Writer Wednesday: How to clean up your dialogue

One of the biggest complaints my editors have had about my raw writing is the use of dialogue tags.  Here are some of the tips they’ve given me for polishing it up.


Use tags only when necessary.

“He said”/”She said” is not needed as many times as you might think.  Use it to establish your speakers, then leave it.

If you have to use tags, use an action instead.

Instead of “He said”, add something like “He stood.”  Instead of “She said”, try “She gazed off into the distance.”

Don’t use alternative tags.

We all learned how to use “He exclaimed” and “She cried” when we were in school.  But that’s not what editors want these days.  Instead of using a dialogue tag to describe your character’s emotions, use action.  As my editor says “Show, don’t tell.”


Now give it a try.  Take a scene of dialogue you’ve written and check it out.  Did you use tags where you didn’t need them?  Did you use alternative tags that you can get rid of?  Is there anywhere you can replace a necessary tag with an action?  See how clean your dialogue can get.  🙂

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