Feb 28

Dialogue and Tags

Writing Tips

I’m rewriting a young adult book for a client. It’s over 100,000 words.

With that many words, the author felt compelled to mix up the dialogue tags.

That, though, is never a good idea.

Some of the tags he used were: spat, laughed, teased, smirked, joked, yawned, and sneered.

But my client isn’t the only one who doesn’t realize that there are specific words for dialogue tags. That might be because new authors aren’t familiar with the tag’s purpose.

So, what exactly is a dialogue tag?

According to The Write Practice, “they ‘tag’ the dialogue to a particular character. Also often referred to as an attribution, a dialogue tag is a small phrase either before, after, or in between the actual dialogue itself.”

That puts it pretty simple.

Dialogue tags are phrases that identify who is speaking. They are a must for clarity and in order to keep the reader in the know and involved in the story.

A few examples:

“What was that?” asked John.

“I couldn’t finish my homework,” John said.

John sat on the chair and said, “I give up.”

“If I go to the store,” John said, “I’ll pick up milk.”

So, you can see that dialogue tags are straight forward. They allow the reader to know who’s talking.

The basic tags are said and asked. These tags kind of become invisible to the reader. The reader can acknowledge who is talking while not thinking twice about the tag.

But when the basics just aren’t enough, you can also use whispered, shouted, mumbled. They should be used sparingly, though.

So, going back to dialogue tags that shouldn’t be used, I did a search and was surprised at the results.

One site had a list of dialogue tags that included, emitted, bubbled, chuckled, grinned, sang, smiled, and rejoiced.

Another site had grieved, mewled, bawled, blubbered, fretted, agonized, comforted, admired, hissed, soothed, glowered, placated, assented, tittered, and sobbed, stating they could be used as dialogue tags.

This may be one of the problems as to why some writers feel it’s okay to use these words.

A good way to think about whether a word can be used as a tag, is to think of the word and what it means.

You can’t blubber dialogue.
You can’t admire dialogue.
You can’t comfort dialogue.
You can’t sneer dialogue.
You can’t tease dialogue.
You can’t emit dialogue.
You can’t spit dialogue.

Dialogue tags and adverbs.

This is another common problem that can arise with dialogue and tags – the use of adverbs.

My client did a lot of this also.

Using an adverb after a tag looks like this:

“Don’t bother getting up,” John said angrily.

“You’re beautiful,” John said admiringly.

“Get out of my chair,” John said disgruntled.

Instead of using adverbs, the sentence or paragraph should show how the character is feeling.

Here’s an example:

Ellen couldn’t open her eyes. Crying all night left them swollen and achy. “How could this happen?” she whispered.

Showing what’s going on allows the reader to know how she’s feeling. You wouldn’t need to add “sadly” at the end of the tag.

Do you always have to use dialogue tags?

Another question that can come up about dialogue tags is whether they have to be used all the time.

The answer is, no, as long as it’s clear who’s speaking.

John shook his head. “No way. I’m not going.”

“You’ve got to,” said Pete.

“No, I don’t.”

In this simple example you can see that only one of the dialogue’s has a tag.

The first one notes who’s talking by using: John shook his head.

The dialogue that comes after that is from John.

The third dialogue line is John responding to Pete. As there are only two characters in the scene, the reader will know John is speaking.

Writing dialogue is easy once you get the hang of it.

A good way to learn how to write dialogue with proper tags is to read a lot of traditionally published books. Pay attention to the dialogue and tags.

It’s not that I’m putting down self-published books, I’ve self-published two books. The problem is not all self-published books are done professionally.

Traditionally published books have professionals editing them; they have gatekeepers to ensure the story is quality. They know the ropes and it’s important to learn from books that are done right.

Writing Help

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.


Why Do You Want to Write a Children’s Book?

When Is It Time to Let Your Manuscript Fly?

The Hardest Part of Writing is Actually Starting

Social media sharing

May 03

Writing Dialogue? Try These 5 Top Tips

Dialogue is like any other part of your story. It needs to move your story forward. It needs to be a part of tight writing.

It also helps reveal your characters’ character and allows a deeper connection between the character and reader.

So, what are five of the top tips to writing dialogue?

