Dialogue Tags – Who Said What?

For my poor critique group, they know how I’ve historically abused dialogue tags. “He stood”, “She sighed”, “they somersaulted” (okay, that one was a joke), are some of the ways that I would use dialogue tags.

After MUCH editing and MUCH research on the subject, here are my golden dialogue tag do’s and don’ts.

DO use dialogue tags to mark speech. Hence the name. It doesn’t need to be the typical said, asked or replied. Be creative, but the tag should be describing the way in which a sentence is said. It sounds logical, but I was a regular abuser of this.


DO NOT use dialogue tags to describe action. My worst offender was he/she sighed. My dear critique friend Maggie told me “Victoria, you can’t ‘sigh’ an entire sentence, can you?” I’ll be damned if I didn’t try, but she was right. Can you laugh a sentence? Not really. It doesn’t mean I can’t say my character laughed or sighed, but there needs to be a period.

DO use tags sparingly. I tend to tag every piece of dialogue. Every piece. This is a no-no. Ultimately I make sure to remove many of the tags in the edit, but by having too many tags, you’re simply disrupting the reading. Your reader is smart! They know who is saying what with a little guidance here and there. If they don’t know who is who, then in many cases your dialogue is not unique to your character.

For the most part, if I stick to these three rules, I’m set. Ignore them and I’ll spend hours sifting through edits.

Anything you’d add?

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