Question about dialogue tags

by Mike Brandon
(Sacramento, CA)

Auestion: Must one always use a "he/she asked" while putting a tag on a question? For instance:

"Are you going to the store?" he asked. I assume that is acceptable, of course. But what about:

"Are you going to the store?" he said. Is there a strict rule or are either proper as long as one mixes them up?

Thank you very much, sir.

Answer: The short answer is no, but it's a matter of personal preference.

Some writers feel it is actually a bit redundant to use "asked" when the character's statement is obviously a question -- especially when it comes with a question mark. "Said" is perfectly acceptable.

Also, you don't always need a speech tag. Often you can leave speech tags out when it is clear who is speaking, or you can use an action beat to establish the subject of the paragraph.

That said, there's nothing necessarily wrong with using "asked" either, especially if the dialogue is a bit vague in the matter. (Some questions can seem like statements in written text, without the voice inflection that would be present in life/drama.)

The objective is clarity of story-telling, which means including what is needed for the reader to fully appreciate the story, while reducing unnecessary noise.

Comments for Question about dialogue tags

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Nov 30, 2015
Thank You Sir
by: Mike Brandon

Thank you so much for answering my question, sir. I was pleasantly surprised by your quick reply and I greatly appreciate your aid. You didn't just give me a "yes or no" answer but thoroughly explained your reasoning. You are an excellent teacher, Mr. Strathy! blowup

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