Life in Writing
Emotions can be difficult to show by simply writing a sentence. How many times have you had a text conversation and pulled an entirely different meaning from it than what the sender intended? There's no need to be embarrassed by that, it happens all the time. That's why emoticons like the ones pictured above exist. Because word choice alone isn't enough to truly convey emotion.
Emoticons are an excellent solution for showing emotion in text conversations, but you're never going to pick up a Charles Dickens novel and find a frownie face next to every sad sentence he writes, nor will you find a Terry Pratchet novel that has a little face with its tongue stuck out in every other paragraph. They're just not a practical tool for literature, so as a writer you're forced to use your imagination a bit more and show the emotion involved in the sentences you write by including dialogue tags.
Just like every text you send doesn't require an emoticon, not every line you write requires a descriptive dialogue tag. That's were the word "said" comes in handy. Think of this dialogue tag as a text with no emoticon attached. Somewhere between 1/3 to 2/3 of your texts probably have no emoticon attached depending on what you're talking about and who you're texting with, and your writing should follow a similar rule of thumb. Depending on how dramatic and emotional your story/characters are, anywhere between 1/3 and 2/3 of your dialogue tags should probably be the word "said" or something else similarly emotionless. But just like text conversations get confusing without emoticons, stories get confusing without emotional dialogue tags.
I wish I could tell you that there was an exact science to selecting which dialogue tags you should or shouldn't use, but in the end there's really not. Just make sure you have enough of them, and make sure that they all make sense. In the end, if you're just not sure which dialogue to tag to use, just think "Which emoticon would I use if I was texting this sentence?"
I hope you found this article helpful. If you enjoyed it, feel free to check out some of the other writing advice available on this blog:
4 Ways to Work through Writers Block
4 Steps to Edit your First Draft
Getting Through the "I Suck" Phase of Writing
Or browse through all of our writing articles here
Daniel M. Quilter is the author of A Soul Divided. On this blog he'll interview other authors, review books, share nerd wisdom from popular sci-fi and fantasy, and occasionally share his insights on writing. See a list of his works or see what he's working on.
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