Sunday, July 18, 2010

Silencing Dialogue Tags

Billowy clouds part. An almighty voice intones, "Use just enough dialogue tags to keep the reader clear on who is speaking."

Here is a scene from my WIP. POV is heroine Erin's.

After a surprisingly good breakfast, Montague invited her for a walk. Cotton-ball clouds floated overhead. The wind was calm.

They rounded the Athletic complex and strolled back up the path towards the main school building. Montague acted as if she was a prospective parent touring the school before enrolling her children. Only the dark circles under his eyes belied his cordial demeanor.

“This property has been in my wife’s family since 1883. Her great-grandfather bought it for a hunting estate. The lodge burned to the ground in 1938; kitchen fire of some sort. A garden shed and the original carriage house are still in use. The next generation preferred sailing, so the land idled. My wife was an only child. When she decided to build the school, it was fairly simple to transfer it to an educational corporation.”

“It looks like you have invested heavily in your sports program.”

“Did you play a sport, Miss Foster?”

“Call me Erin. Cross country and track.”

“Ah, a distance runner. Were you any good?”

“I went to State my sophomore year. I placed sixth, but with my personal best time.”

“I believe in competition. I think it brings out the best in people.”

“Do you have children of your own?”

“No. My wife.” A poignant look flooded his face. “Now we have twelve hundred of them.” He clasped his hands behind his back and fiddled with his wedding ring. “You handled the departmental restructuring very well. What about my revenue surplus?”

“I have an idea that could work, but I need to know what percent of the profit you and your stockholders are willing to give up over the next three years.”

“Come and work for me, Erin. You could use the track whenever you wanted.”

“Mr. Montague, my assistants and I are a team. You don’t split up a good team. And don’t change the subject.” She glanced at her watch. “I need an answer now. This part of your contract will not be so easy.”

“Not a penny over twelve percent.”

“I won’t go over ten.”

(Could you follow who was speaking when?)


  1. I like to use action or thought. And I try to stick with using said or asked.

  2. Very easy to keep track of who was speaking. I tend to use a lot of action instead of dialogue tags.

  3. No problems with this, Ana. One character using the other's name helps and there are other 'tricks' too. I hate scenes with rapid back and forth dialogue where there is absolutely no clue to who is talking because then you simply lose track and give up.
    There are times when you need to use 'said', times too when you need to use the dreaded adverbs, because anything else would seem stilted. Too much action while people are talking can become tiresome too.
    Occasionally I use 'whispered', 'demanded' or 'She hesitated' or 'He thought for a moment.' Depends on what seems part of the flow.

  4. Hi,

    Slick piece of writing Ana: I absolutely despise he said - she said, and ever rhyming beat of such lazy presentation. Even worse when two people are babbling away and no ref at all to who is speaking.

    Happy medium and slick phrasing methinks the key!

    All that aside, I popped over to tell all romance writers (who don't know already) that Charlotte Lamb's daughter is setting up her own Romance E-Publishing company!
    Charlotte Lamn of course, once a queen of romance at M&B.
    See my blog for details.