Thursday, February 2, 2012

Writing Help - Dialogue Tags, Part 4

Today's entry in lessening your dialogue tags is using EMOTION to take the place of the tag. Emotional development is always a great thing in fiction, whether it's a romance story or a thriller. This is a big part of "show" over "tell." You can use the character's emotion to give backstory about what the words are hiding. For example, let's go back to Part 1 of this week, when Jane revealed she was going to the store with a bad dialogue tag:

"I'm going to the store!" Jane sobbed.

As we discussed, you can't 'sob' words, any more than you can kick them. BUT, the goal is to tell the reader she's crying when she's saying the words---or at least that she's in emotional distress.

Here's a better solution to "Jane sobbed."

"I'm going to the store!" Jane tried to keep her voice steady, but the look on Bob's face revealed he realized she was about to burst into tears. It was the first time she would be back at that store since that fateful night when her mother was killed in a drive-by.

Yes, it makes the paragraph longer, but you have so much more insight to why Jane was just sitting on the couch and is now suddenly sobbing.

Even if her mother's death has nothing to do with the plot or hasn't been brought into the plot yet, it give more depth to the character that can later be discussed . . .or not.

Emotions, particularly emotions that conflict with the words being said, are terrific for beefing up a short manuscript without having to add subplots. It's also a way to add tension between people that only the reader can see. Not every emotion shows on a person's face for the other people to see. We keep much inside us and feel it without revealing it to the world. But the reader isn't the world. The reader deserves special insight into the characters that only you, the author, can reveal.

So, now you have some methods to remove some of those pesky dialogue tags that will not only improve your writing but really grab a reader's attention (including those agents and editors you want to LOVE your story!)

Good luck and Happy Writing!


  1. Thanks for this. I've been working on removing the tags and the telling from my WIP, and this really has helped!

  2. Glad it helped! Thanks for stopping by! :D