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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Dialogue—use action tags to show emotion

Action tags can be great for conveying a character’s emotions without actually saying what the character is feeling. This is especially useful if you want to convey character A’s emotions, but you’re in character B’s point of view for the scene.

”You’re a bit red. Are you okay?”

“Of course. I’m fine.” He sloshed his straw up and down in his iced tea, making a few drops land on the table.


Obviously, he’s not fine, but he’s trying to make the character believe he is.

“Mr. Carrisford?” A woman’s voice called behind Jerry and Sue.

Jerry’s hand spasmed in hers. However, he didn’t turn around.

The woman hustled up to them. “Mr. Carrisford?” She touched Jerry’s arm.

He turned to her. “I’m sorry, you have the wrong person.”


Here, Jerry’s hand spasming tells Sue something isn’t right, despite what he tells the woman.

Take a look at your action tags in the manuscript. Do they do something besides tell the reader who’s speaking? See if you can make them convey emotion in addition to action.

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