Blog How to Use ProWritingAid How to Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check

How to Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check

Kyle A. Massa

Kyle A. Massa

Speculative Fiction Author

Published Apr 29, 2022

How to Use The Dialogue Tags Check

Dialogue is how your readers learn characters’ thoughts and sometimes their personality traits. You could have a quirky character who ends every sentence with, "ya see?" Or you could reveal backstory through dialogue.

Use dialogue to move your story forward, avoiding insignificant chatter. Your characters shouldn’t talk just to hear their voices. Your dialogue needs a purpose and strategy, unlike a lot of our real conversations.

The key to effective dialogue, though, is to manage your use of dialogue tags.

Contents:
  1. What Is a Dialogue Tag?
  2. Examples of Dialogue Tags to Avoid
  3. How to Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check
  4. Show Readers Through Actions and Dialogue
  5. Analyze Your Writing Style
  6. Use Dialogue Tags for Emphasis
  7. Dialogue Tags Aren’t Distracting if You Use Them Responsibly
  8. Final Thoughts
  9. Try ProWritingAid’s Editor for Yourself

What Is a Dialogue Tag?

A dialogue tag is a verb that refers the sentence to a specific speaker or character. The most common dialogue tags are said and asked.

In fact, using other dialogue tags like shouted or squealed will brand you as a novice. And it’s worse if you add an adverb.

Examples of Dialogue Tags to Avoid

  • "You never listen to me!" Janelle cried pitifully.
  • "You never listen to me!" Janelle shouted.
  • "You never listen to me!" exclaimed Janelle reproachfully.

These are distracting and have little real value. Using dialogue tags and adverbs tells your reader what you want them to understand about your character instead of showing them.

Let’s look at how ProWritingAid can help you out with this.

How to Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check

ProWritingAid Dialogue Tag Check

Dialogue is one of many areas where ProWritingAid can help your writing shine. With the simple click of a button, you can learn instantly what dialogue tags you’ve used and where to find them. This helps you determine if you’ve used appropriate tags, if you shown rather than told, and if it’s clear who’s speaking.

Just head to "More Reports" and then hit "Dialogue." Click to run the report, and you’ll get something like this:

dialogue check

If you’re working on a long project, this will help you to click through your dialogue tags quickly so that you can see where you might need to make changes, saving time spent trawling through your manuscript yourself.

The Dialogue Check also calculates the percentage of your document that contains dialogue. Rarely do novels contain under 10% or over 80%. Somewhere in the middle is enough to move your readers along without boring them with too much narrative or inane chatter.

So, you’ve found your dialogue tags. Now what should you do with them?

Show Readers Through Actions and Dialogue

Instead of telling your reader what your character is feeling through dialogue tags, you should use dialogue with a character’s actions to move your story forward. If you want readers to learn more about Janelle and her situation, lose the tags.

  • Janelle’s head drooped to let her bangs cover the sudden prickling of tears, and her voice dropped low. "You never listen to me."

The above show-don’t-tell version doesn’t use a dialogue tag, yet it’s clear who is speaking. And you learn more about Janelle from her actions.

If you want to make your editor and publisher happy, only use said or asked when it’s the only way to let the reader know who is speaking.

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Analyze Your Writing Style

Do your characters tend to speak in lengthy monologues or pithy back-and-forths? The answer to that question is quite important.

If it’s the former, it might actually be correct to use dialogue tags. Imagine a detailed and profound monologue, followed by an awed response from another character, sans the dialogue tag. Sure, if there are only two characters in the scene, you might think it’s clear enough that Character 2 is speaking. But I’d argue the tag is worth it, just to keep the reader oriented. If there’s even the slightest confusion about who says what after long passages, it could weaken your writing.

However, if your dialogue tends to be snappy, you’re probably correct to excise dialogue tags. As mentioned, they’ll only slow your rhythm

Use Dialogue Tags for Emphasis

Sure, good dialogue shouldn’t need tags to explain a character’s tone. But dialogue can be made better with emphasis.

For example, take this line:

"Get out of there!"

As it stands, it’s pretty clear that the speaker has a frantic tone. But if we add a dialogue tag, we reinforce that notion.

"Get out of there!" Melinda roared.

I like the dialogue tag here because it gives us a concrete detail about Melinda’s tone. To me, there’s a difference between a yell, a bellow, a screech, and a roar. In this instance, we’re being precise about which we want. Without the tag, the reader might interpret the dialogue any number of other ways.

Dialogue Tags Aren’t Distracting if You Use Them Responsibly

Part of the reason dialogue tags have a bad reputation is that some writers use them irresponsibly. For example:

  • "Dialogue tags are sacred," she intoned.
  • "They tell you who’s talking," he expounded.
  • "And what they’re saying," they elaborated.

I’m not saying you can’t use words like "intone" and "expound" in your work. But if every dialogue tag employs a different variation on the word "said," you’ve got a problem.

My advice: The vast majority of the time, "said" is the correct dialogue tag. Except when necessary to emphasize tone, deviations from that simple word cause unnecessary distraction.

