Cinnamon Bear wrote:
Jan, I have been meaning to ask you about speech tags. It is my understanding that it is best to avoid their use. Instead, show who is speaking by describing their actions or perhaps by a distinctive dialect.
If this is correct, are there occasions when a speech tag is necessary? And if we do use a tag, is it best to use "said"? Or is it best to use a more descriptive tag such as "whispered" or "shouted"?
Finally, am I correct in thinking that tags such as "she laughed" or "he smirked" shouldn't be used as tags, because we can't literally laugh or smirk our words.
Please forgive me if you have covered this topic in an earlier lesson. I scrolled through the threads but didn't see it.
(While writing this post, I've googled comma usage about five times. Still not sure they are correct.
This is as much a question of style and preference as one of correctness--some people like to use speech tags, and some people avoid them altogether. Most like to use a combination of speech tags and "action" tags (or no tags at all).
Most readers skip over speech tags, so it's best not to get too fancy. I'd say that you should very rarely--if ever--use a speech tag + an adverb, like this:
"That brownie was delicious," Jan exclaimed enthusiastically.
It's better to use Jan's actual words to show the reader how she felt about the brownie, rather than using to words that inform the reader.
"That brownie must have been made by the best pastry chef in the world!" said Jan.
If you're going to use speech tags, you'll find many writers and editors who recommend sticking to "said" for the most part. Again, let the character's words show their emotion. There are times when you just have to use a "muttered" or a "whispered," but they should be relatively rare.
If you're going to use "laughed" or "smirked" or some other word that isn't a kind of vocalization, it's best to put it in its own sentence: an action tag.
WRONG: "This brownie is simply outstanding," Jan gulped, licking her fingers.
RIGHT: "This brownie is simply outstanding." Jan gulped the last bite, then licked her fingers.
Note the punctuation, too. If there's a dialogue tag at the end of a sentence and it contains a "said"-type word, use a comma inside the end quotes. If it's a complete sentence, use a period.