly does that mean, especially after she’s taken a pistol and blown someone away?

  16. Cynthianna, I hope sweetly in such a sentence is meant to convey irony.

    Deciding how to use dialogue tags is indeed tricky. But many writers do succeed at striking a good balance. Here’s hoping we each get better at it.

  17. Lamb says:

    Cheers, Beth

    I really appreciated the way you explain things so clearly and simply.

    I wouldn’t mind if you did more on action beats one day. :) When I started culling dialogue tags from my work, I think I went a little mad on action beats. When I revise stories now, I realise often what I’ve written is really no more than filler—identifying the speaker, sure, but also adding nothing valuable to the narrative—maybe a throwaway hand gesture or a scowl.

    Also, for some reason my beats rely too much on my characters “looking” at each other, or focusing on each other’s facial expressions. Do you have any handy tips on how we can work on improving our use of action beats?

  18. Lamb, thanks. I’m glad the explanations are clear.

    An article on action beats is a great idea. I’ll try to get one up this week.

    And I understand exactly what you mean about characters “looking” at one another. The use of “look” is something I point out to writers fairly often.

  19. Mark says:

    I’m an aspiring writer, and though I’ve written several novel manuscripts, I haven’t gotten published yet. So take that into account when I say I don’t use dialog tags. I have entire novels with no “he said,” “he asked,” etc.

    In your above example, I might write: Vanessa turned. “I think I need a drink.”

    This forces me to add more background detail. Obviously I have to avoid cliches, such as a character raising her eyebrows, or looking quizzically. But I find it a good discipline.

  20. Lamb says:

    Hi Mark

    Focussing on avoiding (or eliminating) clichés—whether using tags or action beats—is excellent for developing writing skills.

    I doubt I’ll ever try to eliminate all tags from my writing; a balance between tags and beats suits my style and is the style I gravitate to as a reader. However, it could be a great writing exercise to try to focus my thoughts on the topic.

    For me, once again, it comes down to this consideration—what value is the tag or beat adding to my work? Is the detail adding essential information (whether it be to aid reader comprehension or supply the plot) that can not be added more elegantly any other way?

    I think in this respect many of my beats fail. I got so caught up in the “don’t overuse tags/don’t use -ly words” rule of thumb, I never stopped to think why. Having decided to try more beats than tags, I didn’t realize I was simply replacing one bad habit for another (in my opinion).

    I’m glad I make these mistakes though. I have to learn through doing. I’d never have learnt “why” this writing advice is often given otherwise.

  21. Cat says:

    Hi Beth,
    I’m an aspiring writer and I’ve just begun to write what I hope will be my very first novel. However, I’m writing it on my mother tongue, but people on my country don’t really give opportunities to anyone. In fact, I don’t even know many publishing houses that publish more than translations of books. I’m also considering moving away after I finish college.
    Bottom line, my question is, is it worth it to write in English or should I stick with my native tongue? I know I’m not as good in English as I am in my own language (naturally…), but many times I find myself thinking in English and then translating. Do you think I should focus more on improving my English and translating the ~10k words I already have?

    • Cat, you’ve got several options.

      I don’t know about the publishing situation for whatever language is your first language, but you can always first write the novel in that language. Whether or not you publish in that language, you’ll have a story that comes fluidly in a language you are more than familiar with. Then you could always have it translated into English if you felt you wanted to publish it in English instead. If you think you could translate it yourself, try it. But if you feel you’d miss the nuances, you could always pay to have it translated.

      Or you could write in English to begin with. But I’m imagining that will be difficult. It’s not that you can’t do it, but if you want it to sound as if a native English speaker wrote it, you’ve got some extra work ahead of you. Still, you could write it in English and then hire someone to help you rework it, make it sound natural.

      It sounds as if you’re working on two different tasks—writing a novel and trying to improve your English. Both great tasks, but difficult to do at the same time. Not impossible, just more work than doing only one of them. As long as you give yourself extra time and realize that you’re working on two different tasks, you could do both. But accomplishing them both will take longer.

      Do you read novels in English? If not, or if you don’t do a lot of it, I’ll suggest that you do. Read a lot in English. And make sure you’re getting everything you can from the stories. Joining a book club would be great for this. As others talk about the books, you’ll see what they’re getting out of the stories and you can see if you’re getting the same kinds of things.

      I don’t know the level of your comprehension when you read English—do you easily pick up on nuance and anything hidden in the text? Do sarcasm and irony come through clearly? If so, you’re English is probably pretty good. If you pick up on more than simply surface dialogue and blatant actions, you can probably write in English as well.

      Why not try a couple of short stories in both English and your first language, see how they compare? Do you have someone who can read them in both languages? See what a few readers have to say. See if they pick up different qualities in the stories in one language as compared to the other. That might help you decide which you should write in.

      I wish you success at whichever course you follow. Let us know how it goes.