  1. Your dialogue must have a purpose.

As a children’s writer, I listen to how children talk. Having three grandsons, 3, 11, and 14, I know that a lot of what’s said is nonessential or fluff. And depending on the child, there could be a lot of goofing around and teasing (more fluff).

Your job as a writer is to choose dialogue that’s essential to the story and leave the fluff out.

Although, if you’re writing a silly story for kids then the ‘goofing’ around talk may be essential.

But overall, keep it lean and purposeful.

  1. Work on making your dialogue specific to the character.

What this means is that children each speak with a different tone. They use different words.

One may use ‘awesome’ for everything: “That pizza was awesome.”

Another may use “outstanding.”

Along with this how they talk is important. One character may have a gruff personality. That will come out in his dialogue also:

“Hey, didn’t I tell you to bring me some of. Thanks for nothing.”

Another character may have a sweet personality which will be reflected in her dialogue:

“Oh, I thought you were going to bring me some of that. I guess you forgot.”

So, from the words used and from the tone, you can distinguish your characters from one another to the reader.

Using this strategy will allow you to eliminate dialogue tags in some instances.

  1. A key factor of dialogue is the relationships between the characters.

How a boy talks to his brother will be different than how he talks to a girl, especially one he likes.

An example of this is:

Lucas glared at his brother. “Get out of my way.”

“Excuse me, Stacy. I need to get over there.”

Quite a difference, right.

The same goes for girls. How a girl talks to her mother will be different than how she’ll talk to her friend. How she talks to a brother will be different than how she speaks to her father.

Think about how you speak to the different people in your life. How I talk to my fourteen-year-old grandson is a lot different than how I talk to my three-year-old grandson.

Relationships are an important element when writing dialogue. Take into account who the character is talking to.

  1. Use tags correctly.

This is kind of basic, but use proper tags for dialogue.

The basic tags are “said” and “asked.” There are also other tags that you can use sparingly. They include:

  • shouted
  • suggested
  • added
  • mumbled
  • nagged
  • whined
  • demanded

As a children’s ghostwriter, I’ve gotten drafts from clients who use dialogue tags like, ‘laughed’ and ‘gasped.’

When writing your dialogue think about the tags.

You can’t ‘laugh’ dialogue and you can’t ‘gasp’ dialogue.

  1. Use physical action rather than ‘said.’

If you can show who’s talking by using a gesture or motion it will add more to the scene and allow you to lose the tag.

Here’s two examples:

Anthony kicked the dirt. “I’m mad!”

Julia brushed her hair off her shoulder. “I told him not to do that.”

Using ‘action tags’ allows you to break things up. It avoids the monotony of using ‘said’ all the time.

I hope these tips help you write stronger dialogue.



Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, FICTION WRITING FOR CHILDREN.

Writing for children tips

Balance in Fiction Writing – The Major Elements

Create a Believable Protagonist with Realistic Characteristics

Keep Your Writing Goals Front and Center


Jan 06

5 Basic Functions of Dialogue

Tips on writing dialogue.In an article over at Writer’s Digest, the author explained that ‘real’ dialogue doesn’t spell everything out.

So, what does this mean?

Well, people communicate with more than just words and often there’s a lot left unsaid in a conversation. Narration or the protagonist’s thoughts can fill in the blanks.

Here’s an example from “Crispin – The Cross of Lead” (honored with the John Newberry Medal for the Most Distinguished Contribution To American Literature For Children):

“Where’s Bear?” she asked when we entered the back room.


“You mustn’t be seen,” she said. “He should have told you.”

I made no reply, assuming Bear had told her of the attack on me, and that she felt a need to protect me. If Bear trusted her, I told myself, so should I.

Perfect blend of dialogue and narration.

With this in mind, let’s go over five of the basic functions of dialogue with the help of narration.

1. Dialogue helps reveals the character’s traits.

“Hey, Pete. Looks like you’re having some trouble with that tire. Need a hand?”

Pete leaned on the tire iron, giving it all he had. Struggling to get the lug nut off the wheel, he moaned, “I-I got it.”

So, here with a bit of dialogue and narration, it shows that Pete may have a chip on his shoulder. Maybe because he’s not as strong as the other character. He’d rather struggle than accept help. It also shows that the first character is willing ad ready to lend a hand.

