Tag Archives: Speaker Tags

That’s what she said…

Writer friends, let’s talk dialogue, shall we. This week, I am meandering my way through Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and the section on writing dialogue has my attention. According to the book, “Your best bet is to use the verb said almost without exception… To use verbs like the last three [grimaced, smiled, chuckled] is to brand yourself as an amateur– and stick your character with an action that is physically impossible.”

Now, I have to say, even though dialogue writing is tricky and I am still learning, I am not entirely sure I agree. Overall, I try to stick to said or use beats that describe the character’s actions to show who is talking:

“I’m just afraid I’ll let you down,” Kristen leaned over and put her head on his lap, letting her tears spill onto his favorite pair of old Adidas running shorts.

The description of what Kristen does tells us she is the one speaking with a beat according to the authors. They would theoretically agree with this speaker attribution. However, there are times that speaker tags like smiled or laughed add something to the text. To me, they don’t mean the speaker held these expressions the entire time they were speaking, like the book claims to be physically impossible, but instead that these actions followed the dialogue:

“Me?” Kristen laughed softly, “You’re the unhappy one!”

As a reader, can’t we infer that she was not laughing the entire time the words were spoken, but instead at the point in between? I feel like maybe I am missing something about dialogue here that the authors of this book see and I don’t. I get what they’re saying about not overdoing it with unnecessary verbs/adjectives/adverbs, but variety does not seem like such a bad thing, especially when it gives information to the reader.

Ironically, I think F. Scott Fitzgerald would agree with me. The Great Gatsby, which this book holds in high esteem for its character development and scene creation, uses tags like told, laughed, cried, remarked all within the first few pages. So, now I’m curious of your thoughts– how do you most often distinguish who is talking in your dialogue? Do you frequently use verbs other than said? Do you feel they serve a purpose or that said is the better choice?

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