Dialogue tags :

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What is a dialogue tag?

In a given sentence, words which identify the speaker in dialogues are called dialogue tags. For example, she laughed, he screamed, they argued etc.

Why are they used? What purpose do dialogue tags serve?

First, they tell the reader who is speaking or who has asked the question. If you are describing a conversation between more than two people, you will need to include dialogue tags so that readers can understand which person is speaking.

For example,

Is something troubling you Belle?" Isaac asked while he clasped his fingers in her hand.

"No, Isaac. I just feel lethargic due to sun." Isabelle replied, hiding behind her sunglasses.

“Mommy, can’t you walk fast? I want to see how they feed a Giraffe.” Suzan cried and pulled Isabelle’s hand.

Second, it also shows the action related to character’s thought process.

For example,

I hate you for what you did to me.” Isabelle shouted. This clearly shows that Isabelle is speaking this sentence in anger because she is shouting.

Following are the few verbs which can be used as dialogue tags.

Acknowledged, admitted, agreed, answered, argued, asked, barked, begged, bellowed

Complained, confessed, cried, demanded, denied, and giggled.

The list is endless. But let’s see what it does to our writing when we use them too much.

Look at this.

“Are you waiting for a call? Ethan is not in Mauritius.” Nicole exclaimed.

“What does that mean? How can he disappear like that?” Isabelle inquired.

“That son of a bitch, he played with your feelings !” Nicole growled.

“Call him anything, but that ! ” Isabelle threatened, shoving a finger in Nicole’s chest.

What do you feel after reading it? The words exclaimed, inquired, growled feel heavy and without emotions.

 Now read this. Here nobody exclaims, inquires or growls because their actions are speaking. We know that Isabelle is raising her eyebrows so she is inquiring.

Nicole pointed towards the mobile Isabelle was holding dearly.  “Are you waiting for a call? Ethan is not in Mauritius.” She said.

Isabelle raised her eyebrows, wrinkling her pretty forehead.  She said, “What does that mean? How can he disappear like that?”

Nicole ground her teeth and stared at Isabelle. “That son of a bitch, he played with your feelings !"

Isabelle took a step forward and shoved her pretty finger in Nicole’s chest. “Call him anything, but that !" She said.

Now check this.

Nicole threw mobile on the bed and folded her hands to the chest. Isabelle raised her eyebrows, wrinkling her pretty forehead as the result.

“Are you waiting for a call? Ethan is not in Mauritius.” Nicole said.

“What does that mean? How can he disappear like that?”

“That son of a bitch, he played with your feelings ! "

Isabelle took a threatening step forward, “Call him anything, but that !"

Here, we have set the scene and related emotions in the first few sentences so afterwards we don’t have to tell readers what our characters are feeling and how are they reacting. Now compare this to the first example. I am not an expert but I guess, the third example is much better than the first two. It doesn’t obscure reading and flows well.

I would like to clarify that I am not a professional writer and even I didn’t know much about the dialogue tags when I was writing my first book. There are various views and different opinions on this topic and I don’t claim to know it all. However, it is universally recommended to use few dialogue tags to indicate who is speaking. Most editors and authors stick by said and asked.

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