Final Thoughts

Use ProWritingAid’s Dialogue Check to help you use dialogue effectively. Like everything else in life, avoid too much or too little. And when you absolutely need to use a dialogue tag, stick with said or asked. If you’ve been using tags and adverbs to prop up dialogue, you may have bigger problems to work on.

Good thing there’s ProWritingAid to help you, right?

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Kyle A. Massa

Kyle A. Massa

Speculative Fiction Author

Kyle A. Massa is the author of the short fiction collection Monsters at Dusk and the novel Gerald Barkley Rocks. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and their two cats. Learn more about Kyle and his work at his website, kyleamassa.com.

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Love the website!
I've learnt more using this site, than what I had in my whole school year.
I have prowritingaid but can’t find dialogue checker
Hi there! The dialogue check resides in the toolbar at the top of your ProWritingAid screen. If you don't see it listed, click on the three dots labeled "more reports." The "Dialogue" check will appear in the dropdown menu. :)
Hey dialog checker seems to be bugged at the moment. it reads the first " mark as if it was the last one. Thus treating it as if it was a grammar issue. For example, She looked at me and said,” Well no one is going to get us here” Is not treated as if it was dialog. anyway to fix this issue as its really annoying.
Disagree strongly with some of the suggestions here. It is far better to avoid 'said' and to vary the dialogue tags. Readers universally seem to agree with that.
Hi there! Thanks for your feedback. Preference does in fact vary and we appreciate them all.
There is a serious issue with your Dialogue Tags Check. In my 91,000 work manuscript, it's claiming that I've used 179 different dialogue tags (including 93 unusual tags, and 8 tags with adverbs), which is ridiculous. Upon further inspection, it seems it is counting the laughed in the following example as a dialogue tag: “How could I forget my prom date?” She laughed and placed her hand on the center of his chest. Not only is "laugh" clearly not being used as a tag (it's in a separate sentence, and is the action of the non-speaking character), it's also in a separate paragraph. The program has done this for approximately 175 other words that may be used as dialogue tags in other instances, but that are clearly not being used that way in my manuscript. Words like smile, hope, breathe, comfort, and maintain. If any of these words are anywhere near dialogue, the system is picking them up as tags. You may want to look into that.
Thank you for letting us know about this! We are always looking to improve, so this kind of feedback is very helpful :)
The dialogue check seems to be buggy. Not only does it mark action tags after dialogue as tags (eg. "How strange." He smiled.) but also when there's a word that's commonly used as a tag anywhere in the surrounding sentences (eg. He wanted to tell the truth, but he couldn't. "I have to go.") The second example thought "tell" was an unusual dialogue tag. Are there any plans to remedy this? It's a little bit annoying.
Hi Jack, thank you for sharing your experience with the dialogue check. If you come across further unusual suggestions, you can always report them directly within the tool. All you would need to do is click on the word highlighted, select "report incorrect" (an orange button) and type in a few details. Happy holidays!🎄
Why does the program tell me I have a dialogue tag in a paragraph with no dialogue? "I laugh with genuine delight." That's the whole paragraph, and your algorithm identifies 'laugh' as a dialogue tag. Why?
Thank you for letting us know about this! We are aware of some issues with the dialogue report and are working hard to make it is useful for users as possible. It would be so helpful if you could report any issues like this that you see in the future directly within the tool. All you need to do is select the suggestion, click "report incorrect" (an orange button) and provide a few details. This will then go straight to our developers. :)
While I like and use ProWritingAid, it frustrates me to have the program identify dialogue tags in paragraphs where no dialogue occurs. This happens most often with words that are frequently misused as dialogue tags. Here is the most recent instance with 'sigh' identified as a dialogue tag: I sigh, take the scissors, and snip each of Manyara’s braids as close to his scalp as I dare, placing them in the plastic bag. By the time I cut the last braid, we have gathered a crowd. I lay the bar of soap in the water, lather up, and spread the lather on Manyara’s scalp. With care, I shave my Maasai friend’s head. Finished, I wet a towel and clean his scalp. Only a couple of nicks need attention from the styptic pen he brought. See? No dialogue. No speech. No quotation marks. And yet ... 'sigh' was identified as a dialogue tag. When I change the opening line to "With a sigh, I take the scissors ...," the misidentification disappears. Perhaps the second version is better, but the algorithm remains erroneous.
Thank you for reporting this issue, the software isn't perfect yet and sometimes can misconstrue the context of a particular sentence, as in this case. If you come across an issue like this in the future please feel free to report it as incorrect (an orange button). This will send the report directly to the development team.
I noticed that the report counts almost any case of certain words as a dialogue tag, making this report mostly useless. For example: “No.” Dezi tried to shut her up, but she fought him off, giggling the entire time.  It counts "giggling" against me. When the dialogue has a period instead of a comma, I don't think it should count.
Hey there! So sorry about the delay in a response to your comment! That does sound like an odd situation. If you could, could you please send in a query about this to our support email at hello@prowritingaid.com? I should be able to get our team to take a look at it for you. Just include this information you've described above in your email. Thank you!

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