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Dialogue Tags and Action Beats

Dialogue Tags and Action Beats

Dialogue tag = she said/he asked, etc.

In general, try to only use "said" or "asked" (not exclaimed, responded, yelled, etc.). 

Use exclamation points sparingly.  The reason for using said and asked is that the reader tends to skip over those words, and when the writer uses other words like exclaimed, it takes the reader out of the story. Also, it's better to show emotion rather than tell, if possible. Dialogue tags are formatted as part of the same sentence as the quoted dialogue that goes with it (“I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” Mary said.).

For example:
"Who died and made you king?" she said then stomped down the hall. 

"Who died and made you king!" she exclaimed.

In the above example, exclaimed is not needed. 

Also, when possible, just drop “said” and “asked” and use action instead (e.g., she stomped down the hall). 

Jerry B. Jenkins wrote an entire novel without the use of dialogue tags (The Last Operative).

Action beat = using action in place of a dialogue tag, for example, “Suzy stomped down the hall.”

Don’t overdo action beats. Don’t repeat the same beats too often (nodding, smiling, etc.). Wordle ( can be used to check use of action beats. The correct format is to place an action beat outside of a quote (Bob smiled. “You’re my best friend, Jill.”).

Rewrite the following conversation. Remove or rewrite dialogue tags as needed and add action beats. Feel free to be creative.

“I’m too old to start writing a novel,” Bob said.

“No you’re not,” Jill said.

“But what if I don’t get published?” Bob asked.

“You will, but it will take time,” Jill explained.

“Maybe you’re right,” Bob agreed. 

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