Tips on Dialogue Tags

  1. If it is understood who is talking, the dialogue can sometimes be stronger without using any dialogue tag.
  2. Using the simple “said” is the most detracting for readers.
  3. If the dialogue isn’t strong enough to use “said,” consider rewriting it.
  4. Don’t use more than one dialogue tag per paragraph.
  5. It is best to show the character’s emotions when speaking rather than telling them. For example, instead of using “I didn’t mean to hurt you,” she pouted use Her lower lip trembled. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
  6. You can use some descriptive dialogue tags, but use them sparingly.
  7. Avoid using adverb tags that end in –ly, such as mysteriously or slyly.
  8. Extreme dialogue tags can make the characters sound melodramatic or even silly. For example, having the heroine “shriek” something makes her sound harsh.
  9. If you use a dialogue tag other than “said,” make sure it is physically possible. For example, you can’t “laugh” a comment. You can use: She laughed. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
  10. You can’t add a verb description and force it to be part of a dialogue tag. For example, a person can’t physically grimace a comment. You can use: He grimaced. “I’m sorry about that.”
  11. Another often used dialogue tag that is physically impossible is “hissed.”
  12. Try not to add adverbs to the dialogue tags unless it really adds something to the dialogue. For example, if the character’s words already show anger, don’t add “angrily” (he said angrily).
  13. Avoid using these tags in a love scene: ejaculated, cockily

Dialogue Tags to Avoid

  1. Exclaimed, shouted, asserted, demanded, thundered
  2. Cried, shrieked, barked, snarled, growled, sniffed, hissed
  3. Grimaced, grinned, smiled, frowned
  4. Murmured, whimpered, whispered
  5. Inquired, queried
  6. Interjected, interrupted, counseled, conceded

Correct Grammatical Use of Dialogue Tags

The subject should go before the verb, such as Starla said and not said Starla.
Adding a comma after a tag with a descriptive phrase following it can weaken the dialogue. For example, “Do you hate snakes as much as I do?” Penny asked, wrinkling her nose in displeasure. This would be stronger by using “Do you hate snakes as much as I do?” Penny wrinkled her nose in displeasure.

More Words Often Wrongly Used as Dialogue Tags

acknowledged added admitted
admonished advised agreed
announced answered apologized
argued attempted baited
balked basked beamed
began begged bellowed
blazed bleated boasted
breathed broke in burped
cackled called cautioned
charged chattered chided
choked choked out chortled
chuckled coaxed completed
concerned concluded considered
continued cooed corrected
coughed counseled countered
criticized croaked crowed
declared defended denied
dictated disagreed dodged
encouraged erupted explained
exploded expostulated expounded
finished fretted fumed
gasped gloated grated
greeted grilled grinned
ground out groused grumped
grunted guessed haggled
hooted hypothesized improvised
informed inserted insisted
instructed intoned introspected
invited jeered jested
joked judged jumped in
kidded lamented lashed out
leered looked managed
marveled mimicked moaned
mocked mocked mouthed
mused nodded objected
observed offered opinionated
ordered panicked panted
paused persisted pleaded
pointed out pontificated postulated
prayed pressed pressed on
promised prompted pronounced
protested puzzled questioned
quipped quoted raged
ranted rasped rationalized
reasoned rebuked recanted
reciprocated recited referred
remanded remembered reminded
remonstrated repeated requested
required responded retorted
returned reveled sang
scolded scorned scowled
seethed shared shot back
shot out shrugged sighed
slurred smirked snapped
sneezed snickered soothed
spat spat out spewed
spit spoke spouted
sputtered squealed stammered
stated stopped stuttered
suggested summarized supplied
swallowed sympathized teased
tested testified theorized
threatened trumpeted urged
uttered ventured vociferated
waffled wailed warned
welcomed went on whined

© 2010 Starla Kaye

The Smarts Button

This website is the work of Starla Criser, an author who has published more than 50 stories, both traditionally and through self-publishing routes.