Speech Tags and Action Tags: Part One

Speech tags. Action tags. Words that I feel we writers either overuse or don’t use at all Poor things. Today, we’re going to look at how we can give speech tags and action tags a happy medium in our stories.

Before we move on any further, let’s take a look at how speech tags look to a reader by reading a sample of writing in its gorgeous speech tag drenched form.

“Lyon,” I said, falling onto the ground in exhaustion. “Do you hear that?”

Lyon stopped and, cocking his head to the side, answered, “Hear what?”

Honestly, Lyon? Exasperated, I said, “That sound coming from the path. Are you deaf?”

Lyon’s eyes widened as the sound found his ears and he said, “No. That’s not possible.” Dropping our precious map and taking off in the opposite direction of the path, he yelled, “Run, Kiera, run!”


Now take a look at the difference in the same sample using action tags instead of speech tags…

“Lyon.” I fell onto the duty ground. “Do you hear that?”

Lyon stopped, mid stride. He cocked his head to the side. “Hear what?”

Honestly, Lyon? “That sound coming from the path. Are you deaf?” My voice came out like the growl of a bear.

Lyon’s eyes widened as the sound found his ears. “No. That’s not possible.” Suddenly, he took off in the opposite direction of the path, dropping our precious map. “Run, Kiera, run!”

What difference could you detect in these short samples? The first one was all right, but the speech tags gave it a “telly” feel and slowed the story down with extra baggage. However, in the second one, action tags helped to immerse you in Kiera and Lyon’s story while keeping the pace moving.

Using speech tags can be a form of telling. Action tags are much better for when we want to SHOW our readers something. Action tags help put our readers in the story world. Even without speech tags, we saw that Kiera’s tone was grumbly.

More photography. =D

Am I saying that we need to completely slash speech tags from our writing and throw them into Mount Doom? No! Some of the greatest authors to put pen to paper-C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Suzanne Collins-they used speech tags.

Speech tags can be our good friends in moderation. In some instances, I believe that these “telly” words can SHOW. Consider the third revision of Lyon and Kiera’s story.

“Lyon,” I panted, falling onto the dusty ground. “Do you hear that?”

Lyon stopped, mid stride. He cocked his head to the side. “Hear what?”

Honestly, Lyon? “That sound coming from the path. Are you deaf?” My voice came out like the growl of a bear.

Lyon’s eyes widened as the sound found his ears. “No. That’s not possible.” He took off, dropping our precious map and shrieking over his shoulder, “Run, Kiera, run!”

With vivid speech tags, we saw more than with just action tags. We were shown that Kiera must’ve been really tired, because she panted in addition to falling to the ground. Lyon’s distress and fear went up a notch when he shrieked.

Speech tags and action tags aren’t necessarily enemies. I believe that, with the right ratio, readers can get an even better experience in the words we write.

Next week, we’ll be looking at some tips to help us out on achieving a great speech tag/action tag balance in our dialogue.

Which do you prefer to use-speech tags or action tags? What are your thoughts on speech and action tags? Do you have any tips for writing great dialogue?

12 thoughts on “Speech Tags and Action Tags: Part One

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