No Right Way to Write Dialogue Tags

My natural inclination to write dialogue is as follows: “Your style is generic and boring,” said Lisa.” Notice I wrote said Lisa, rather than Lisa said. I can’t place when I started using this particular syntax, or why I started using it. How do any of us decide on style and syntax, when the books we read are widely different?

Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes/Flickr
Source: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes/Flickr

My first thought–we write what sounds natural to us. But when I read the previously mentioned line aloud, I cringe. Now when I read “Your style is generic and boring,” Lisa said, the tag rolls right off my tongue. So why have I been writing it the former way for so long?

It has something to do with what I’ve read. In an effort to learn more I pulled Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets off of my bookshelf and flipped through the pages in search of a line of dialogue.

“You look troubled, young Potter,” said Nick, folding a transparent letter as he spoke and tucking it inside his doublet. 

“So do you,” said Harry.


Here’s the big clue. The Harry Potter series first inspired me to write stories, and seeing as I read the seven novels at least a dozen of times each, I can see where my use of the dialogue tag “said she” rather than “she said” comes into play. Interestingly, another of my favorite books from adolescence is Septimus Heap: Magick by Angie Sage, which also uses the “said she” syntax.

In reality, “said she” is considered among most contemporary writers as archaic and tired. I’m not entirely sold. Something about the “said she” syntax places emphasis on the attribution of the dialogue to its corresponding character. For adult readers this may be frustrating; the pause it enforces leads to a bumpy road sentence that most mature readers won’t find amusing. For younger readers, however, “said she” feels just right.

When it comes down to it, write what you want your readers to hear. I’d be interested in hearing about modern authors and dialogue tag usage.


2 thoughts on “No Right Way to Write Dialogue Tags”

  1. I constantly switch between the two depending on what I feel sounds best for the individual sentence but I had never really thought about it before now. Nice post 🙂


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