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Friday, February 16, 2007

Revisions - Dialogue tags

The writing book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (second edition) is one of the best books for bumping your writing up to the next level and making it look more professional. If you haven’t read this book yet, I strongly suggest you buy it or borrow it and read it right away.

They suggest eliminating dialogue tags in favor of action beats. For example, instead of he asked, she said, he demanded, replace the dialogue tags with action beats whenever possible.

The reason is that dialogue tags are often redundant. Many times, it’s already obvious who is speaking.

The dialogue itself can sometimes indicate how the character is speaking, with what emotion.

And dialogue tags are often accompanied with an –ly adverb, which can be “telling” the reader the emotion when you should “show” it instead. “Did you have to kill the postman?” he demanded angrily.

Dave sailed into the kitchen. “How are you doing, Mary?” He stopped short.

“I’m just waving around a bloody knife.” She gave a bland smile as she circled a limp wrist.

His eyebrows slammed down to obscure his eyes. “Did you have to kill the postman?”


Action beats have the added bonus of giving the reader more insight into the character emotions than dialogue tags. For example, a character’s nervous gesture during a casual dialogue line can reveal inner turmoil or a deceptive personality.

Go through and try to rewrite as many dialogue tags as you can. Sometimes, you can eliminate the tags entirely. Other times, you’ll need to add an action beat.

P.S. Don’t go overboard on action beats! You don’t need too many, just a few to punctuate the dialogue. That’s another post...

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