Do you pepper your dialogue tags with adverbs? Do you have to make your character’s tone clear, just in case the reader didn’t get it from the dialogue?
What is a dialogue tag?
Dialogue tags tell us when a character is speaking. They are every ‘he said’ and ‘she asked’ in the books you read and write.
They are important, because they tell us who is speaking. Readers do not like to be confused and you do not want them to lose interest and stop reading.
They are also useful when you want to:
Break up long pieces of dialogue.
Create or cut tension.
Add body language.
Give us an idea of your character’s rhythm of speech.
What is an adverbial dialogue tag?
Beginner writers love adverbs of manner. They especially love using them in dialogue tags. You’ve seen the trashy fiction filled with those ‘–ly’ adverbs that tell us how we should think or feel instead of allowing the words spoken by the characters, and their actions, to show us what is happening.
An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb we use to denote dialogue. For example, ‘he said hastily‘, ‘she said gruffly‘, ‘they asked groggily‘.
When you tell us how somebody says something, you take the power away from their spoken words. If they say something ‘angrily’ or ‘gently’, their body language and emotions become less important because of these ‘telling’ words.
We also tend to concentrate less with padded writing. And adverbs and adjectives are notorious for their ability to clutter up a page.
This does not mean we should avoid adverbial dialogue tags altogether. We can still use them if they offer us an effective way to show an action or an emotion without interrupting the flow of the story. For example, ‘she said curtly’ is better than adding a long sentence that includes actions and body language to show that she is being curt.
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