Dialogue Tags

Just what is a dialogue tag?

It’s a statement after dialogue, you answer. You can use just about any verb to indicate a dialogue tag.

Notice me tapping a foot and patiently waiting for the rest of the answer?

You should be…

A dialogue tag consists of only a few verbs. They are said/say or asked/ask. You can use synonyms of those words, but you can’t use a plethora of other words.

What you can’t use are laugh, snort, smile, or other words that have become popular to use as vocal tags. Those do not indicate speaking. They are actions and are therefore action tags.

How about we do a test and see how those “new” vocal tags work. Say a full sentence while smiling—a big, wide, tooth exposing smile. Don’t lose that smile now. You’re trying to prove to everyone that smile is a vocal tag.

Okay, okay. You can stop now. That wasn’t easy or pretty. Was it?

Step two:

Snort. That’s right. Snort. Oh, don’t forget to speak your character’s dialogue while you’re doing it.

Yes, you are having a test. Several, in fact. Are you beginning to understand the real test here?

Let’s set this in stone. You can say, shout, exclaim, demand, ask, or squeal dialogue. You cannot smile, snort, laugh, or stick out your tongue words.

Vocal tags identify how the character is speaking. You can add emotion to them, but you can’t substitute actions for dialogue. It just doesn’t work.

To counter that old argument that “everyone else does it.” Actually, no they don’t. A few others do this and think they’re being hip and cool. Kind of like smoking was hip and cool back in high school. Or using pot or other drugs.

As authors, we choose what rules we break in our novels. What we can’t do is break the rules that are unbreakable. Those are there for a reason, to make our books read seamlessly. The use of proper dialogue tags is one of those rules.