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Dialogue Tags Report

The AutoCrit analysis helps you identify the kinds of dialogue tags you’re using in your manuscript and how often you’re using them.

This helps you in two ways:

  1. Editors and readers prefer minimal use of dialogue tags in fiction. This tool helps you determine whether you need to cut any excessive or unnecessary tags.
  2. It also helps you more clearly see what kinds of words you’re using in your dialogue tags. In most instances, dialogue tags should be simple and straightforward—said or asked instead of words like questioned or exclaimed.

A quick note: When you’re reviewing the analysis results, keep in mind that AutoCrit relies on correct punctuation to find your dialogue tags. If the punctuation isn’t correct, AutoCrit won’t find it.

Dialogue tags have magical powers. Why are they magical? Well, because they disappear. Readers read right over them.

And that’s what you want them to do. Dialogue tags exist for only one purpose: to identify for the reader who is speaking in your manuscript. That’s it. You want the focus on the dialogue itself. You don’t want readers to get distracted by the tag.

This is one of the most common mistakes new writers make. They think words like asked or said are boring or repetitive, so they try to use more interesting alternatives.

Trust me: The dialogue tag is not the place to get fancy. Dialogue tags should melt into the background. Said and asked are all you need.  Resist the urge to use queried instead of asked, or exclaimed instead of said.  All those flourishes will do is tell an agent or publisher you’re a newbie.

Now that we’re squared away on that front, let’s talk about how often you should use dialogue tags. The answer: sparingly. Remember, the only purpose of these tags is to identify who is speaking. So only use them as often as you need to, and no more. Even a quiet little word like said will become annoying if you use it too much.

Take a look at this example:

“Where are we going?” John asked.

“To the park,” Aunt Ginny said. “Do you want to play on the slides?”

“Not really,” John said. “It’s too hot.”

“It’ll be cooler under the trees,” Ginny said.

“I’d rather go to the pool,” John said.

See how quickly those saids add up? Since most of them aren’t needed, let’s see what this looks like when we eliminate the extras:

“Where are we going?” John asked.

“To the park,” Aunt Ginny said. “Do you want to play on the slides?”

“Not really. It’s too hot.”

“It’ll be cooler under the trees.”

“I’d rather go to the pool.”

Much better—it’s leaner, clearer, and puts the focus where it belongs: on the dialogue, not the tags.


The exception to the rule

It’s okay to deviate occasionally from asked or said. Good alternatives could include exclaimed, replied, or countered—as long as their use is justified, such as when you’re trying to show the volume of a speaker’s voice:

“What do you think they’re going to do to us?” Jennifer whispered.

“I can’t take it anymore!” John screamed.

A word of caution: If you mix it up, avoid using a dialogue tag to show an action that can’t actually be accomplished in real life. For instance:

“I want to go home,” Lily sighed.

A character cannot speak and sigh at the same time; this dialogue should be revised to:

“I want to go home,” Lily said, sighing.


Related areas to look for in your manuscript

If AutoCrit shows that you use lots of dialogue tags other than said or asked, chances are you may be committing another faux-pas: attaching adverbs to your dialogue tags. For example:

“I’ve had enough,” Simon said angrily.

Dialogue tags are not the place to convey emotion—the dialogue itself should do that. If you think you need an adverb to convey emotion, your scene needs to be written so the character’s dialogue and actions more clearly express that emotion. It’s the difference between showing and telling.


“I’ve had enough,” Simon said angrily.

This simply tells us that Simon is angry, but his emotion isn’t demonstrated through his actions or the dialogue itself.


Simon shoved back his chair and slammed his fist on the table. “I’ve had enough,” he said, clenching his jaw. “This discussion is over.”

Here, Simon’s dialogue and actions more clearly shows his emotions.

You may find it helpful to check out the Adverbs and Showing Vs Telling analysis when editing your dialogue tags.

The bottom line

Use dialogue tags only as needed—and when you do, keep it simple.  Asked and said are all you need.

Write better. Right now.