Monday, August 24, 2009

Attributions (dialogue tags)

Let's talk about those pesky dialogue tags, otherwise known as attributions. Did you notice in the final rewrite of the text below ( that there were no attributions? No, not one. In light of that fact, isn't it interesting that we knew who was talking the entire time, whether it was a soldier, David or his parents? How is that possible? Not one "said" word gave it away? How can that be?

How were we able to follow who was talking?

If anyone is interested in answering that question, we'd love to hear from you.

Oh, for those that don't know what an attribution is, it's "said." As in "he said, she said," etc.


  1. Always a good subject! In a manuscript I wrote last year, I noticed that I hadn't used a single attribution in an entire chapter, so I threw two in. One of my crit partners flagged them with "Should this be a beat instead?" LOL. I think occasionally they're necessary and work well, but I've definitely noticed that as my writing improved, the tags went the way of the dinosaurs.

  2. LOL! Thanks for chiming in on this, Roseanna. :-) And you're right, there is a time and a place for them. I'll be putting up an example of that in the next post.

  3. I'm a rule breaker with these. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. For identification most of the time they're unnecessary unless there are multiple people in the conversation--that's fairly standard. But sometimes when necessary, "said" is so sterile. Reminds me of Hemingway, and although he told great stories, I hated his writing style.
    Dialogue tags don't bother me unless they're repetitive and obsessive. And, like I said, after awhile, "said" is boring. JMO

  4. Hi, Nicole! Great to see you here. Yes, "said" can get quite boring, especially if it's overused. To break the mundane writers tend to use other forms of "attibutions" that really aren't attributions at all. I'll have a post about that coming up as well. So, stay tuned!

  5. When your dialogue is good enough to sound like each character and each sounds differently, then attributions are not needed. That's one of the most difficult parts to writing is to get your different characters' ways of speaking to sound unique to that character. Characterization also plays a role.

  6. Yes, each character's voice can play a role. Thanks for commenting, Deelightfulady. :-)