This is an old blog that I started in 2006. I keep it because it has a lot of historical data and people still come here. As of September 2016, no new updates will be made here. All new blog posts and writing/publishing related news will be posted over on my new site at

Monday, February 23, 2009

Dialogue & Action Tags Checklist for Fiction

By Jennifer Hudson Taylor

When writing dialogue you must include dialogue tags and action tags. Dialogue tags (descriptive tags) tells the reader who is talking. Action tags (beats) tells the reader what a character is doing while talking. Without these necessary tags, dialogue will be stilted, unnatural and boring. But as with any good thing, you can over do it and there are guidelines that should be followed.

  • Limit your use of he/she said. Instead, focus more on what the character is doing while talking and add action tags.

  • Example:
    "I bought a ticket to Reno. I leave in three hours." Jamie dumped a pile of clothes in her suitcase.

  • Use said more often when there are more than two people in a conversation in order to identify who is talking, but be sure to include action tags as well. An action tag can give a hint as to who is talking just as easily as using said.

  • Limit use of other substitutes for said, such as he/she whispered, yelled, cried, asked, whined, growled, etc. The word said is so unobtrusive that it hardly gets noticed, but too many of these substitute words can jar the reader from the story.

  • When you do use said, add an action tag with it to make the reading flow better.

  • Example:
    "I bought a ticket to Reno. I leave in three hours," Jamie said, dumping a pile of clothes in her suitcase.

  • Read your story aloud and listen to how it sounds. Is is confusing? Can you identify who is talking? Can you see what each character is doing and their facial expressions? Using dialogue and action tags can bring a scene to life.


    I love action beats but have to really stay on myself to diversify. It's easy to get in a rut of using the same action over and over.

    Hi Jennifer -

    I'm with Jessica. I like using action beats. It gives the conversation a more natural feeling.

    Great post.

    Susan :)