Dialog Tags: A Case Study

Since we are having this very good discussion about dialog tags, I thought I would analyse one of my chapters, to see my writing style first hand. Before now, all of my words have been based upon opinion, not necessarily what I personally practice.

The following is based upon a chapter in Masquerade. I chose a chapter fairly late in the story, once I considered the story to be more than just a passing fancy. In other words, this chapter was written as seriously as I know how to write.


Here are the raw facts:

There are 29 lines of dialog that are tagged in some way or another. 6 are tagged with a separate action sentence (or beat). Another 6 are tagged with just a verb (be it said or an alternative). The remaining 17 are tagged with a comboniation of the two, a verb tag usually followed by an additional phrase separated by a comma.

None of the dialog stands by itself. There are three characters in the scene, which probably explains why I tagged everything. I hate when I have to think about who is speaking.

Even when I am writing a scene with just two people involved, though, I tend to stay clear of tagless dialog. If I write more than one line of dialog without some additional detail to add, I feel like I am not being descriptive enough. This particular aspect of my writing style is dictated by a feature that I can't stand about many published authors.

Here is a breakdown of the tag verbs I used in the order in which they first appeared:

Said - 5

Asked - 6

Replied - 3

Stated - 2

Added - 2

Interrupted - 1

Continued - 2

Answered - 1

Told - 1

First, the most exotic SAID alternative is probably "interrupted." I don't usually use exclaimed, imparted, growled, etc ... Those are too exotic even for my taste. So, perhaps we are closer to the same page than any of us thought previously.

Those more exotic ones wouldn't bother me, though, as long as they aren't overused. I wouldn't immediatelly throw a book down because a character exclaimed or growled something. I would simply take it for what the author was trying to do. I would appreciate the help, not feel that it was condescending in some way. On the other hand, if every other tag was this way, it would get annoying.

Second, I use SAID and acceptable alternatives more than the others. I have read more than once that replied and asked can be used in place of said and not be considered annoying. If you take those three into consideration, I used them roughly 61% of the time.

Except for fixing the punctuation in the paragraph right before I used the word "interrupted," I wouldn't change much about that chapter ... on first glance. (I shouldn't have used an elipsis if I wanted to indicate an actual interruption.) I have changed other chapters because I noticed a tag or description didn't match each other, which can be annoying when SAID alternatives are used.

I am listening to a book on tape right now that uses a writing style similar to my own, and I am enjoying it much more than I would a tradionally tagged piece. There must be room for all kinds of readers.

The End

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