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Dialogue Tags, Actions Beats & Voice Descriptors: Oh my!

Some things are just tricky.

Taxes. French cooking. Training my dog not to lick me in the face no matter how many times I tell her not to.

Dialogue Tags, Action Beats, and Voice Descriptors do not have to be tricky, friends. And there is a way to (first) differentiate and (second) use them effectively so your agent/editors will sigh with relief.

Also: take care that if this is a trouble spot for you, you’re not alone! As a freelance editor, this is one of the most common errors I see, and nothing that can’t be cleared up quickly.

So let’s break it down!

(these definitions are my takes btw, so I’m sure Dictionary.com is gonna say something diff)

Dialogue Tag – used in the same manner as a social medial photo tag, this attributes/assigns the speaker to the dialogue.

“I’m speaking for an example,” she said.

The “she” is the identifying pronoun of who spoke, and thus, the dialogue tag.

How to Punctuate!

Point Blank: Dialogue tags get punctuated with the dialogue as part of a whole sentence together.

Meaning:

1. The dialogue isn’t punctuated to a close with a period

2. The dialogue tag is still ruled by normal mid-sentence capitalization rules, and

3. We need a finalizing punctuation mark at the end of the dialogue tag, unless we’re continuing the dialogue.

“I’m speaking for an example,she said.

i. Notice the comma. The dialogue isn’t punctuated to a close with a period. It is continuing with a comma. The sentence isn’t done. We don’t drop rando periods in the middle of sentences ;)

ii. The dialogue tag of “she said” is lower case, because it is in the middle of a continuing sentence. The tag is still ruled by normal mid-sentence capitalization rules. Had this been a proper noun like Jennifer or Joe, we would capitalize their names, but otherwise, we don’t capitalize random words in the middle of sentences, right? RIGHT?

iii. We have a period at the end of the tag. The sentence has been ongoing with a comma, but now we need to stop it to start a new one. We use a period.

Now, Dialogue Tags by themselves can get a lot more complicated than that. We have times when they interrupt dialogue, or come before it, and things can get a little . . . crazy.

So if you’re interested in a more detailed breakdown of dialogue tags and how to punctuate them, check out my post on them: HERE