Mistake 29: Using Bad Dialogue Tags

70 Solutions to Common Writing Mistakes by Bob Mayer from The Writer’s Digest Writing Kit

Why it is a mistake: A large percentage of real-life communication is nonverbal. Yet as a writer all you have is words. So new writers tend to try to make up for the lack by using strong dialogue tags (those words that indicate who is speaking). We find people in books doing a lot of shrieking, mumbling, murmuring, shouting, etc. These words are jarring to the reader, especially if you use them more than once. You cannot smile, sigh, or frown a line of speech.

The Solution:
Said is a word that is noted but not noticed. Readers flick across said, know it indicates who is speaking, and it doesn’t jar them. Make sure the dialogue tag accompanies the first sentence of a paragraph of dialogue. Don’t wait until the end of the paragraph, making the reader wade through the entire thing before finding out who was doing all the talking. Other techniques for identifying the speaker are showing action (separated from the dialogue with a period), and referring to the setting.

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