“Dialog tags are the little obvious fragments that writers add to the end of speech to identify who is speaking and what feeling the character is emoting,” she explained.
“So dialog tags are kind of like emoticons for writers,” he laughed.
“Exactly,” she agreed.
“Well, you didn’t have to tell me you agreed. I already knew that based on you saying ‘exactly,'” he snarled, offended.
“Why are you telling me you’re offended?” She put her hands on her hips and leaned toward him. She studied his expression a moment, then wagged a finger at him like an old schoolmarm. “You should show your feelings, not tell them.”
“I don’t understand what you mean?” he queried, baffled.
“You’re a writer.” She straightened her back and folded her arms across her chest. “You should show not tell. And of course this includes dialogue.”
He shrugged. “But I like to use ‘said’ after my dialog to identify who is speaking,” he said.
“That’s fine.” She put a hand on his shoulder. Her face softened. “Adding ‘said’ to dialog is okay when used in moderation. It generally doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative. Just don’t break out the thesaurus to describe how they’re talking. Your reader should feel that through your character’s dialog and action.”
“You’re kidding?” he vociferously expostulated. “You mean readers aren’t impressed with all those verbs and adverbs?”
“Those verbs and adverbs are distracting. They pull the reader out of the story.” She stepped back and waved a hand, as if grasping an invisible object and flinging it across the room. After a moment, she looked him directly in the eyes. “Those words scream ‘Look at me! Look how clever this story is written!’“
“Really. In fact, you sometimes don’t need dialog tags at all.”
“And the reader can still follow along?”
“Yes. Especially when there are only two characters having a conversation.”
She watched him a moment as they stood in silence. He lifted his hand to his face and scratched his chin. He looked deep in thought.
“I guess that makes sense.” He reached for her and grasped her hand. His face brightened. “The words that come out of my character’s mouth should be strong enough to convey the emotion. If I need an added oomph then I should describe what the characters are doing while they talk.”
She returned his smile and squeezed his hand. “Exactly.”