We’re all familiar with speech tags. While we may not always notice them when reading, they can become somewhat of a pain when writing. To balance the amount of them, to insert appropriate adjectives and verbs, to ensure that they reduce confusion instead of enhancing it—these are all things that writers face.
Speech tags may seem like a small thing when compared to the rest of the manuscript, which includes world building, character creation, adequate structure, and all the rest, but they can play an important role in the success, or failure, or a story.
The most common are “he said”, and “she said”, and “he replied”, and “she replied” are a close second. But when you are writing a long and complicated dialogue session, these become irritating, dull, and even redundant. Therefore, how do you improve the readability while making sure that the reader knows who is speaking?
Pay attention to those around you during a conversation. Often, there are movements, actions, and tones that accompany words. No one really just sits there immobile while speaking, especially if the conversation is intriguing and inviting. You will notice that someone will reply as they brush hair away from their face, or sigh while listening to a retort. When agitated, someone may uncross their legs or even pace around the room. These are all actions that can add meat to your speech tags.
- “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she said.
- “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she replied haughtily.
- “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered as she paced the room.
- “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she quipped as she leafed through the pages.
- “There is more than one way to catch a thief!”, she answered quietly, her soulful eyes glazed over in thought.
Each one implies a slightly different tone. “Said” on its own tells you nothing except that it was said.
Adding an adjective delivers a more emotional sense, allowing the reader to hear how the words are being said.
Adding a verb stimulates the reader visually, letting them picture the speaker.
Adding a noun paired with a verb enhances the action, giving a setting and substance to the situation.
Adding a description enables the reader to become the speaker. They know the feeling (or the action), and can relate to it.
Using these tools can help you to create better dialogue, as well as to subtly describe the setting, character emotion, and the gravity (or hilarity) of the situation.
As writers, we strive to touch all of the senses of our readers, but to do so with outright description written in large, random chunks often slackens the reader’s interest. Why? Because they want to be fed the story bit by bit, not all at once. So, we have to get creative.
What many writers don’t realize is that in order to write well, we must become masters of observation. We must take note of the actions of others, their reactions, their tones, their quirks, and anything else. We must people-watch, we must always be aware. If not, when we try to write, it will come out as an awkward mess or an unpolished text.
Do you think of yourself as a master of observation? Are speech tags something that you struggle with? What are some of the best, and worst, speech tags you can remember?