  22. Ron says:

    Hi Beth,

    I recently re-read three of your posts on dialogue tags and then went back and found several violations of the rules in my manuscript, which prompts me to ask – why can’t body language be used as both description and tag?

    Since body language is a significant part of everyday oral communication it seems the “he said, she said” can sometimes be omitted, without risk of confusing the reader when body language is included. For example:

    “No,” Susan smiled, “I don’t think I want to do that.”


    “No,” Susan said smiling, “I don’t think I want to do that.”

    The smile is a significant part of this communication. Without it, this could be read as total rejection. The smile might suggest playfulness. The question is, why in a case like this, is ‘said’ necessary?

    I know the argument is that you can’t smile, laugh or spat words, but words from that cute girl, delivered with a smile, can melt you heart. The smile is, arguably, the most important part of that communication. It is not included in the quotes, but it is integral to the delivery of the words and the speaker’s intent.

    If your boss fires you and smiles, she has not only stabbed you, the smile twists the knife.

    “I’m sorry,” she smiled, “this will be your last day at Fenner & Smith.”

    Why is she smiling? Is she just mean or wicked, or firing you while recalling her amorous evening with the guy she promised last night to hire?

    Economy of words and clarity are keys to good, crisp writing. It seems, other than perhaps breaking an ‘editing’ rule, the above example of substituting descriptive body language for ‘said’ would comply with both goals — of course, if not overdone in length or frequency of use.

    I discovered your blog sometime in the past year and find it a wealth of valuable information. Thank you for sharing.

  23. Ron, you’ve posed a good question. But I think you hit on the answer when you said body language is a significant part of everyday oral communication. Body language isn’t actually part of oral communication. It is communication, but it’s separate from our words. Sometimes body movements jibe with spoken words, but other times they do not. When they don’t match, a speaker could be lying with either his words or his actions. Or maybe his words sound sure but his actions reveal ambivalence or uncertainty.

    While it’s true that words and actions can work together—and often do—they remain separate responses.

    Pairing an endearing (or calculating or provocative or sadistic) smile with words is one way to enrich the words and add details to the communication, but as you noted, people don’t smile words. The easy fix for this is to simply pair the dialogue and the action. If you don’t want to say she said, then you don’t. But you work the paired elements in a way that doesn’t imply that they are one element. They are actually two different responses—one spoken, one not—and should be written as such. That is, they are not a single reaction. The character is both speaking and smiling. The only change necessary to create the correct connection between the two actions is a couple of periods in place of the commas. Readers will still appreciate the link between the two actions.

    “No.” Susan smiled. “I don’t think I want to do that.”

    “No.” She laughed. “I don’t think I want to do that.”


    To get a sense of what happens when actions other than simple smiles and laughter are involved, look at these constructions—

    “No,” she hit me with a tight fist, “I don’t think I want to do that.” X

    “No,” she fluffed her hair in a way that told me she was flirting, “I don’t think I want to do that.” X

    “No,” she bit her lip, “I don’t think I want to do that.” X

    This is carrying out your option to an extreme, but if smiles and laughter were legitimate ways to speak, then these other actions would also be legitimate. And yet it’s obvious that we don’t punctuate action and dialogue this way. An action or motion is an entity of its own, as is dialogue. And while dialogue tags allow us to pair dialogue and action in a sentence, we don’t want to give the impression that a character is doing anything with the spoken word other than speaking it.

    So do pair your dialogue with actions, but do so without implying that the two are the same thing. They can be done at the same time, of course. But they are individual events. And if you want the accompanying smile or laugh to get special attention, try something such as this—

    “I’m sorry”—she smiled with relish, showing every perfect tooth—“this will be your last day at Fenner & Smith.”
    Because there are already ways to pair dialogue with action—with and without dialogue tags—I don’t see this option being accepted anytime soon. That isn’t to say it won’t happen one day. But for now, punctuating according to the accepted rules should be your first choice.

  24. Ron says:


    Modifying the sentence, as you suggest, with a couple of periods gives the writer an option of showing action related to the dialogue without requiring a dialogue tag when one isn’t necessary to identify the speaker.

    Thank you for your thorough response.

  25. Ron says:

    Hi Beth,
    I have another dialogue tag question. Is the following construction acceptable?
    “But, you’re going to Viet Nam,” Anne Cornell challenged causing glances from Dan to Tom.

    Is “challenged” acceptable as a tag or would you have to do something like this:
    “But, you’re going to Viet Nam.” Anne Cornell challenged Dan, causing glances from Dan to Tom.

    • Ron, you can no doubt find challenged used as a dialogue tag in published books, and in some genres, it would be accepted without a second thought. Yet if you were being a stickler for accuracy, you would say it’s not a means of delivering words. It’s an action.

