Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are a writing tool, and although at times dialogue might benefit from a flouncy tag, mostly 'said' is all that is needed.

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Do you fear full-stops? Do you feel the pressure to substitute each and every full-stop in your writing for something of more substance, more prowess, more depth? Are your stories filled with hyphens, colons and daring semicolons, explanation marks, commas, slashes, question marks, any punctuation you can find to substitute for the humble full-stop?


That’s because, although at times other punctuation points can be used, mostly the simple full-stop is all that is needed.

The dialogue tag of ‘she said/he said’ shares this same rule. Fancier, more in-depth and descriptive dialogue tags can be used, but most of the time ‘she said’ or ‘he said’ will simply and efficiently perform its purpose very well.

Think of every piece of dialogue in your work as a bride at a wedding. She is the main event and every guest wants to see her. After all, it is her big moment. She has helpers, bridesmaids and such, who are humbly there for her, to give her support, reassurance, and guidance. These bridesmaids are the ‘she said/he said’ of dialogue tags. They dutifully perform their function well, with grace and simplicity, allowing readers to understand which character is speaking without taking any of the limelight for themselves.

Overly complicated dialogue tags needlessly grab the attention of readers, poking away at them, spoiling their enjoyment of your dialogue. Overly complicated dialogue tags are attention grabbing bridesmaids who long to out-shine the bride.

Dialogue tags have a purpose, and that purpose is to reassure a reader of who is speaking. They are not themselves a descriptive part of your story. They are a tool, just as a full-stop is a tool.

If you Google substitutes for ‘she said/he said’, you will discover hundreds. You will also find plenty of blogs and writerly social media accounts that promote the use of frilly dialogue tags.
Try not to be swayed by this, and please don’t think your writing will look less professional if your characters don’t ‘chortle’, ‘proclaim’, or ‘announce’ all of their words. Stay true to the simplicity of the humble ‘she said/he said’ dialogue tag for the majority of your dialogue, because nothing fulfils its purpose more efficiently.

Rebecca Delphine is a Young Adult author from Thanet.

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