“Oh no! There’s too many speech tags,” she said

I know there are tons of grammar blogs that let everyone in on what you should and shouldn’t be doing with your writing. As an editor, everything I suggest is just that: a suggestion. My suggestions, however, are based either in logic or grammar rules. Today I wanted to talk about speech tags, and the following information is not wrong or right, just my opinion.

So, what is a speech tag? It’s the said, asked, suggested etc that comes after dialogue. So: “I just wanted to talk,” he said. As a reader (and editor, and I’m not singling out anyone here) if I have to read through too many he said/she said, I get bored. It’s repetitive and can become boring. So, how can  you tighten your text and still make it clear who is talking?

Scenario 1: If there are only two people talking, the reader can assume who is doing the speaking if we have established at the beginning of the conversation who is who.

“I’m sick,” Sammy said.

“What sort of sick?” asked her mother.

“I want to vomit.”

“Hang on, and I’ll get the bucket.”

If they happen to have a long conversation, you can remind the reader in a few lines, if you think they may lose who is who.

Scenario 2: This works no matter how many people are talking. Get rid of the said, asked, yelled, and use actions or descriptions. It avoids repetition and gives depth to the characters.

“I’m sick.” Sammy’s face looked pale.

“What sort of sick?” Her mother placed a palm on her forehead to test her temperature.

“I want to vomit.”

“Hang on, and I’ll get a bucket.” Her mother ran to the cupboard.

Scenario 3: But I want people to know my character is angry and they’re yelling.

Sometimes it’s better to try and convey how it’s said with actions or with the actual words being said.

Chris saw Samantha standing at the edge of the cliff. He ran toward her. “No, don’t jump!”

It’s obvious he’s yelling, at least it is to me. And I suppose the exclamation mark helped. I’m not a total speech-tag hater; sometimes it’s nice to write, “I think you have toilet paper on the back of your trousers,” she whispered to him as they walked out of the restaurant.

Anyway, as for most things, there’s a time and a place. Read through your story and see if there are some speech tags you can leave out or change to actions. Your readers will be happy you did.

15 Comments

Filed under Dionne's Blog, Professional Writing/Editing Services

15 responses to ““Oh no! There’s too many speech tags,” she said

  1. I found this post very insightful. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Miranda Kate

    So concisely put! Great examples too. Now, how about the comma or full stop at the end of a speech sentence, or when breaking into the middle of a speech line – then it gets tricky!

  3. timamarialacoba

    Really helpful, Dionne. I know I need reminding about the overuse of these simple tags.

  4. Thanks for sharing, Dionne. I try to use these rules, but it’s always nice to be reminded!

  5. I almost always prefer action to dialogue tags. It makes the story more interesting.

  6. Lisette Brodey

    Good blog, Dionne. And I agree. I’m writing my current YA series without any dialogue tags at all. There are challenges in doing so, but it’s working out well.

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