Dialogue Tags, Action Beats, and The Dialogue Comma.

As some of you know, I host a Fiction writing challenge on Fridays here on Ronovan Writes. It’s funny how I use Ronovan Writes as if it’s not me. Sometimes I shorten it to RW. That has nothing to do with this article, merely an aside.

Dialogue Tags and More by Ronovan Hester

One of the goals of the Friday Fiction with Ronovan Writes is to improve the writing of those who participate. At the moment my goal with the challenge is to encourage the improvement of the basics of writing Fiction. Some problems I see, not just in a few challenge entries, but in books I review, are the use of Dialogue Tags, Action Beats, and Dialogue Punctuation. Also today I’ll introduce some of you to Grammarly.

This piece today is not just for those doing the challenge. This is for anyone who:

  • Writes.
  • Writes short stories
  • Writes novellas, or novels.

What I have here will help you. For some of you it will be a reminder.


Let’s begin with Dialogue Tags. A Dialogue Tag is when you have a speaker identified along with the dialogue and a word such as ‘said’.

Example: “The dog jumped the fence,” Bob said. OR Bob said, “The dog jumped the fence.”

Example: “Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally asked.

Notice there are words used to show what kind of speaking Bob and Sally are doing. Let’s change one to see what happens.

“The dog jumped the fence.” Bob pointed to Fido racing across the field after the sheep.

We know who is speaking here, Bob because he is the only one mentioned and he is doing an action associated with the act of seeing the dog jump the fence. Now let’s see what happens with Sally.

“Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally pointed to Fido racing across the field after the sheep.

You’ll run into some people who despise Dialogue Tags, regardless of the situation. They would like you to use something like an Action Beat instead. What are Action Beats? An Action Beat is the actions taking place between the dialogues. The two examples above with Bob and Sally pointing are Action Beats. Notice there was no mention of the people speaking. You assumed who was speaking.

My personal opinion is you need a combination of Beats and Tags and nothing at all. Sticking to one and one tool only, in my opinion, would be boring.

Let’s take a look at passage using all three tools.

Example with Dialogue Tags and Action Beats.

“This class is crazy.” Billy ducked the dark rectangular object on its way toward his head.
Larry picked up the weapon, marker dust covered his hand. He threw the eraser back at the offender. “We’re not playing! Find someone else!”
“Thanks, Larry.” Billy’s muffled voice came from the floor.
“You can get up now, Billy.”
“Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?”
“If I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act as innocence as possible.”
“Will that work?”
“Did last year. This is my second year in the class. I failed by a point last time. She’s tough. They don’t call her hard butt because she works out so much.”
Billy laughed, and said, “Either way she’s my favorite teacher.”

The above is not the best example, but it gives you an idea of what I’m talking about. I used one dialogue tag, and then only to keep the reader on track. I didn’t want to throw in lots of Action Beats. