NZ Forest Native Birds
Is Your Web Site Unfriendly? Some tips and a tutorial

While the attribution “said” is the best in most cases, it can become monotonous. There are some other tag lines you can add to your dialogue—but only if they are appropriate to the dialogue and make sense. For example:

  • he shouted
  • she screamed
  • he whispered
  • she yelled
  • he asked


If your character hisses his words, you had better make sure there are sibilants in his dialogue! Tag lines that are definitely not acceptable are:
              1. she beamed
              2. he smiled
              3. she scowled
              4. she laughed
              5. he grunted
              6. he sniffed
              7. she shrugged
and anything similar. Items 1, 2 and 3 are facial expressions, items 4, 5 and 6 are sounds rather than speech and item 7 is a gesture. Instead of “Oh, how kind of you!” she beamed, try
“Oh, how kind of you!” she said, beaming

Other attributions you shouldn’t use include opined (which sounds positively pompous) and queried (what’s the matter with “asked”?)

Unless you’re writing for very young children, one of the best ways to avoid the monotony of speech tags is to use “business” or action to make an attribution unnecessary. You can “point” to the speaker by putting the action before the dialogue:

      • Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. I wasn’t listening.”
        (Much better than “I don’t know,” Daniel shrugged. “I wasn’t listening.”)
      • Mary scowled. “Why does nobody ever listen to me?”
      • Sylvia clenched her hands tightly to hide their trembling. “You’re lying.
        Daniel would never do something like that!”
You still need to be careful here, though. The action should have some connection to the story, or the dialogue that follows the action. Having Mary blow hair out of her eyes, for instance, does nothing to drive the story along, or characterise Mary, or even show how she feels.
For further writing tips, see other links on my Site Map.

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