Thursday, September 15, 2016


Dealing with Dialogue Tags

Glancing back at some of my earlier work, I cringe at my use of “said bookisms” such as roared, admonished, exclaimed, queried, and hissed. I was trying to avoid overusing the word “said” and searched for suitable alternatives. I realize now that substituting those words made it sound like I enjoyed using my thesaurus. Instead, I was annoying the reader and drawing attention away from the dialogue.

From different workshop facilitators, I’ve learned that I don’t have to interpret the dialogue, or worse, tell the reader how the words are said. If the dialogue is strong enough, “he said” and “she said” will do. Like other parts of speech—the, is, and, but—that are used several times on each page, “said” is invisible and allows the reader to concentrate on the action and dialogue.  To add variety, I insert action tags and internal dialogue within blocks of dialogue.

Here’s an example from my novel, A Season for Killing Blondes:

Carlo cleared his throat. He was ready to get down to business. Police business. “It appears that Carrie Ann was your first client. You haven’t opened this office for business yet. How did that happen?”

My heart raced as I spoke. “After Sofia and my mother left…I’m not certain about the time…um…I…I heard a knock at the front window. I looked up and saw Carrie Ann. Hadn’t seen her in ages.” I paused and then added, “Still wearing the same pageboy hair style and that blonde color—”

Carlo waved his hand. “Stick to the facts, please.”

I felt myself reddening as those piercing blue eyes bored right through me. “Oh, sorry. Um, I let Carrie Ann in.”

“And?” Carlo said when I hesitated.

I shrugged. “We just talked for a while, then, uh…” I closed my eyes and tried to recall the conversation. But nothing concrete came to mind, only Carrie Ann’s infectious laugh and bubbly compliments about the decorating scheme. When I opened my eyes, the other officer offered me a water bottle. I thanked him and gulped down half the contents.“You scheduled her for a session tomorrow morning,” Carlo said as he held up my appointment book. “Carrie Ann is…was considered one of the best interior designers in town. Why would she need counseling from you?” His dark brows drew together in a suspicious frown. “Were you planning to tell her to give it up?”

“For your information, Detective, career counselors don’t tell people what to do with their lives. We provide a sympathetic ear and help them gather all the relevant facts before making their final decisions.” I knew that I was using my teacher voice, but I didn’t care one bit. I was passionate about my new business, and I didn’t want people getting the wrong impression about career counseling. I caught a glimpse of the other officer wiggling his eyebrows and trying to suppress a laugh. If Magnum was anything like some of my former students, he would mimic me afterward and tease Carlo about being reprimanded.
Carlo grunted and waved his hand again.


Hours before the opening of her career counseling practice, Gilda Greco discovers the dead body of golden girl Carrie Ann Godfrey, neatly arranged in the dumpster outside her office. Gilda’s life and budding career are stalled as Detective Carlo Fantin, her former high school crush, conducts the investigation.

When three more dead blondes turn up all brutally strangled and deposited near Gilda’s favorite haunts, she is pegged as a prime suspect for the murders. Frustrated by Carlo’s chilly detective persona and the mean girl antics of Carrie Ann’s meddling relatives, Gilda decides to launch her own investigation. She discovers a gaggle of suspects, among them a yoga instructor in need of anger management training, a lecherous photographer, and fourteen ex-boyfriends. As the puzzle pieces fall into place, shocking revelations emerge, forcing Gilda to confront the envy and deceit she has long overlooked.

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Want to know more about Joanne?

In 2008, Joanne took advantage of early retirement and decided to launch a second career that would tap into her creative side and utilize her well-honed organizational skills. Slowly, a writing practice emerged. Her articles and book reviews were published in newspapers, magazines, and online. When she tried her hand at fiction, she made reinvention a recurring theme in her novels and short stories. A member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime, and Romance Writers of America, Joanne writes paranormal romance, cozy mysteries, and inspirational literature from her home base of Guelph, Ontario.

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  1. I was fortunate to have a writer in my first critique circle who was vigilant about this. We called him the "said" killer. He helped me be a better writer. Lesson learned.

    1. Several writing instructors have acted as "said" killers. Essential for all writers. Thanks for dropping by, Gay :)

  2. Joanne - your dialogue stands alone! I am a self professed SAID person. I hatehatehate when someone tags the dialogue with a description, ie He said creepily (!)> Make the words count in the speech. You do that so admirably and wonderfully, which is why your books are so wonderful to read!

    1. Thanks for the lovely compliment, Peggy. And I can say the same about your with snappy dialogue. :)

  3. I agree. If the dialogue is strong, no tags other than he said or she said is needed