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Avoid most common writing mistakes in using the speaker tag and the action beat
When writing dialogue, don’t spoil the overall impression about it with stylistic and punctuation mistakes. There are two ways to indicate the speaker in your dialogue, at the same time varying the rhythm of narrative and speech. These are the action beat and the speaker tag.
How to use the speaker tag in the right way
If you need to indicate in the dialogue the person that is speaking, you commonly use the speaker tag. It most frequently consists of the name of the speaker and the verb that is speech-related (asked, said, shouted, etc.). This way is the simplest in indicating the speaker in a dialogue.
For instance: “I suggested them staying in the house for a fortnight,” Nicolas said.
The verb ‘said’ is generally invisible to the reader; some writers even call it boring. When the writer doesn’t overuse it, readers, in most cases, don’t even notice it. Still, you will not want to use it excessively finishing every line of the conversation with, “he said.” Sometimes authors don’t use any additional indication of the person that is speaking because it is clear due to paragraphing of the dialogue. Sometimes it may become rather confusing, though, especially in the cases with multiple interlocutors.
- Try not to use speaker tags too extensively. To do it at the end of each line of the dialogue is not required. In case you have two speakers, you may indicate the speaker in several lines. If there are more than two speakers in your dialogue, you should use both speaker tags and action beats.
- To vary the verb too often will not be a good idea. One of the most neutral verbs, for most cases, is ‘said.’ Its neutrality allows your reader to read the dialogue correctly, no matter what implications it might have. You should cautiously use other verbs (such as grumble, shout, whine, etc.) and modifiers (loudly, calmly, nervously).
- Don’t omit speaker tags altogether. Please pay attention that your readers understand who is speaking, it’s especially important after a long paragraph.
- The prior dialogue shouldn’t be punctuated with a period. Instead, a period uses a comma inside the quote marks and the speaker tag after that.
How to use the action beats in the right way
When we describe the actions (facial expressions, gestures, etc.) accompanying the speaker’s words, we call it action beats. These words are included in the same paragraph as the dialogue to point out that the person acting is speaking.
For instance: “I suggested them staying in the house for a fortnight” -Nicolas looked at his watch – “and their plane is due to arrive in two hours.”
Action beats are known as narrative beats. We can also use inner speech or description instead of pieces of action. Besides identifying the speaker, action beats make the conversation flow easier for comprehension. The scene becomes more visual and provides more details for understanding the characters.
- You shouldn’t combine speaker tags with action beats, because they are frequently tautological. If you are not sure, preferably use the action beat, because it can be used to characterize a vast majority of actions.
- If you are going just to denote the speaker’s identification, you’d better use the speaker tag. The action beat serves to better characterization of the speaker through his/her actions.
- Your dialogue shouldn’t be interrupted by action beats. They are lengthy, and if you use them in each line, it will destroy the rhythm of the speech.
- The preceding dialogue shouldn’t be punctuated with a comma. End the dialogue preceding action beats as if it stands alone except cases when the action beat interferes with a dialogue sentence (see the prior example).
If you pay close attention to your writing and will manage to avoid these common mistakes, your writing style will be improved drastically. Your dialogues will be splendid and easy for understanding and will show that you are a professional writer.