Teal Tip | Dialogue Tags, Not Action Tags

What is a Teal Tip?

A Teal Tip is a little creative writing tip that I give out to my students. My Teal Tips started out as simple little fixes. Along the way, they got a little weird. Here’s an example:

Teal Tip

This Teal Tip is about dialogue tags. Dialogue tags are the way the reader identifies who is speaking in text. Said is the single best dialogue tag. It’s the best because, as readers, we tend to ignore it — which means we don’t get pulled out of the story. For the most part, you want your dialogue tags to remain invisible. Then, when you do use a good one, it will stand out.

But writers also love to get fancy with their laughs and smiles.

And it’s okay to get fancy every once in a while. For example, everyone could use a nice feather in their hat occasionally. Just be careful with your fancy: you can’t have a dialogue tag that does something other than speaking. That is not a dialogue tag — that’s an action tag. And you can’t have an action tag that is also a dialogue tag. Mouths don’t work that way, and neither do dialogue tags.

That means that it doesn’t work to say any of these:

  • “I love tacos,” she clapped.
  • “Tacos are so yummy,” she twirled.
  • “Tacos are my besties,” she twinkled.

If a dialogue tag does not come out of the mouth with words, it doesn’t work.

What’s the fix?

  • “I love tacos,” she said, and clapped twice.
  • “Tacos are so yummy,” she said, then twirled around in a circle.
  • “Tacos are my besties.” (Why is she twinkling?)

My friend Maren Anderson reminded me of twinkling tacos and dialogue tags the other day. She’s smart. And she writes good. Listen to her. Keep it simple; keep it safe.

I hope you enjoyed this Teal Tip! Comment if you have any questions.