“Tag, you’re it,” said the publisher. No. Seriously. In part four of his five-part series, Hydra editor Josiah Davis discusses dialogue tags.
We’re now more than halfway through the five-part series, Getting Your Manuscript Ready for Editing.
By this point, you might be asking yourself, “Well, we’ve already covered consistency, punctuation, and adjectives. What else could there possibly be?” Today, friends, we’ll be working on dialogue tags.
There are a number of common mistakes that I see in manuscripts with the dialogue tags, but, luckily, they’re all fairly easy fixes.
When you have dialogue, and then a tag following the dialogue, that tag is still a part of the same sentence as the dialogue. Here’s what I mean:
“I don’t think we should do that,” he said.
In the example,“he said” cannot exist by itself. It only makes sense within the context of the actual dialogue, therefore it needs to be a part of the same sentence. This concept also carries over when you’re using question marks and exclamation points; it’s still the same sentence even though you haven’t used a comma. Here’s what that would look like:
“What are you talking about?” she demanded.
Again, “she demanded” cannot exist on its own, and needs to be within the same sentence as the dialogue. The way you would check on this is just to do a search in your manuscript for all uses of a quote mark, and then make sure that any dialogue immediately followed by a dialogue tag is lower case and part of the same sentence.
There are two more things I want to cover in regards to dialogue tags. The first is using action to break up a line of dialogue. Here’s what I mean:
“I really think we should go that way,” he brushed a strand of hair out of his face, “though I’m not really sure if it’s right.”
The dialogue is all one sentence, and you’d just use the line of action in order to vary your pacing of the person speaking. This can only be done when you are using one complete sentence, and the line of action and dialogue can be done concurrently.
The last thing I wanted to address is in regards to verbs following a dialogue tag. If you have a dialogue tag, and a verb immediately after it, there must be a comma between the two. Here’s what I’m talking about:
“I wouldn’t do it that way,” he said, looking around the room.
In any context where you have a dialogue tag, and a verb right next to it, you must use a comma to separate the two. Another easy fix you can do by just doing a search through your document for all the common tags you would use, and making sure that your comma usage following them is consistent.
Hopefully this helps anyone who’s struggled with understanding the rules of dialogue, tags, and punctuation within. Join me next week for the last installment of this article series.