Here’s another example:

“The car’s stuck in the mud. There’s no way we’re getting it out of there. It won’t budge,” said Desmond.

Brain shoved his baseball cap back on his head and walked around the car. “All we have to do is get the truck. We’ll hook on a tow line and pull her out.”

In this scene, through dialogue we learn that Desmond sees the cup half empty – he can’t see how something can be accomplished. Brian on the other hand sees the cup half full. He knows he can get the job done. Shoving his cap back and walking around the car shows he’s a guy of action. He’ll look for a solution.

Here’s another example:

“I’ll have turkey on rye with the mayo, lettuce, and tomato on the side. And, I’d like the bread lightly toasted. Please be sure it’s just lightly toasted. And, I’d like water, no ice, with two lemon slices on the side.”

The scene doesn’t have narration, but just from a simple lunch order, we know that the character is extremely picky. She knows what she wants and expects to get it.

While it’s not the same as in the movie, I got this scenario from “When Harry Meet Sally” with Meg Ryan and Billy Crystal. It’s an amazing scene.

2. Dialogue can show what a character does for a living.

Christine looked over the documents, her face growing serious. “Who’s responsible for these prints? They’re all wrong. The bathroom should be on the second floor and the living area should be an open concept. Somebody’s head is going to roll.”

In this scene, Christine obviously deals with blueprints. Maybe she’s an architect reviewing a subordinate’s plans. We also know she’s in charge and doesn’t take mistakes lightly.

Here’s another simple example:

“Give her oxygen and get her into the OR stat.”

Again, there isn’t any narration, but from this little bit of dialogue, we can assume the person talking is a doctor and she’s working in an emergency room.

Here’s another one:

Rachel tapped the pencil on the desk. She looked around the room. Everyone in class was busy writing. “Man, I should have studied,” she whispered.

In this scenario we can assume Rachel is a student and a bit nervous (tapping the pencil). Her class is taking a test, and she didn’t prepare for it.

3. Dialogue can show relationships.

Lucas shoved his gear into his bag and headed for the door.

“Mom said you have to clean the garage before going to practice,” said Frank with a smile.

“Geez,” said Lucas. “You never have to clean the darn garage.”

From this conversation, we know the two involved are siblings. It doesn’t, though, convey why the one brother doesn’t have to clean. Possibly the older brother has to clean the garage and has more chores. He’s also annoyed about that fact.

To give it more clarity, if it’s warranted for the story, Lucas’ dialogue can be tweaked, as long as what’s conveyed isn’t information dump:

“Geez. How come you don’t have to clean the darn garage? Just because you’re two years younger than me you get away with everything.”

4. Dialogue can show how educated a character is through choice of words.

“You need to ascertain whether you and he are compatible.”

“You need to figure out if you two are a good match.”

Simple examples, but you get the point.

5. Dialogue can show tension between characters.

Sammy dropped his books and stood with his fists clenched. “Do that one more time and you’ll never do it again.”

Dylan shook his hands. “Ooohhh. I’m scared. Do you mean don’t do this again?”

This scene clearly shows tension between Sammy and Dylan. And, it shows that Dylan is the instigator of the tension.

Here’s another example:

Sara stormed up to Alicia’s desk and slammed a folder down. “You stole my idea. Mr. Peter is doing a full campaign based on it. Tell him it’s my idea or I’ll tell him.”

Without looking up or hesitating, Alicia said, “That’s not happening. If you weren’t careless enough to leave your notes on your desk, I wouldn’t have seen them.” She pulled a lipstick and mirror out of her draw and touched up her lips. “If you go to the boss, he won’t know who to believe. He might think you’re lying to get ahead. Want to risk it?”

Again, this is a tension packed scene – that Alicia is a stinker.

There are also other functions of dialogue like conveying underlying emotions, creating atmosphere, and driving the plot forward. Using dialogue and narration allows you to paint vivid pictures. Your choice of words will give your characters and your story life.

Writing a Scene with Good Dialogue and Narration

Children's ghostwriterLet me take a look at your notes, outline, or draft. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. I can turn your story into a book that you’ll be proud to be author of.

Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com (please put Children’s Ghostwriter in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Let’s get your story in publishable shape today!


