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Old 09-28-2007, 04:55 AM View Post #1 (Link) Dialogue Tags!
Andy (Offline)
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Dialogue tags can be confusing, because there are so many ways to do them right (and wrong). Luckily, they CAN be learned properly. Doing so will hopefully make using them much easier and fun, maybe even open new creative doors.

Dialogue Tag Basics
"Stop staring at me," he said.
In this sentence, "said" is the dialogue tag. It connects the dialogue to the rest of the sentence. Some others are "reply","exclaim", and "whisper".

Now, on to the technical part, which can make them much easier to understand. Dialogue tags are actually linking verbs. If you recall, linking verbs require a direct object. Here, the dialogue IS the direct object, and the dialogue tag connects it to the rest of the sentence. Look at this example:
"Stop staring at me," he said.
^ That's what a proper dialogue tag should look like. It uses a comma. Not a period - a common mistake. Why is a period wrong?
"Stop staring at me." He said.
"Said" is a linking verb, so it requires a direct object. But its direct object has become its own sentence. The result is that "He said" is an incomplete sentence, and thus bad grammar.

It's possible to move the dialogue tag to the front of the sentence, also. But it still uses a comma:
He said, "Stop staring at me."
Now you may be wondering why "Stop" is still capitalized. In a way, everything inside those quotation marks is its own sentence, so the entire example above is like a sentence within a sentence. Thus, there are two beginnings of sentences, so two words need to be capitalized.

What about when exclamation points and question marks are used?
"Stop staring at me!" he said.
"Are you staring at me?" he asked.
Just like before, "he" should not be capitalized because that would create a sentence fragment. "!" and "?" and "," all work the same way when the dialogue tag is after the dialogue.

What about dialogue broken into two parts?
"I do," he replied, "like to stare at people."
"I do like to stare at people" is a sentence that's been cut in half. For that reason, "like" should not be capitalized, and there should be commas on either side of the dialogue tag.
"I am staring at you," he replied. "You look scared."
^ This example is different because there is now a period after "replied". "I am staring at you" and "You look scared" are complete sentences, so both need to start with a capital letter.
"I am staring at you," he replied, "You look scared."
^ That's wrong because it's a comma splice - an improper use of a comma and capital letter. To make the error easier to spot, try removing the dialogue tag and seeing if the speech still makes sense. If it doesn't work, then it won't work with a dialogue tag, either:
"I am staring at you, You look scared."

Non-Dialogue Tags
"Stop staring at me," he was angry.
"Stop staring at me." He was angry.
The first example is a run-on sentence. "He was angry" has nothing to do with dialogue tags, so it should not act like one. The second example works because both are separate sentences.

Here's a non-dialogue tag between two pieces of dialogue:
"I don't want to stop." Billy hesitated. "I'm hungry."
Here's how you can make it part of the same sentence:
"I don't want to stop"—Billy hesitated—"I'm hungry."
What happens with verbs that can either be dialogue tags or regular action verbs?
"Don't eat me!" he shouted.
"Don't eat me!" He shouted.
^ Both work, but they convey slightly different things. In the first one, the dialogue is shouted. In the second one, the dialogue is spoken, then he shouts.

You can also put dialogue between dialogue tags and action verbs - all in one sentence! This works best if the dialogue is short and could use more fluff to make it more interesting.
The boy shouted, "Help," and ran for the doorway.
The boy shouted, "Help!" and ran for the doorway.

Other Things to Remember

When two people are speaking, you should begin a new paragraph when the speaker changes.
"I don't want to eat you," he said. "Why not?" "Because I've already eaten somebody today!" "No way!"

"I don't want to eat you," he said.
"Why not?"
"Because I've already eaten somebody today!"
"No way!"
As you can tell, the first example is harder to follow. It confuses your reader, which you don't want to do.

