Enter, If You Dare, Into Writing: Dialogue Tags

First off, I just want to put it out there that I do not claim to be a great writer.  I don’t even claim to be a good writer.  Seriously, it totally makes my day when a reader tells me that they enjoyed my book.  It amazes me afresh every single time.

Why would someone like what I write?  What is it about it that they like?  I’m always wondering, Did they laugh when I did?  Did they cry when I did?  Did they feel surprised?  Pretty much all of those questions I will never know the answers to.  Believe me, I’ve tried asking them…but I hardly ever receive clear, pinpointed responses.  Readers are more concerned with the book/story as a whole rather than specific moments that made them happy.  That’s alright.  As long as they like it, I’m glad ecstatic.

I often think back on how I wrote my novel.  I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.  I was a huge reader before I started my novel, but a writer?  Not so much.  I’d written fun, imaginary stories with a friend of mine…but never anything serious.  I had no idea how it worked, what I needed to do, or where to go.  But somehow, four years later, it all came together, resulting in a book that people love.  I truly am blessed.

Now, as I try to create my second book, I’m thinking a lot more about it.  I’ve outlined it, made the right contacts, and even have the cover created already.  I have everything planned out, all my proofreaders and editors set up, and the entire process laid in front of me.  And honestly, it kind of scares me.  I mean, I’m excited, of course, but…there’s something about writing this novel in a completely different way that unnerves me.  Not to mention hoping it lives up to the expectations my first novel has created.

However, when I start feeling inadequate, I remind myself of this one fact: I wrote a pretty good novel with absolutely no knowledge of how a novel should work.  Heck, when I began I didn’t even know separate lines of dialogue were required for separate speakers.  (How I missed that in all the books I read, I’ll never know….)  So, if I can do that, surely I can write another good novel when I have a good working knowledge of writing and novel-structure, right?


I also try to remind myself that I write because I love to write, not because I think other people will love it.

Still, I often think of all the great writers out there, and wonder how I can even try to call myself a writer.  I have to admit, it’s a constant inadequacy/reality battle.  I know people have loved my first book.  Does that mean I’m a good writer?  Maybe it just means I have a lot of potential.  It definitely doesn’t mean I can’t learn anything new.  However, it also doesn’t mean I can’t teach a few things either.

So, here is something I have learned about dialogue.

Especially in new, self-published authors, you’ll find quite a war on the page.  However, it doesn’t involve blood, or even hurtful words.  No, it’s a war for  ‘who’ can take up the most space – will it be ‘he said,’ or ‘she said’??

Seriously, sometimes, this can become extraordinarily overbearing; it almost seems like a Ping-Pong game.  “He said,” “She said,” “he said,” “she said….”  Back and forth, back and forth.  When it’s really bad, I have felt like screaming at the author, “Okay, we get it!  [He’s] talking – we know!”

This only happens occasionally, though, because I know firsthand how hard it can be not to get stuck in that rut.  You want to make sure, without a doubt, that your reader knows who is talking.  And who would even think about using a different word than ‘said’?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  You are on a roll, pouring your soul out, letting your imagination run…you don’t want to lose it by stopping to make sure your dialogue isn’t repetitive.

Well…that’s where editing comes in, darling.  It really is a magical time for your book.  Yes, it can hurt – actually, it does hurt (future blog on that coming), but it transforms your book from a raw, potential-filled stone to a beautiful, glowing gem.  However, in order to find that gem, you have to dig.  A lot.  You have to think outside the box – and not just from outside one box, but many.  You have to ask questions. Come out of your author-self, and imagine how your unbiased readers would react to a scene.  Cut, revise, and edit without mercy.  After all, gems only become beautiful after tested by fire.

Here are two super easy ways to cut out that Ping-Pong battle:

Keep these in mind while you’re editing.  They may improve your dialogue scenes in ways you never imagined!

  1. Grab your thesaurus, and look up ‘said.’  Switch it out for another, less-common, yet gripping word.  Keep switching, making sure not only the definition but the connotation is appropriate for the circumstances/situation.  For example, consider using “snarled” instead of “exclaimed.”  Maybe even “hissed” instead of “said” – it will take your scene to a whole new level of tone and attitude.
  2. Use actions instead of tags.  For example:

‘Henry watched her for a moment, captivated by the way her fingers flew through across the piano keys.  “How long have you played?”

The woman stopped, though her foot still held the pedal down.  Notes floated across the room, echoing off the pristine walls.  “Four or five years?”  She shrugged, apparently not very interested.’

I hope that helps!  Tune in soon for another “Enter Into Writing” blog!


Tialla Rising is a homeschool graduate and a published author. She lives in the mountains of Arizona with her amazing husband, where she enjoys reading, Netflix, writing, and more! Visit her website at http://www.tiallarising.com.

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