Writing a Fiction Story – Walking Through Walls Backstory

Take That Shot

May 27

Create Strong Story Settings with Visual Prompts

Writing and visual prompts

Contributed by Team Member Suzanne Lieurance

Setting plays a big part in any novel or short story.

And the best way to create a strong sense of setting is to “show” your readers where your characters are living out your story.

But how do you do this?

Well, it takes practice.

Generally, you will want to weave in details about your setting within the dialogue and action provided by your characters rather than include paragraph after paragraph of description.

To do this, you’ll want to use strong sensory details that bring your setting—and your entire story—to life.

Here’s a way to practice creating a strong setting.

Use each of these photos, below, as visual writing prompts and describe each setting using a variety of sensory details.

In other words, describe how each scene looks, the sounds you would hear there, the smells you would smell, what things you could feel there, and even the tastes you might experience there.

It might feel awkward at first to include details for each of the five senses, but, if you keep practicing this, it will get easier.

After you’ve created sensory details for each of the above photos (or settings), now create some characters to live in each setting.

Next, have these characters interact through dialogue.

Also, have them take action and move through the setting for some reason important to your storyline.

If nothing else, this little exercise should help you see and understand the importance of sensory details in setting.

Try it!

For more writing tips and resources delivered to your e-mailbox every weekday morning, get your free subscription to The Morning Nudge from Suzanne Lieurance, the Working Writer’s Coach.

This article was shared from:
Create Strong Story Settings with Visual Prompts

Children's ghostwriterWhether you need rewriting or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

Making a Fiction Story Work – 5 Key Elements

Self-Publishing – 3 Perks and 4 Warnings

Writing Success – Do You Really Have the Power?

Feb 21

10 Rules for Writing Children’s Stories

Tips and tricks to children's writingI write for young children and I’ve also written marketing and health articles. Writing in multiple genres, I can tell you that writing for children can be much more challenging.

When writing for children, there are guidelines to keep in mind to help your story avoid the editor’s trash pile.

Here is a list of 10 rules to refer to when writing for young children (these rules pertain to traditional publishing and self-publishing):

1. This is probably the most important item: be sure that your story does not suggest dangerous or inappropriate behavior.

Example: The protagonist (main character) sneaks out of the house while his parents are sleeping.

This is a no-no!

2. Make sure your story has age appropriate words, dialogue, and action.

3. The protagonist should have an age appropriate problem or dilemma to solve at the beginning of the story, in the first paragraph if possible. Let the action/conflict rise. Then have the protagonist, through thought process and problem solving skills, solve it on his/her own. If an adult is involved, keep the input and help at a bare minimal.

Kid’s love action and problem solving!

4. The story should have a single point of view (POV). To write with a single point of view means that if your protagonist can’t see, hear, touch or feel it, it doesn’t exist.

Example: “Mary crossed her eyes behind Joe’s back.” If Joe is the protagonist this can’t happen because Joe wouldn’t be able to see it.

5. Sentence structure: Keep sentences short and as with all writing, keep adjectives and adverbs to a minimum. And, watch your punctuation and grammar.

6. Write your story by showing through action and dialogue rather than telling.

If you can’t seem to get the right words to show a scene, try using dialogue instead; it’s an easy alternative.

7. You also need to keep your writing tight. This means don’t say something with 10 words if you can do it with 5. Get rid of unnecessary words.

8. Watch the time frame for the story. Try to keep it within several hours or one day for very young children. For the older crowd (7-8) keep it short also, but the time frame can extend a week, a month, and depending on the storyline, you can probably get away with a school year. Just follow the current traditional publishing guidelines.

9. Along with the protagonist’s solution to the conflict, he/she should grow in some way as a result.

10. Use a thesaurus and book of similes. Finding just the right word or simile can make the difference between a good story and a great story.

Using these techniques will help you create effective children’s stories. Another important tool to use in your writing tool belt is joining a children’s writing critique group. No matter how long you’ve been writing, you can always use another set of eyes.

It you’re a beginning writer and unpublished, you should join a group that has published and unpublished members. Having published and experienced writers in the group will help you hone your craft.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need rewriting, ghostwriting, or coaching, let me take a look at your story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box.

Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your book in publishable shape today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.

Articles on writing for childrenCritiques are Essential for Writers

Submitting Your Manuscript – 8 Tips

Creating Conflict in Your Story

Please Share