Also, don't use ridiculous tags like "proclaim" and "announce" and "reciprocate" all the time, or your writing will sound ridiculous and overly dramatic. Typically, you should use "said" because readers hardly notice it, thus the focus is more on your story than the words themselves. At the same time, don't be afraid to use other tags for dramatic effect, if the scene calls for them.

Remember that you should only use a dialogue tag if it isn't clear who's speaking. (That's their purpose.) Don't use them if it's already obvious who's speaking.

There are other ways to show who's speaking. Different characters can be given their own mannerisms and accents. Maybe one of them stammers a lot, and the reader instantly knows who's speaking. You can also use action verbs to accomplish this.
Billy crossed his arms. "Where do you think you're going?”
^ It's clear that Billy is the person speaking. Make sure your dialogue tags aren’t redundant:
Billy crossed his arms. "Where do you think you're going?” he asked.
And there you have it. Everything you ever wanted to know about using dialogue tags, with ridiculous sentences to help the rules stick in your mind. Now go forth and let your characters speak!
						Last edited by Andy; 08-03-2012 at 02:48 AM.
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Old 11-09-2007, 10:19 PM View Post #2 (Link)
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Oh! Since this is a thread on dialogue tags, I would like to add my own thoughts on them which has less to do with how to use them, and more to do with when you should and how you should use them.

Dialogue tags can be incredebly obvious at times, take, "He said," for example. Well, of course, it's dialogue... so someone said it. So why, then, would we use dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags have a few purposes, and the first and most important is to give clarity to the reader. Tags let your reader know who is speaking. Really you only need to do this a little bit if there are two people, and occasionally remind your reader who it is that is speaking. You don't need a tag on each line of dialogue, instead you can just write the dialogue tagless.

Dialogue tags are also an amazing source for adding in action, though sometimes this is annoying. It has to be done... gracefully, and with sense. "I love you," she said, as she kissed his cheek. The reason this can be annoying is because you end up having your tag, a comma, and then a verb in the present tense (or "as so and so". Present tense: she said, kissing his cheek.) That can get annoying quickly, and it's good to change up your sentence structures.

A big thing I don't like about dialogue tags is when people use them to explain how something is said when it is obvious.

"I hate you!" she shouted.

Obviously... the exclamation point says so. You could say cried, hissed, what ever... I think that if the dialogue is obvious, you shouldn't use the tag. Remember, dialogue tag's number one job is telling your reader who is speaking. A better way to show how they are speaking is with what they are doing. There is a big difference between these two:

"I hate you!" She threw the plate at his head.

"I hate you!" She laughed, and gently hit him in the arm.

The first is real hate, the second is jokingly. It works a lot better to show us then to tell us, it's always that old axiom, "Show, don't tell."

I'm not entirely sure I have much else to say on dialogue tags. I hope this helped someone!
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Old 11-09-2007, 10:58 PM View Post #3 (Link)
Andy (Offline)
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Thanks for the additional info, Zuzy!

"I hate you!" she shouted. That reminds me of the show-don't-tell example, "Bob was angry."

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Old 11-09-2007, 11:10 PM View Post #4 (Link)
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Thanks for the guides Andy and Zuzy, I never knew there was so much to dialogue tags. This was great since I have alot of trouble with writing dialogue so thanks again!
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Old 12-14-2007, 12:45 AM View Post #5 (Link)
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Well, talk about something I need Thanks for the guide guys, and thanks for telling my Nyx
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Old 12-14-2007, 05:08 AM View Post #6 (Link)
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Thanks for sharing this with us, Andy. It really helps.

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Old 09-21-2008, 10:47 PM View Post #7 (Link)
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This will definitely help me a lot
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Old 09-21-2008, 11:34 PM View Post #8 (Link)
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That was really helpful, thank you so much!
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Old 01-15-2009, 04:30 PM View Post #9 (Link)
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This is a really helpful thread, glad i stumbled across it.
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Old 01-16-2009, 10:45 PM View Post #10 (Link)
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Oohh... this was quite helpful kind sir!
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