Use Speaker Tags and Beats Correctly
By Andrea Merrell
Dialogue can make or break a story—too much, too little, too stilted, or too corny.
When we read, we want to see the characters interacting with each other. We want to know what’s going on in the scene and/or what the POV character is thinking or feeling. The communication should be real and flow in such a way that we get pulled into the story.
Using speaker tags and beats correctly will enhance your dialogue. Let’s look at the difference.
A speaker tag shows the speaker’s name and a speech-related verb (said, asked, shouted). This is generally the best way to show which of your characters is speaking, but sometimes we tend to overuse tags. They’re not necessary each time someone speaks, especially in a long section of dialogue. Notice that tags require a comma, not a period.
“That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Wendy said.
“Thank you so much,” Beverly replied.
“Where did you get it?” Wendy asked.
“It came from Dillard’s,” Beverly answered.
“Oh, that’s my favorite department store,” Wendy said.
Do you see how annoying—and boring—that is? Let’s try it again adding beats.
A speaker beat is the action that accompanies what the speaker is saying. It also indicates to the reader who is doing the speaking.
“That’s a lovely dress you’re wearing,” Wendy said, wishing she had worn something besides jeans to the party.
Beverly’s face lit up. “Thank you so much.”
“Where did you get it?” Wendy hoped she wasn’t being too forward.
“It came from Dillard’s.”
“Oh, that’s my favorite department store.”
“Mine too.” Beverly lowered her voice to a whisper. “Especially when they’re having a big sale. I got this for only twenty dollars."
Both girls laughed and went to the party arm in arm.
Just like speaker tags, don’t overuse beats. Too many will interrupt the flow of dialogue. They’re not necessary every time, but they work well to help set the scene when used correctly. You can use them at the beginning of the sentence or the end. Mix it up.
Side Note: This is a common error when using speaker tags: “That’s a pretty scrawny dog,” Jim laughed. Since Jim can’t laugh that comment, the proper way would be: “That’s a pretty scrawny dog.” Jim laughed. This now becomes a speaker beat instead of a tag.
What can you add about using speaker tags and beats? We would love to hear from you.
(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Master Isolated Images.)
Using speaker beats and tags correctly will enhance your dialogue. via @AndreaMerrell (Click to tweet.)