Edits By Knight

Which Dialogue Tags to Use—or Not

     There’s no shortage of advice when it comes to using dialogue tags, and you’ve probably heard—and seen—it all: Use only the basic tags; Don’t use tags at all; Do whatever you want, and damn the man!

    The truth is, there’s no one “right” way to write, and what you ultimately choose to do depends solely on your personal preference and style. However, there are tried-and-true strategies for every aspect of writing, and if you dismiss every bit of advice out-of-hand, you’ll be left with a jumble of words that is difficult (or impossible) for readers to chew their way through.

Word Choice Matters

     First and foremost, always make sure you’re using an appropriate dialogue tag. If you write “he replied” at the beginning of a conversation, the reader will be left wondering just who your character is replying to

     Don’t be afraid to just say “said” in your dialogue! Simple dialogue tags blend into the background while still clarifying the speaker. When you’d like a particular phrase to stand out or are trying to set a specific mood, it’s perfectly fine—even desirable—to use something more descriptive, like “yelled” or “whispered.”

    However, if you’re using a different descriptive tag every time—or even the same one over and over—the tags will steal the spotlight from what’s actually being said. Similarly, if you use a tag that doesn’t match the context of the dialogue, you’ll leave readers scratching their heads, trying to figure out what you’re getting at. 

    Exotic or unusual tags, in particular, can distract a reader to the point that they lose track of the conversation. For instance, I have one client that was overly fond of the word “hollered,” but luckily, he wasn’t married to it. I shouldn’t have to say this, but just in case you were thinking about it… Do NOT use “ejaculate” as a tag. (The reasons for this should be obvious!)

Basic Dialogue Tags

When you do need a tag, these should accompany the bulk of your dialogue:

  • said
  • replied
  • asked
  • answered

     Be sure to check out the rest of the basics of using dialogue tags, and visit visit my blog’s main page to find more tips and tricks for editors, writers, and freelancers!

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.

Miko lives in North Alabama with their husband, Mark—two bright blue dots in a really red state. The pair have three cats, Henry, Louise, and Jefferson Twilight, and live the quiet and satisfying lives of two nerdy introverts. The work-from-home lifestyle is perfect for Miko, who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism in their late thirties.

     In their spare time, Miko enjoys gardening, playing the piano, singing, playing JRPGs, Tabletop gaming, and (of course) reading.

For more about me, visit my blog here.