Monthly Archives: August 2015

Dialogue tags x Beats: When to use them and how – Part 1

Last week, in my post about How Outlining Can Bring Out Voice on Jane Friedman’s blog, I mentioned that the details about your character are the stuff that will make your beats. I’m assuming here that, if you’re a writer, you have heard about dialogue tags and beats, right?

I know you have, but it’s not unlikely you have some questions about them. So I’ll write two posts explaining a little more about each of these necessary writing tools and how to use them.

First, I’ll talk about dialogue tags. Tags are everything that actually indicate a person is speaking. Said, yelled, whispered… Those are all dialogue tags. We use them to identify the speaker in the easiest way possible.

Tag rules:

1) Punctuation

You should always use a comma between quote and dialogue tag. “‘I love you,’ he said.” Or, if you’re going for the tag before quote approach (something you should only do when absolutely necessary): “He said, ‘I love you.'” If it’s a question, you should use the question mark and lose the comma, but you still keep your tag in lower case. “‘Are you okay?’ he asked.” Oh, and the punctuation should always be inside the quote marks!

2) Keep it simple

Avoid fancy tags. Objected, interjected, commented… Those are all more complicated versions of “said.” Of course you can use “asked.” You can even get away with things that indicate tone (whispered, yelled, etc.), as long as you use them with caution. Other than that, stick to “said.” I know it might sound repetitive, but it’s something readers ignore. Any other tag will give your reader pause. “Said” helps with flow.

3) Avoid anything that isn’t a way of saying things

Dialogue tags, as I said above, are the words that indicate a person is speaking. However, people often make the mistake of using general actions as dialogue tags. I see sentences like, “‘This is such a coincidence,’ she laughed.” That’s not a dialogue tag. You can’t laugh a sentence. If she said something and laughed, that’s a beat (we’ll talk more abou that in the next post).

4) Try to avoid tag before quote

That might be just a pet peeve of mine. But the truth is, tags before quotes sound a lot less natural than tags after quotes. Most of the time, tags before quotes come accompanying beats. Something like, “He turned around and then said, ‘I love you.'” But when you have a beat, you don’t need a tag. It’s easier to just eliminate the tag. If you have a dialogue tag before a quote, make sure it’s not a beat tag along and check to see if moving things around a bit wouldn’t give you a better flow. Only use tag before quote when there’s really no other way.

5) Avoid the overuse of tags

“What? But you just said readers ignore ‘he said/she said’, you crazy woman!” I know, Iknow. But if you have a long dialogue filled with “he said/she said,” not only does it get repetitive, you miss an opportunity to show. Instead of having a clear scene, you have talking heads. That’s why you need balance. Use simple tags to keep it flowing, and use beats to show. How? That’s a topic for the next post.

Do you have any other questions about dialogue tags?

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Open for new clients!

Oh, hello world! What is that you’re saying? There’s life beyond feedings and diapers? Well, that’s a surprise!

Ok, people. I’m back. Twins are doing great (thank you for all the well-wishes) and I am ready to start working again! I love my babies, but momma needs a world beyond that nursery (aka my computer in the next room, but oh well). So I am now open to new clients! And I have news!!!!

You see, I realized the way I’ve been categorizing my services hasn’t been the most effective. Different authors have different needs, right? Some need a little more coaching. Some need a light edit. Some need a heavy edit. It’s not fair to give everyone the same treatment!

So here is how editing will work from now on. You send me your first ten pages, which I will read and evaluate to see what level of edit you’ll need. Once I’ve received your pages, we’ll schedule a skype chat so I can learn more about your goals, your struggles and what you think your manuscript needs. Based on that, I’ll make a suggestion of the services I think you need.

Based on my assessment and what you want, we will tailor a completely personalized package for you! That assessment, of course, is completely free. No strings attached! Isn’t that fantastic?

Just a reminder: it’s up to you what services you hire, but the edit level is NOT. It’s up to me to assess the necessary level of editing. Why? Because that affects the time it will take me to edit your manuscript.

So that’s how a full comprehensive edit will work from now on. What do you think? Is that helpful? Let me know if you have questions or suggestions. I want to know what you think! Just email me at and we can get started!

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