Speech tags are words that tell the reader who is speaking and, sometimes, how they’re speaking. Using too many and trying to be too creative with speech tags can result in writing that’s awkward and amateurish. For example:
‘Don’t you dare go out that door,’ Frank shouted.
‘But I’m bored with staying inside,’ Mary complained.
‘I don’t care,’ Frank insisted angrily.
‘I miss all my friends,’ Stephanie lamented.
‘Friends!’ Ralph laughed. ‘You don’t have any.’ [Can you really laugh a word?]
Minimise your speech tags and keep them simple. Use them only when you need to identify the speaker and omitting them would cause ambiguity. If your dialogue is expressive enough, you shouldn’t need elaborate speech tags to convey the manner in which the words were spoken. If you stick with a good old ‘said’, the speech tag will be almost invisible.
‘Don’t you DARE go out that door!’ said Frank.
Stephanie folded her arms.* ‘But I’m bored with staying inside.’
‘I don’t care.’
‘I miss all my friends.’
‘Friends!’ Ralph said. ‘You don’t have any.’
* Having the speaker perform an action helps to identify who’s speaking without a speech tag; it can also show the reader how they’re speaking.
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About this blog
Through my experience as an editor, a reader and a book reviewer, I’ve noticed that some writing faults keep just popping up again and again. As an author, I’m especially aware of those writing crimes that I’m frequently tempted to commit myself. This series of brief tips addresses the common writing problems that I’ve encountered. Following them will help make your writing clear, accurate and stylish.