Annie Talks Dialogue Tags: A Discussion Post

annie talks dialogue tags

Today, I’m addressing the hotly disputed (well, not hotly disputed, but disputed nonetheless) topic: dialogue tags.

Let’s start with a definition.  A dialogue tag is a phrase that follows, precedes, or breaks up dialogue in writing to describe how the character in question spoke.  For example, in the sentence “‘I love to read Annie Likes Words’, said Sarah,” “said Sarah” is the dialogue tag.  From these two words, we learn that Sarah spoke and that she said it in a neutral way.

The great debate here is over whether or not to use “said.”  Using extravagant verbs to describe how someone speaks can sound garish and overworked, but it can also be rather descriptive.  On the other hand, using only “said” brings a level of simplicity and conciseness to your writing while reducing the possibility of sounding ostentatious.

In my writing, I prefer to stick to “said” most of the time.  Unless I make the creative decision at the beginning of the piece to use these extravagant dialogue tags, I’m all about “said” for the reasons I listed above.  I find that overly descriptive dialogue tags can be distracting while reading, causing me to focus more on how the writer was trying to pinpoint exactly how the character spoke.  “Said” gets the job done, so why fix it if it ain’t broken?

Rather than finding specific tags to describe dialogue, I prefer to provide details while describing the character as he’s speaking.  Here’s an example:

“Why didn’t you do the dishes?” Mom nagged.

With this example, we get the basic information: someone was supposed to do the dishes, but didn’t, and now Mom is annoyed.  But watch what happens here:

“Why didn’t you do the dishes?” Mom said, crossing her arms over her chest and furrowing her brow.  She pushed her hair out of her face with a vengeance, revealing the tips of her ears: they were bright pink, like they always were when she was irritated.

Here, we got the same information, but in a more realistic way.  We learn about Mom as a person.  We learn about her body language, her idiosyncrasies, the things that are unique to her.  Everyone nags in a differnt way and we learn Mom’s way by describing it here.  Both of these examples get you to the same general place, but the second example’s path has a better view.

With that being said, I will break my own rules for a special set of circumstances.

I will stray from my norm if the character in question is speaking at a different volume, such as shouting or whispering.  There are certainly ways you can incorporate this information into the surrounding sentences, but I think volume needs to be directly attached to the dialogue because volume level and dialogue, you know, go together.

So what do y’all think?  Do you vary your dialogue tags or do you stick to “said?”  Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to check out my Twitter, Pinterest, Goodreads, Wattpad, and Spotify <3


20 thoughts on “Annie Talks Dialogue Tags: A Discussion Post

  1. When I started out, I was for variety in dialogue tags, but since then have learned and been told that various tags can draw attention away from dialogue and descriptions such as with body language like in the example you gave. To put it as I was told, the word “said” is a word that becomes invisible to the reader. So now I suppose while sometimes I’ll have a little variety, “said” is the foremost tag to use.

  2. I typically stick to said and change it if I think it’s necessary in the edits. But I like how you describe it better. I find that I don’t often describe body language as much but I do describe emotions more. I’ll have to try body language sometime!

  3. I use “said” the most, because as was mentioned above, it becomes almost invisible. It’s there to let the reader know who spoke. I am fond of dialogue tags that let the reader in on emotions and mannerisms, however. In my current project, I have a lot of large meetings with lots of characters, so dialogue tags are fairly crucial.
    Great discussion post!

  4. I don’t mind dialogue tags so much. After a while, if they aren’t adding anything to really describe how a character is talking, I skip over them and just read the scene as though the characters are going back and forth, imagining it my own way. Does that make sense? That’s my opinion as a reader, not sure how I’d approach it as a writer.

  5. I was just thinking about this while writing some of my book the other week! I wondered how other people felt about it, and here you’ve put it into words! I definitely agree that “said” usually gets the job done, especially when you’re descriptive in other ways. I generally stick with “said”, too, but I’m willing to bet I use other dialogue tags more than most people, lol. Also, a little ashamed to admit it but, I never knew they were called “dialogue tags” until today, so thank you! Great post, Annie <3


    p.s. I nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award. The post is the top and most recent on my site 🙂

  6. I agree with you! ‘Said’ is a fast way of the reader getting to the story, knowing the emotions, and not getting bored. I hate it when the dialogue tags are overly complicated and take away from the story. I get so bored and usually DNF those stories! I also think that descriptive dialogue tags need to be far and few between and only if it’s required to push the story along or the character’s growth. I much prefer reading simplistic dialogue tags, and descriptions elsewhere in the story!