Formatting Dialogue

 

Punctuating Dialogue (5)

Action Tags

A typical dialogue tag identifies the speaker and includes some variation of the verb "said":

  • he said
  • she asked
  • Jane yelled
  • Fred exclaimed
  • Janice screamed
  • the dragon roared
  • the baker bellowed
  • the girl confessed
  • the woman whispered

These tags can get tedious. Consider this conversation:

Trevor asked, "Do you want to go to the beach with me this Saturday?"

Jennifer said, "I'm sorry, I can't."

He said, "But it's going to be fun!"

She said, "I know . . . but my parents don't let me go out with boys."

He said, "What if I ask them personally?"

She asked, "What do you mean?"

He said, "I'll come to your house and ask their permission to take you out on a date—just like they used to 100 years ago."

She said, "That's ridiculous."

He said, "But it just might work. I'm sure I can charm them."

Now compare this dialogue:

Trevor stepped in front of her, blocking her way into the classroom. "Do you want to go to the beach with me this Saturday?"

Jennifer clutched her books tightly to her chest. "I'm sorry, I can't."

He looked surprised, as if no one had ever turned him down before. "But it's going to be fun!"

She felt herself blush. "I know . . . but my parents don't let me go out with boys." Straightening her shoulders, she pushed her way into the classroom.

He followed her to her seat. "What if I ask them personally?"

She lifted her eyes. "What do you mean?"

"I'll come to your house and ask their permission to take you out on a date—just like they used to 100 years ago."

She laughed. "That's ridiculous."

"But it just might work." He flashed her a confident smile. "I'm sure I can charm them."

Study the tags in the dialogue above. Notice that there isn't a single "said" in the whole conversation. Instead, action tags have taken the place of dialogue tags. The purpose of these action tags is twofold:

    1. They can add emotion, tension, or drama.
    2. They make it clear who is speaking, thus alleviating the need for a tedious repetition of "he said" and "she said."

Using action tags instead of dialogue tags is a good way to liven up your dialogues.

Here are some more examples:

He smiled. "This is going to be dangerous."

She laughed. "I'm going to get fat!"

The sheriff cocked his pistol. "Come with me, or I'll shoot."

Vivian studied the test tube. "The formula isn't working."

Rudolph's head drooped. "I don't know why the other reindeer won't play with me."

Lesson Steps

  1. Open your writing portfolio. Go to
  1. Write five lines of dialogue.
  1. When you're finished, return to this page to take the quiz.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.

Quiz