Creative Dialogue Tags

Dialogue is my favorite part of writing. Previously I’ve talked a lot about dialogue tags and how the world has a conflicting view on how they should and should not be used.

He said, she said tags are the most common and should be used more than ‘creative tags’ but even he said she said should probably be used sparingly or only when necessary. Thus creative ones even less so. Why?  because our brains are trained to skip ‘he said’ or ‘she said’ it’s automatic, we don’t even think about it. And while the occasional creative tag is warranted too much slows the reader down and it becomes noticeable.

I generally use a mix of everything but primarily rely on conversation flow (Sans tags) or action tags. Action tags give the reader a clear vision of what the character is doing before or after what they said.

Some examples of creative dialogue tags:  (these come after he, she or the name of the character)

Said
Answered
Replied
Murmured
Mumbled
Whispered

Blurted
Complained
Snapped
Yelled
Agreed/Disagreed
Teased
Jested
Stuttered

You get the idea. Now here are some things spoken words or dialogue cannot do. I see these words on lists and in text and personally I try to make them action tags not dialogue tags or combine them.

Sighed
Cried
Sniffled
Growled
Moaned
Groaned
Snorted
Snickered
Laughed
Giggled

Yes, there are instances when one may growl out their words or cried while speaking but plopping it at the end will remove the emotion or tone from the sentence and come across as awkward. Simply saying ‘She growled’ after the dialogue might not read to others as it did you me in my head.

Example time.

“I don’t feel well.” Amber murmured.

Not terrible but not great either. This sentence has more potential than this.

Amber rubbed her stomach and murmured. “I don’t feel well.”

or if she’s moaning the words…

Amber rubbed her stomach. “I don’t feel well.” She murmured.

While not good for keeping the word count down, sometimes it’s more important to relay the message properly than to over simplify it. Apparently, the word sighed is a big one that gets used too much. While yes people do sometimes sigh while speaking it might read better if it’s not so lonesome at the end of the sentence.

“Go home then.” Scott sighed.

I’m trying to convey frustration and while he might sigh the word go and maybe home, it may also look like he sighed after the fact. Reader interpenetration.

Scott sighed. “Go home then.”

Scott absently looked up to the ceiling. “Go home then.” He said with a sigh.

In these situations when I really, really, really want to convey tone in dialogue I read it out loud a few times to make sure what I’m saying sounds like what I’ve actually written. The best way is to have someone else read it aloud to you.

I don’t mind ‘said’ but I definitely try to use them sparingly or appropriately. Every dialogue sentence does not need them.

“I don’t feel well” Amber murmured.
“Go home then,” Scott said.
Amber rubbed her stomach, opened her desk drawer and pulled out the bag of herbal tea Scott brought her as part of a gift. A week after he barged in on her at her apartment and scared her he gave her a gift basket of things to help with the morning sickness she still had bouts of. 
“I have too much work to do. I’ll just go make some tea and see if it helps.” Amber said.
“Good idea,” Scott said.
“I’ll be back in a minute. Do you want anything?” Amber asked.
“No thanks. You go take care of yourself.” Scott answered.
Amber grabbed her mug and with the tea in hand, she went to the staff room. Scott watched her leave barely containing the smile that did not match the malice in his eyes.

For me it’s too elementary with all that ‘said’ going on. I feel like the dialogue is separated from the action too. When I read I find it tedious I like to mix them.

Amber rubbed her stomach and murmured. “I don’t feel well.”
Scott absently looked up to the ceiling. “Go home then.” 
“I have too much work to do. I’ll just go make some tea and see if it helps.”
Scott watched her open her desk drawer and take out the bag of herbal tea.
“Good idea.” 
A week after he barged in on her at her apartment and scared her he brought her a gift basket of things to help with the morning sickness she still had bouts of. 
Amber grabbed her mug. “I’ll be back in a minute. Do you want anything?” 
“No thanks. You go take care of yourself.”
With the tea and mug in hand, she went to the staff room. Scott watched her leave barely containing the smile that did not match the malice in his eyes.

Sometimes when I’m rushing I’ll plop out dialogue in the, he said she said constantly way. Then I’ll go back and dress it up better in editing. While I love a good creative dialogue tag It’s a balanced blend of the classic ‘he said’ action tags, no tags and creative dialogue tags that will help a story flow. “IMO of course.” She said and winked.

My advice about creative dialogue tags.
Whether the person is murmuring, sighing or crying. Make it clear if it’s before, during or after the spoken words. Read out loud or have someone else read it to you. It helps.

-Sheryl

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8 thoughts on “Creative Dialogue Tags

  1. Such a provocative line, “the smile did not reach the malice in his eyes.” wooot! omg but you are so right. I find I try to eliminate as much as I can and sometimes I’ve taken out too much, so I really appreciate the reminder. Your precious you know, and really appreciated!

    Liked by 1 person

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