      I don’t want to say that you can never, ever, absolutely never use such words as dialogue tags, because even the best authors occasionally use them, but you should definitely limit their use. If you can convey the same information in a different way, as you’ve done with your second option, that’s usually better. You still get the word challenged in there, but you won’t have readers cringing at creative or unusual tags.

      A couple of other issues with your sentence (I’m not picking on the sentence, but I assume you would want to know)—

      ~ Is challenge the best description of what Anne is doing? She may be challenging him, but the words you’re going to Vietnam don’t sound like a challenge. They sound like surprise or some other reaction. Or is she actually telling him that he is going? It’s hard to tell out of context, but I just want to be sure you’re using the best verb for the circumstances.

      ~ No comma after but. I think way back in school we were all taught to use commas after but, and, or, and so forth at the beginning of sentences, but the comma is only necessary if a clause, a little aside or digression, follows. So—

      But, and I know you already know this, I couldn’t tell him.

      But I couldn’t tell him.

      Or, as you already said, it’s a lost cause.

      Or it’s a lost cause.

      ~ You corrected this one in the second example but not in the first—include a comma after challenged.

  26. Dori Harrell says:


    This blog on dialogue tags is great. I’ve worked as a freelance editor for a while, but now I’m editing a genre I’ve read but not edited before: historical. It’s set in the nineteenth century, and the writer does a decent job with the period vernacular.

    Dialogue tags are something I’ve never had to give a second thought to. But now, every time the author uses “he spoke” as a dialogue tag, or, for example: Conor spoke for all the men, “I’m sorry, John, I know you were like a brother to drew.” She uses ” he spoke” frequently and it’s not too distracting and it fits the era nicely. But, every time I come across it, I instinctively find myself punctuating it as an action beat rather than as a tag. Am I correct in ” he spoke” is a dialogue tag? It’s driving me crazy!

    I would edit the above quoted sentence: Conor spoke for all the men. “I’m sorry, John. I know you were like a brother to Drew.”

    Thanks for your help!

    Dori Harrell
    Freelance editor

    • Dori, this is a great question.

      In my opinion, he spoke is not a dialogue tag, it’s an action. I’d be putting a period in there, not a comma. You can see how it would play out if the sentence was written this way—

      Conor spoke for all the men when he said, “I’m sorry, John, I know you were like a brother to Drew.”

      I understand wanting to go with a certain feel for the genre, but spoke isn’t the same as said. It will catch the reader’s eye and ear.

      Readers really do gloss over said, so it’s safe to use most of the time for every genre. The important item to note is the speaker. When verbs other than said and asked are used, the reader has to process the verb. For ease of a read, said is the best way to go.

      This doesn’t mean that sometimes we can’t use other words for tags, but anything that slows the reader, that catches the reader’s attention and points at structure or the mechanics, is something that pulls the reader out of the fictional world and directs attention away from the characters and their problems. Do the pros outweigh the cons? In this case, is trying to create a certain feel, by using spoke as a tag, worth slowing the read and pointing a spotlight at the unusual tag?

      We don’t want readers noticing craft issues; we want them lost in the story.

      And yes, students of literature examine every part of a novel, but for the general reader, we want to do everything we can to help them get lost in the fiction.

      Might readers get used to spoke fairly quickly? Maybe. Maybe it’s the right touch for the story. Yet there are valid reasons to not use it as a tag. There are other ways to reinforce the feel of the story as something from the past, ways that won’t have readers stopping each time they see spoke used in such a manner.

      I would recommend not using spoke as a tag.


      And no need to worry about typos in a comment. We all make them.

  27. Dori Harrell says:

    Sorry for the typos! I’m going to have to better edit my own posts. I apparently type faster than screens can keep up sometimes.


  28. Ben says:

    Hi Beth!

    I just read through your dialog tag articles and now my face hurts from all the face palms. I think I’ve done every example you listed, good and bad. I only write as a hobby, but I’ve been worried about how it flows lately. Cleaning up my dialog tags should be a good step in that direction :)

    When I finished reading, I had a question about incorporating body language, and lo and behold: Ron had already asked the same question and it was beautifully answered!

    There is a wealth of great knowledge here and I had to share it with my writing group.

    • Ben, you’re right that cleaning up dialogue tags will help with flow. And you can borrow some of the same advice for other areas of your text—ask if certain words or phrases are necessary, ask if you’re telling readers about what has happened rather than inviting them into the story, ask if you’ve used adverbs when instead you should have been using more specific verbs.

      Thanks for passing the info to your group. I hope it serves them well.

      (Did you read the article Laughing or Smiling Dialogue? There are definitely some good points about dialogue and dialogue tags there.)

      Thanks for letting me know you were here.

      • Ben says:

        Beth, thanks for the follow up questions to ask.

        I’d missed that article somehow (read it now). It would have also answered my questions from the previous comment.

        Being open and sharing info usually helps everybody in the long run. Thanks for all the effort you put into this site.