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What You Need to Know About Dialogue Tags

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Below is a detailed masterclass on what writers should know about Dialogue Tags.


Now, what are dialogue tags?

Dialogue tags otherwise known as speech tags or attributions are used to show who’s speaking in prose.
It is one of the most important part of prose, thus it should not be taken lightly.
“The new collection is just the best.” Raymond said.

Tags work in three ways.

✒️ Before the dialogue.
✒️ After the dialogue, and
✒️ In the middle or in between dialogue.


In this, your tag is written before whatever the character (s) says is brought in.

Raymond said, “The new collection is just the best.”


Here you switch places between the dialogue and the tag.
“The new collection is just the best.” Raymond said.


There is a slight pause after the first statement, the tag, and finally, the second statement.
“The new collection is just the best,” Raymond said, “I’m going to order mine next week. ”

So how do we apply these tags?

The most important thing is; be careful of the punctuations.
If your dialogue comes “before”, use a comma in front of it.
Example : Dora said, “Don’t touch the cup.”
If you noticed, all the periods(full stop) I’ve used stayed within the tag.

Whether it’s a comma, an exclamation mark, or question mark; all must be within the tag.
The reason is that, the punctuation is part of the statement.
Dora said, “Don’t touch the cup.”
If the dialogue begins the sentence, capitalize the first letter. You’ll see that.

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Observe it closely. Take a look below.

1. “Don’t touch the cup.”

“Don’t touch the cup”.

Did you notice any difference?

So how do we apply these tags?

When you have a proper noun as your tag, capitalize.
Example: Dora said,
This is irrespective of the place the dialogue tag is used.
If it’s the other way around, even if you end the dialogue with a period, the tag should be in small letters.
Example said Dora.

So how do we apply these tags?

When the tag falls in the middle, separate with a comma. This comma is thus:

“Mom said her flight got delayed,” he said, “but she’ll still be home before dark. ”

All we just did is the placement of tags, now to the usage.

Dialogue tags make it easier for your readers to differentiate between characters and maintain flow. So, do not over use them.

I’ll send two examples and you tell me which looks more appealing.

Example 1

“Please just shut up.” Daniel said.
“Why?” Raymond asked.
“What you’re saying makes no sense.” Daniel said.
“Oh wow, I’m not shutting up then. ” Raymond said.

Example 2.

” Please just shut up. ” Daniel said.
” Why? ” Raymond asked.
” What you’re saying makes no sense.”
“Oh wow, I’m not shutting up then.”

Which of the above would you find more interesting to continue reading?

There was an overuse in the first option.
I go with the second..

Dialogue distinguishes characters, once you’ve established that fact you don’t need to repeat it over and over again. But there’s another angle, if that particular scene is becoming too long, you can add the tag to remind your readers who is who.

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Read this carefully please.

This particular rule applies very much if it’s two people in the scene.
In a situation where there are more than two speakers, put reminders at very close intervals or use the first example.
So at the end of the day, both examples can work if properly applied.
“It’s high time we left here,” Dayo said, “I don’t like the feeling I’m getting. ”

“I feel the same way, but we could stay a bit longer though. ” Jack said.

“Oh no, didn’t we just get here like five minutes ago, what’s the rush?” Fred said.

In a situation like this, one will easily lose track of who’s speaking so it’s necessary to keep your readers in the loop always. Since you have established a line of conversation, the next round of discussion could go without the tag. If you wish to continue after the second round, add a tag to it for reminder.

Now, let me address an issue.
There’s a debate between using said and other thing like: whispered, exclaimed, yelled, voiced, etc.
To be safe, it is advisable to stick with ‘said’
This is because you don’t want distracting your reader’s attention.
Said is easily overlooked and keeps the focus on the dialogue itself, but when you choose to use whisper for example, your readers will want to imagine how that was done thus distracting the flow.
Plus you can achieve this in your narration just so you stick with said.

Enoma felt so pained about her experience last night and could not think anymore, Sandra in an attempt to ease her pain leaned close
“It’ll be alright,” she whispered.
Notice the action here, “Sandra leaned close” . Definitely she’s going to whisper, so there’s no need tell us that in the tag. Continuing from here,
It’ll be alright.” she said, wrapping both arms around her.
This gives an encouraging atmosphere.
Also, surround dialogue with description.
But as usual, not in every situation.

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Dialogue and direct address
How to capitalize titles: doctor, mommy, uncle, etc.
If you cannot substitute a title for a proper noun, please do not capitalize.
Example :
“My mom said she’ll never go there again.”
“My Dora said she’ll never go there again. ”

In the second example, you can’t say my Dora, that’s wrong. NB: Proper nouns do not take determiners(my, her, the, …)
So now, if “my mom” can’t work well with a proper noun, put whatever title in small letters.

Example 2

If you can substitute the title for a proper noun, please capitalize.

“Hello, Doctor, can we see the report now?”

“Hello, Dave, can we see the report now?”


Do not over use direct address, I’m sure you don’t keep calling your friend’s name over and over again in a conversation.
If it’s a little child, it can be overlooked.
Direct address is used to show who is speaking.
Direct address is sometimes used to arouse emotions.

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I urge you all to read more on dialogue and dialogue tags. Master them and use them properly.

Note that a knowledge not used is not worth having.

There it is readers, I hope you’ll make good use of it. You find it helpful? Kindly share your thoughts and share to a friend.


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