Using Dialogue Tags in Fiction

Today’s editing tips topic is dialogue tags. In fiction, it is generally considered good practice to dispense with these completely if it is clear who is speaking in each line. Naturally, if there is a room full of characters and they are all involved in a conversation, you’ll need tags (or some sort of descriptive action) to differentiate between the speakers. However, in a simple back and forth between two people, it’s best to keep them to a minimum and simply show the dialogue, along with any necessary actions.

In cases where you do need to use them, try to stick to a plain verb as much as possible, rather than adding too many adverbs. Here are a couple of examples:

1) He said softly
This could be rendered as 'He murmured' or 'He whispered'.

2) He walked quickly
Here you could go for He dashed, He hurried, He hastened, He strode etc.

See how the single verbs pack more punch and add some flavour to the narration? The choice of verb is important. Think of the different sense of the scene you get by choosing 'he dashed' over 'he strode'. The first has a feeling of urgency; the second imbues him with purpose.