How to omit speech tags AND amp up your action
February 10, 2017
Speech tags. They are here to stay. But, are they necessary? Speech tags are my nemesis and here’s why:
There’s always a better way to indicate which character is speaking. Let me repeat that:
There’s always a better way to indicate which character is speaking.
Make that your mantra! And, it’s so simple, you’ll wonder why you ever used those dialogue tags in the first place. Simply replace “he said” with a noun/pronoun and an action verb. Like this:
“I can’t seem to get him out of my head,” said Lola.
Garrett yelled, “Sit down and shut up.”
“I can’t seem to get him out of my head.” Lola spun in a circle, yanking her own hair.
Garrett threw his mug against the wall. “Sit down and shut up!”
Here’s one from a short story I wrote:
“Jack! How’s it going? Any luck?” Linda said excitedly.
Jack said, “No luck involved, Babe. I turned on the charm and I start tomorrow.”
Linda answered on the first ring. “Jack! How’s it going? Any luck?”
Jack let an unrestrained laugh escape, his first in weeks. “No luck involved, Babe. I turned on the charm and I start tomorrow.”
If you must use them, use them sparingly. Don’t vary the verb too often. A reader’s eyes skim over them – that’s what you want. “Said” is the most utilitarian speech verb and is nearly invisible.
You’ll also notice that by removing the speech tags and using a noun-verb combination, I have given the narrative action which propels the story forward.
By adding, “on the first ring”, I’ve managed to take out that nasty adverb “excitedly”.
Relieving your prose of speech tags will sharpen your writing and make it crisper and cleaner. Repeat after me:
There’s always a better way to indicate who is speaking.
Don’t forget to stop and smell the roses!
Leave your comments below and give an example of your writing with, and then without speech tags. Practice – that’s how we learn.