Understanding Dialogue Tags

By on December 24, 2020

When it comes to formatting your novel, even the smallest mistakes can be picked up by eagle-eyed readers. So it is important to understand as much as you can about all aspects of formatting a book, and dialogue tags are an important part of that.

What are dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags are what comes after dialogue to let a reader know who has spoked. The simplest and most obvious example would be, ‘he said,’ or ‘she said.’

However they aren;t quite as simply as that. Dialogue tags can be used as a clever narrative device to create a conversation that is sparky, and full of energy, fast and breathless, awkward and uncertain and so on. 

Just using the simplest dialogue tags can be limiting, so lets look at some of the options and the way to format them accordingly:

Typically when formatting a dialogue tag you will place a comma directly after the spoken sentence, was well as the quotation mark, then followed by the tag and a period. While you would never capitalise the word ‘he’ or ‘she,’ using the first person i.e., ‘I’ always is. 

Some examples for clarity are below:

“I love eating cheese,” he said.

“I love eating cheese,” Peter said.

“I love eating cheese,” I said.

If two of your characters are engaged in conversation, continually adding these dialogue tags will quickly become extremely repetitive and are very likely to irk your readers. So in these cases you have the options to leave the dialogue tag out altogether. 

“I love eating cheese,” Peter said.

“Why is that?”

In the above example, it isn’t necessary to put a dialogue tag after the second line, rather you can close the sentence inside the speech marks.

Another way to break up a repetitive strong of dialogue tags is to add an action after one to help build up a vivid image for your reader and match a characters action to their words. An example of tis would be:

“I love eating cheese,” Peter said, rubbing his belly.

in this example, the correct way to format the sentence is by placing the action after the ‘Peter said’ or ‘he/she said’ — by doing so you are separating it from the tag with a comma. A writer also could choose to do this before the dialogue.

Rubbing his belly, Peter said, “I love eating Cheese.”

In this case, the comma is placed after the ‘said,’ and the dialogue begins as usual but ends with a period in this instance.

Each sentence of dialogue from each different speaker must be separated out onto a new line to help readers understand that there is a change in person talking.

Understanding small things such as dialogue tags can make all the difference to ensuring your book is polished and professional. So make sure you take the time to learn these and it could make all the difference!

bethany cadman
Bethany Cadman - bethanycadmancreates.com

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