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Writing Techniques

Dialogue Tags with Adverbs

Inexperienced authors often add adverbs to their dialogue tags, such as, "He shouted angrily." But good writing doesn't need adverbs to make your readers understand how your characters are thinking or feeling. Your dialogue should be strong enough to convey that emotion by itself.

If your meaning isn't clear without an adverb, then you need to re-examine the content of your dialogue to make it more effective. Here's an example of using an adverb with a dialogue tag:

  • "I can't believe you forgot my birthday," Mary said angrily.

You should aim to keep your use of adverbs to under 12% of your dialogue tags.

Removing Adverbs From Your Dialogue Tags

If more than 12% of your dialogue tags have adverbs, it's time to remove some of those adverbs. To do so, take a hard look at your writing.

When possible, you should try to omit dialogue tags completely. Dialogue tags can distract your reader and interrupt the flow of your dialogue.

Ask yourself, "Does the reader need this dialogue tag to know who is speaking?" If they don't, you can get rid of the dialogue tag. You may cut down on your adverbs with dialogue tags by just removing dialogue tags in general. Let's rework our example:

  • Mary slammed her hand on the table. "I can't believe you forgot my birthday."

What about instances when you definitely want to keep the dialogue tag?

  • "It's okay, I'm on my way home now," she said soothingly.

In these cases, see if you can beef up the dialogue and lose the adverb:

  • "You just sit tight and pop the kettle on for me," she said. "I'll be home before you know it."

Common Questions about Dialogue Tags with Adverbs

Can I use adverbs with dialogue tags?

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