Dialogue Tags aka, the bane of my existance...

So, In my Belated Blogger Birthday post, I put some tips and tricks I have learned over the last year. I thought I might take a little bit and expand on them. Let's start with one that gets me beat up in critiquing groups.

Dialogue tags and punctuation.

First, the simple rule.

When you use a dialogue tag like, he said. it should look like this.

"I'm heading to the bar,” he said.

Comma inside of the quotes, not a period. In this case, the tag is an extension of the sentence. This seems pretty easy and straight forward right?


Now, let me complicate it a bit more. When the dialogue is followed with an action you would use the period.

Example.

"I'll see you later.” He winked.

Notice the difference? I still started with, he. But, because winking (in this example) is it's own seperate action, it is not a part of the sentence, so a period is used.

The waters further muddy when you try to get creative with your tags. These are called bookisms.

"What the hell are you talking about?" The audience screamed in confusion.

Notice the question mark in the quotes. The audience screaming is a separate action.

"I've never heard of this term before," came a meek voice from the crowd.

Notice the comma in the quote, just like using a "said" tag.

Now, bookisms and are generally looked down on when overused. In most cases, said, is all that is needed.

It's tempting to get cute and make every bit of dialogue sparkle, but most editors and agents frown on it. It makes the writing appear amateurish.

(this is where I get beat up all the time. I love to use those cutsy tags.)

The general consensus is that the dialogue should speak for its self. You should be able to glean the manner of the characters speech by the words used. Standard tags like, said or asked, are more or less, invisible to the reader and do not interrupt the flow of the story.

However, if you must break the rules. Here is a tip. Use bookisms sparingly and avoid using the dreaded -ly's if you plan on being creative.

"But, I want to use them," he said solemnly. <-- No!

"But, I want to use them," he moaned. <--Maybe

He stomped his foot. "But, I want to use them." <-- better

Now, because I am not always the best at explaining myself, I've found a great link that does a much better job explaining creative dialogue tagging aka Bookisms.

Linky Linky

Comments

Hey, Katie! This is great! You explained it really well. I've been learning about this a lot lately, so thank you!
Great overview, thanks. :)
Secretia said…
I have a problem with this exact thing every day. So I split it up, half the time inside the quotes, half outside.

Secretia
L.T. Elliot said…
Ah, dialogue tags. My mortal enemy.
Jaime Theler said…
I have to make sure I slash dialogue tags left and right in revisions. It's so hard! Thanks for the post and the link!
Willsin Rowe said…
I tend to use the third example above more than anything, the action either before or after the speech. If you want to read a really confusing story, I suggest "Willing" by Scott Spencer. It's a wonderful read, filled with emotion (albeit a man's emotion), but it utterly avoids speech tags. In conversations between two people you often need to read a paragraph twice in order to realise who said what.
Melissa said…
This is something I need to work on, too. I have a tendency to use bookisms way too much.
Susan R. Mills said…
Thanks for the link. I need help with this too.
quixotic said…
Glad to see the information is good. I get beat up every time I send stuff out for critique. Dialogue is my #1 issue. LoL
Robyn Campbell said…
Katie, what a most wonderful post. This has always been a thorn in my side. UGH! But now thanks to you it should get better for me. YAY!

And I get those same beatings from my critique group. :)
Nice simple break down of the rules. Great job! :)
Karen’s Blog
I like your break down of the rules as well. Sometimes I'm not sure, but based on your examples, I'm pretty confident I've got this one down pat.

Now to your other posts to see where I'm erring...