Using Dialogue and Taglines

Basic Tagline Rules

When we write, especially with fiction, there will be taglines. Taglines clear up who is speaking in your manuscript, but if used poorly they can be a distraction to your reader. With this in mind, I’ve compiled several rules when using tags.

First, choose the tag “said” first above any other tags. It is the most common one and is generally invisible to the reader. When using fancier tags such as “exclaimed” or “mocked”, it becomes distracting. The less distracted your reader is, the more focused on the story they will be.

This rule can be extended to using adverbs as a tag. Adverbs tend to “tell” rather than “show”. An alternative to this might be to use an action before or after the quote. For example, instead of writing:

“Don’t cry,” Jane exclaimed sadly.


Jane frowned and held out a tissue. “Don’t cry.”

Finally, use a good balance with tags. Don’t use to little, which will confuse the reader and cause them to stop reading to look back and see who is talking. Don’t use it too much because it no longer is invisible. Instead, it becomes distracting.

An alternative could include an action from a character, as shown above. An action points out who the speaker is with out the tag. Another option is to have the speaker name the other character. For example: “Sarah, why did you do that?”

With the dialogue written this way it makes it clear who is doing the talking.

Punctuating Quotes

  1. Place your comma before the last qotation mark in that quote before the tag.
  2. If there is no tag, a period or other required punctuation goes inside the quote.
  3. New speakers get a new paragraphs.

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