Writing Techniques

Dialogue Tags

Dialogue tags are words like "said" and "asked" that identify the speaker. They are necessary to help readers understand and follow conversations. But it's a delicate balance: if you overuse dialogue tags, you risk distracting your reader from your story.

A dialogue tag is like a street sign. You don't need to see a street sign every few feet along the road. You only need street signs when you approach new roads different from the one you’re on so you know where you're going.

You only need dialogue tags when you need to identify who's talking. If who's speaking is obvious to the reader, then skip the dialogue tags. We recommend using tags in less than 15% of your dialogue.

Why Overusing Dialogue Tags Is Bad

Dialogue tags can distract your reader. Your dialogue tags should be almost invisible. Here’s an example of overused dialogue tags:

"Where are you going?" asked Monica.
"I’m off to the store," said Chandler.
"Who’s all going with you?" asked Monica.
"Just Joey and Ross," said Chandler.

It's distracting to use dialogue tags with each sentence. Because there are only two people involved in the conversation, the last two sentences don’t need the tags. Having dialogue tags only serves to interrupt the flow of the dialogue and distract your reader.

Here's how you can change it:

"Where are you going?" asked Monica.
"I’m off to the store," said Chandler.
"Who’s all going with you?"
"Just Joey and Ross."

It’s obvious who’s talking in the third and fourth sentences without using dialogue tags.

Great dialogue shouldn't need more than a few dialogue tags. If more than 15% of your dialogue has dialogue tags, it's time to remove some!

Common Questions about Dialogue Tags

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