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Monday, May 19, 2008

Dialogue—where you put your tags

Where you put the dialogue tag can make a difference with emphasis and pacing.

“Sure, I did it last week,” she said.
She said, “Sure, I did it last week.”
“Sure,” she said, “I did it last week.”

Readers tend to pause slightly at the sight of a dialogue tag, whether they know they doing it or not. As a writer, you can take advantage of that pause to add emphasis or subtly impact the pacing of the scene.

For example, if a scene is going a bit fast and you want to slow it down a little, a tag here and there can moderate the pace. A dialogue tag can slow the pacing of the dialogue, so it’s not just back-and-forth like a tennis match.

Example one:

“Jenn is totally freaking out,” Trish said.
“What brought all this on?” Venus asked.
“Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—”
“Is she doing okay?”
“Clean bill of health. Cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell.”
“So that’s why she’s taken over Jenn’s kitchen?”
“She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along.”


Example two:

“Jenn is totally freaking out.” Trish’s eyes had popped to the size of siu mai dumplings.
“What brought all this on?” Venus picked up the game controller.
“Well, Aunty Yuki had a doctor’s appointment today—”
“Is she doing okay?”
“Clean bill of health. Cancer’s gone, as far as they can tell.”
“So that’s why she’s taken over Jenn’s kitchen?”
Trish rubbed her back and winced. “She took one look at me and decided I needed something to help the baby along.”


I wanted to slow the pacing of the dialogue, so I inserted action tags to make the dialogue meander a bit more, rather than be rapid-fire lines.

Also, if you have a really killer line you want the character to deliver, you can add a tag—to effect a pause—to make the line have more impact.

“I would be happy to respond,” he drawled, “if you’d take a second to draw breath.”


The reader pauses at the dialogue tag, which sets the reader up for the sarcastic punch at the end of the sentence. Sometimes that small pause is needed for maximum emotional impact. And remember, dialogue is all about the emotion.

You can also use action tags for that pause.

“Of course I’ll do it for you.” She crossed her legs, then her arms. “As long as you’re telling me the truth.”


Here, the action tag not only conveys the pause in her words, it also conveys the subtle threat in her tone without using a tag like, she said threateningly.

Go through your dialogue scenes and make note of where your tags are. Do they convey the pause you want them to convey? Be judicious on where those tags go.

2 comments:

  1. Good points, Camy.

    I pray your spring is bright and full of the Lord's Light.

    ReplyDelete

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