The Master Guide to Dialogue Tags for Web Novels (and Other Fiction)

This document is purely based on my own observations and what I’ve learned from studying writing–both for web novels and for traditional fiction.

I will update this article with new information as I go. So be sure to bookmark the page.

What is a dialogue tag?

A dialogue tag is a phrase that attributes a line of dialogue to a speaker.

For example:

“Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said.

‘Sam said’ is the dialogue tag. It attributes the dialogue “well, aren’t you cute?” to Sam.

What are the different types of dialogue tags?

From what I’ve seen, dialogue tags can be broken down to three types:

Tag Type 1: Simple-Attributive.

Sam said

Sam asked

These are examples of a simple-attributive dialogue tag. The tag does not do anything other than attribute dialogue to a speaker.

I include ‘asked’ here because generally, this tag comes after a question mark, whereby the reader already knows that the speaker is asking a question. The tag itself does not add any information other than who is speaking.

Tag Type 2: Descriptive

Sam said warmly.

Sam exlaimed.

These are examples of descriptive dialogue tags. The dialogue tags here serve not only to attribute the dialogue to a speaker but additionally, they describe something. In this case, they describe the way Sam is speaking his or her dialogue.

Type 3: Action-Attributive

“Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam reached down and petted the cat. 

The action-attributive dialogue tag isn’t usually considered dialogue tag, but it does in fact also attribute dialogue to a speaker. By putting Sam’s action in the same line as the dialogue, conventional writing rules tell us that this dialogue belongs to Sam.

The 10 different ways to format dialogue tags

Tag Type 1: Simple-Attributive

1. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said.

2. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb. “Dialogue.”

Example: “Well,” Sam said. “Aren’t you cute?”

3.  Speaker speech-verb.

Example:  Sam said, “Well, aren’t you cute?”

The three examples above show how dialogue and dialogue tags can be ordered. You can also do this for all the following examples as well. So to keep things short, I will not include changes in order below.

Tag Type 2: Descriptive

4. “Dialogue,” speaker rare-speech-verb.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam purred.

5. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb adverb.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said sweetly.

6. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb + description.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said in a sweet tone.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said with violent joy exuding from the deepest reaches of her shining heart.

The possible examples for this one are endless. You get the point.

Tag Type 3: Action-Attributive

7. Action. “Dialogue.”

Example: Sam reached down and petted the cat. “Well, aren’t you cute?”

As mentioned earlier, you can break up dialogue with action as well.

Combination Formatting

The examples below combine the attributes of the dialogue tags types above.

8. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb, -ing action-verb.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said, petting the cat.

9. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb and action.

Example: “Well, aren’t you cute?” Sam said and petted the cat.

This one above is quite simple, but I don’t think it gets used enough, so I’ve included it here.

10. “Dialogue,” speaker speech-verb + description. “Dialogue.” Action. “Dialogue.”

Example: “Well,” Sam said with a smile forming at the corner of her lips. “Aren’t you a cutie?” She leaned down and ran her fingers across the cat’s back. “Yes, you are.”

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Writing dialogue for Web Novels

The examples above are typically found in traditional fiction writing. Web novel writing in English should look no different. Unless you are translating a foreign web novel that uses different conventions (see Japanese square brackets), it is best to stick to the conventional rules of dialogue formatting in English.

The only significant difference is that web novel writing might feature shorter descriptions and action lines due to their faster pacing. Even in this event, the formatting for web novel dialogue is the same.

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