Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Use of Dialogue Tags


 Last week I talked about the balance of Show & Tell in writing. It seems that every aspect of writing requires careful balance....even dialogue tags. I have to admit that I didn't give it much thought. We were always taught in school to vary the word "said', to make your writing more interesting. I even have a "Said is Dead" chart in my classroom of other words for my children to use in their writing.

 In my quest to improve the craft of show & tell, I ran across more than one reference to dialogue tags.  Did you know that some editors refer to words used instead of said ( such as hissed, whimpered, thundered, demanded, etc,) as bookisms?  Your work may appear amateurish if you use too many of these. Some experts say use of these bookisms take the reader out of the story.

So what does show and tell have to do with this? 
 If you write strong dialogue you won't need to use many of these "bookisms". Your strong dialogue will show the emotion without use of these tags.

Look at this conversation from The End of Something  by Ernest Hemmingway.

"There's going to be a moon tonight," said Nick. He looked across the bay to the hills that were beginning to sharpen against the sky. Beyond the hills he knew the moon was coming up.

"I know it," Marjorie said happily.

"You know everything," Nick said.

"Oh, Nick, please cut it out! Please, please don't be that way!"

"I can't help it," Nick said. "You do. You know everything. That's the trouble. You know you do."
Marjorie did not say anything.

"I've taught you everything. You know you do. What don't you know, anyway?"

"Oh, shut up," Marjorie said. "There comes the moon."

They sat on the blanket without touching each other and watched the moon rise.
"You don't have to talk silly," Marjorie said; "what's really the matter?"

"I don't know."

"Of course you know."

"No I don't."

"Go on and say it."

Nick looked on at the moon, coming up over the hills.
"It isn't fun any more."

  Hemingway had a balance of said, invisible tags(it's understood), and tag with action. 

Should you ever use said-bookism tags? Yes, sparingly. Just like all aspects of writing, dialogue tags require careful balance.  

What are your thoughts on use of dialogue tags?

 He Said, She Said: Dialog Tags and Using Them Effectively by D.M. Johnson

The Use and Abuse of Dialogue Tags by Anne M. Marble


  1. I normally will stick to said, but every now and then I slip in a bookism. I think it breaks the monotony of the story, even if you have strong dialogue.

  2. I always like to very my word choice. However, I will admit to sometimes thinking that a writer seems to be trying to hard. It's food for thought.