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  • Writer's pictureRachel Paige

Action Beats and Dialogue Tags

These were mentioned in last week's post on formatting dialogue. Here's what they mean and what they look like.

Dialogue tags:

-tell you who is speaking

-are things like "he said" "she whispered" or "Dylan yelled"

-as mentioned last week, use a comma, exclamation mark, or question mark to end dialogue preceding these.

-always end them with a period

-place them outside the quotation marks

Dialogue tags part 2:

-avoid tags with words other than "said" (like exclaimed, shouted, called, promised)

-the words spoken should be strong enough to convey that information on its own

-avoid adverbs (said angrily, said sadly, etc.)

-again, if you need an adverb, the words spoken need to be stronger.

-adverbs may be used when the tone isn't obvious otherwise (see exercise 2)

-tags other than said may be used when necessary (I find quiet words need this most)

ex: whispered, said softly, said quietly

-shouted should be clear by the words, but may be used if said seems to contradict the quote.

Action beats:

-tell you what a character is doing.

-are things like "he sighed" "she looked away" or "Dylan clenched his fists"

-should be done by the same character who just spoke

-if the above is not true, use a new paragraph.

-do not end dialogue preceding these with a comma

Other tips:

-typically use one or the other. An action beat tells you who spoke just as well as a dialogue tag.

-use both is needed for clarity, like actions that happen simultaneously with speech

-when doing so, make them one sentence. "He said as he walked away" "She whispered while folding laundry"


Exercise 1:

Identify the following as dialogue tags or action beats:

"I love your backpack," I said.

"Thanks!" She grinned.

"Mine is falling apart." I took it off to show her.

"Probably because you have so many books," she said with a laugh.

Exercise 2:

Identify which of the following are unnecessary:

"I'm so mad!" I said angrily.

"Why?" she asked.

"You know why!" I shouted.

"Oh, that," she whispered. "I'm sorry."

"Of course you are," I said sarcastically.



Exercise 1:

Dialogue tags:

I said.

Action beats:

She grinned

I took it off to show her.


She said with a laugh.

Exercise 2:


angrily (exclamation mark and words imply this)

shouted (again, exclamation mark implies)


she whispered (difficult to show in words)

sarcastically (taken seriously otherwise, but could be worded to flow better or show the character's thoughts)


she asked (some say it contradicts to use said. Others say using asked is redundant. Trust your gut)

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