Dialogue Tags



There is a quote floating around the internet which says authors should only ever use the dialogue tag “said”, the thinking being that adding in something else interferes with the reader’s experience of the writing.

They’re wrong, and here’s why.

When you speak to someone on the phone or in person you have various cues that work alongside the speech to tell you what is actually being conveyed. Those cues include tone and volume of voice as well as emphasis on particular syllables or words. If you limit yourself just simply using “said”, you remove those cues and take away important emotion and layers from the dialogue. This means that the dialogue is limited in how it can advance the plot and add depth to the characters and the scene. We’ll use the phrase “I don’t want to” as an example.

“I don’t want to,” he said.

“I don’t want to,” he whimpered.

“I don’t want to,” he screamed.

By changing one word around that short phrase of dialogue, we have completely changed the meaning and weight of the phrase. That single word tag has added another layer of emotion which serves to add depth to both the character and the scene.

There is nothing wrong with using said as a standard dialogue tag; there’s certainly no need to try and be inventive and use a different tag every time. You, as the writer, do however need to keep the weight and impact of that tag in mind.


Sometimes said just doesn’t cut it.

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