Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Need a Tag!

Dialogue tags. Yeah, we’re supposed to avoid them - start with an action instead. But your character can only scratch her nose or flip her hair so many times. 

Said is preferred. It's barely noticeable. But after too many, you'll notice.

Could it be you need something with punch? Well, that's where I come in. As it turns out, I’m a tag collector. And over the years, I’ve made a lengthy list. *And keep in mind, these are just fun, unusual tags.

For example: What did the agitated character do?

she bleated.
she blustered.
she bristled.
she crabbed.
she fussed.
she griped.
she groused.
she gruffed.
she grumbled.
she grumped.
she rumbled.
she spat.
she squawked.

Got one of those annoying sarcastic characters?

she chided.
she clucked.
she cracked.
she deadpanned.
she dug.
she egged.
she flouted.
she guffawed.
she heckled.
she mocked.
she mouthed off.
she poohed.
she quipped.
she sassed.
she scoffed.
she smirked.
she snarked.
she sniped.

Here are a few of my favorites:

she bubbled.
she coaxed.
she dazzled.
she ho-hummed.
she quavered.
she scrooged.
she sing-songed.
she tacked on.

And my ultimate favorite: *drumroll*

“Yeow!” she onomatopoeiad.

If you'd like a copy of my full alphabetized list (I've never had time to categorize it), contact me at enderle4@earthlink.net


  1. Great list, Dottie. I'll no doubt go through the day adding tags to my co-workers utterances. I'd love a copy of your list. I'll email you.

  2. The problem with all these choices is that writers become lazy in their writing. When you choose to use physical actions as dialogue tags, you are taking shortcuts that will often leave a reader jolted out of the story. Things aren't always simple, and many readers, myself included are very visual when reading a book. A few examples of what I mean are.

    *spat is the past participle of spit. You do not spit words. You can spit while you speak, but take a moment to spit, now say a word, then try to say that word while spitting.

    *flount is the act of treating with contemptuous disregard. It is an action, not a way of speech.

    *guffaw is the act of laughing in a loud and boisterous manner. Again, guffaw then try to speak. It is almost impossible because of the manner of the action.

    *a smirk is a smile or smug expression, a physical action. You can say something WITH a smirk, but to smirk something is just not a physical possibility since it is a an action not a tone.

    *dazzling is an action that happens when you look into a bright light or the act of impressing someone. Again, it is not a tone it is an action.

    *scrooge - a type of person. We all know what it means, to be miserly, how can you speak miserly? You don't speak actions, you speak in tones.

    *onomatopoeiad - while this certainly could be a tag, it is so outrageous in its attempt to be "different" that if I read it in a manuscript I was considering, I would stop reading and reject immediately.

    Writers need to be aware of the huge difference between physical acts and tones. To use these words improperly is simply incorrect and there are entirely too many other ways to display what you are trying to convey when using them. And if you take a poll, you might be surprised to find that readers are often annoyed by a writers attempt to use so many different words to replace "said."

    Karen Syed

  3. Karen, today's novels are so different. All of these examples, as well as the my 500+ list, all came from children's and YA books I've read over the years. It has less to do with grammar and more to do with packing a punch.

    With that said, I don't think it leads to laziness. Most writers use them sparingly. But the books I acquired these from were traditionally published and went through the editorial process. And quite a few were awarding-winning novels.

    As for onomatopeiad, I only saw it once, in a Christopher Moore book. He writes humor. I added it because I thought it was cute. It's not in my tag list and I don't expect anyone to use it. I put it there as a joke.

  4. I bleated with laughter at your collection of tags and would love the complete list. You've emphasized numerous ways for a character to speak.

  5. I amended the post, stating that these are meant for fun.

  6. What a collection, Dotti. I was entertained and laughed my sides sore. Thanks for the chuckle. Please send me the list too.

  7. Dotti, I loved your list. There are times--especially with humor--when an unexpected tag fits. And, Karen, I've had words spit at me. Lighten up and take the list as given--fun alternatives when said just won't work.

  8. What a great list, Dotti! I tend to be a 'said' purist, but writing is all about conveying a picture to the reader. Sometimes a unique dialouge tag is the very thing.

  9. Julie, can't lighten up. As an editor and a publisher who is constantly being scrutinized for every little "failure" I get a bit testy when there are so many authors out there who, like me, did not get the joke. I admit it has been a long month (IRS audit) but I have already had three emails telling me that you can spit out a sentence (LOL) but I hold to my belief that someone does not spit out a sentence, they spit while saying the sentence.

    I know that many, if not ALL of these are used frequently in writing, but I still don't think it is always correct. An occasional usage would not be horrible, but have you ever read a book where the author does it ALL the time?

    None of us are always going to agree on everything, but I am comforted to know that we can have spirited conversations on the things we don't stand together on without fear of being seen as a pooper. I just didn't get the joke...I can be dim sometimes. LOL But I try not to make a habit of it.


  10. LOL, Dotti! I notice some of these more unique tags, too. It's cool you collected them -- maybe something you can use for your standup comedy act (are you still doing standup?) I have a book with romance phrases in it with are supposed to be taken seriously but are obviously overdone and more funny than useful.

    Also, I collect old series books and some of them have crazy tags. The one that still makes me laugh when I see it if instead of saying "she exclaimed" they say "she ejaculated"...now that would be a funny tag to see (g).

    Thanks for the chuckle!

    1. I purposely left ejaculated off my list for good reason. :) And I also own that romance phrase book. The list of colors in the back actually come in handy.

    2. I'll try and see if I can find a place to use that one. :-)

  11. LOL, Dotti! I love characters who growl and squeak. People really do growl and squeak when they speak. My middle child is mildly autistic and had a speech delay that involved a slight growl before he got the word out when he was in speech therapy. Scared a few of his teachers, but definitely evocative of the difficulty of speech for him. I, myself, have squeaked more than once -- and not just when I saw a mouse :-)

    1. Before I had my tonsils out, I squeaked every flu season. And I tend to growl sentences a lot during edits.

  12. Oh, for heavens sakes, let's all lighten up! So, you'd use the "say" tag in most instances, but I am a firm believer in occasionally spicing it up with a more pointed tag. What's the harm!?

  13. Ha, I've seen some really bad tags in my time, but I've never kept track of any of them. I try my best to stick with "said" or no tag at all (when it's abundantly clear who is talking). I will sometimes use "asked," but only sparingly. However, I have been known to change things up here and there, partly because I don't want to hit that same drum again, partly to keep myself amused. When I go back and revise, I scrutinize every tag, though, to make sure it should stay. I kill many of my darlings that way!

    1. I don't have the guts to use most of these, but lots of authors take the risk. And really, isn't it up to the editor in the long run?

  14. Hey Dotti, I think your list is awesome - sorry Karen. With so many terrific books published, you can't quibble with success!!
    If you want to HOOK kids on reading (your books) you need to give them characters plots and dialogue they think is cool. Dotti does just that.

    Books for Kids - Manuscript Critiques

  15. I love that you have collected these, Dotti! What fun. I think "bleated" is my favorite, especially if it was a person speaking and not a goat. :)

    Like you, I almost always use "said" and avoid tags altogether whenever possible.

  16. Very fun list, Dotti!
    These got me thinking of Tom Swifties...
    "Put more air on the fire!" Tom bellowed.
    "I'm having so much fun in the bath!" Tom bubbled.
    "I think A.A. Milne is overrated," Tom poohed.
    I won't even attempt to write one with "ejaculated."
    Thanks for making me smile!

  17. Hey Dotti! I love your list. As a new writer, it makes me want to go and change all my dialog tags from said to one of those...I joked :-)

  18. Love the list, Dotti, thank you, "she bleated."

  19. He he, that's brilliant. The best I read, and most alarming was that it was several times in an otherwise brilliant book, was, 'she opined.' Please, no! Just once, maybe, if absolutely necessary but then no, just no.

  20. I didn't know you could dazzle while speaking. Clearly, I have been doing something wrong.

  21. Very funny, Dotti. And Christopher Moore is a riot too -- I'm pretty sure no one rejected his ms for the use of "onomatopoeiad" . . . and they'd regret it if they had!

  22. :) Very True but done so light hearted :)

  23. My friend, Jan Fields tried to post this herself, but Blogger is a bit contrary. Here's what she had to say:

    Spit is used regionally as a mode of speech -- without a doubt. I don't know how many times down South I've heard folks told to SPIT IT OUT when it means JUST SAY IT ALREADY. And "spat" in casual use for speaking in a biting viperous tone is also completely okay and common (though since Karen doesn't know it, I'm assuming it MIGHT be regional). I know it's hard to keep up with both (1) how language is used all over and (2) how language evolves beyond dictionary definitions, but it's worthwhile for writers to do so. It's important to coloring our tone and making our writing feel real rather than just feeling "correct." The Sally, Dick and Jane primers were "correct"
    but none of us want to write them today.

    Now, personally, I mostly use "said" or "asked" or "replied" because I want the reader's eye on the dialogue, not the tag -- but when you need something with more punch and more effect, I'm going to go with what gets my tone across. And my editors (all experienced professionals in the educational and trade books industry) seem to like that really well. Would I use every word on this list -- nope -- and neither would Dotti or anyone on this thread.
    But SOMEONE used each one and apparently used it for effect well enough that the person's editor thought they were spot on.

    Which is one reason I'm a HUGE champion of not dealing in absolutes as a writer -- it'll make you look bad every time. Flexibility allows you to reach your reader exactly the way you intend. When we give thought to the right word for each instance, we will be effective (even when some folks don't think we're "right.")

  24. Ha!! These are so fun! Thanks for posting this.
    I can't imagine anyone picking through them and using more than one or two in a book -- we all know that "said" is most preferred because it disappears. But it's great fun to see this cool list.

  25. Super, Dotti! And I loved Jan's comment, too.

  26. LOL, Dotti! Great list. I started one once, years ago to see just how much silliness I could come up with instead of always using "said" - but yours surpasses my feeble attempt. "Great fun!" she bubbled... >;-)

  27. I can see using creative tags to spice things up, but I can see Karen's point. It does get annoying when they're used in every line, like the writer looked over her dialogue, realized she used "said" too many times, and decided to throw in a bunch of random, ill-chosen tags to make it sound more exciting.

    Personally, if I can avoid using a tag at all, I do. If Sally and Judy are talking and I want Sally to say "How's your mother doing?" and I've already set the story up so my readers know that Judy's mother is in the hospital with cancer, it seems redundant to say 'Sally asked' or even 'Sally coaxed'. This list is funny, though.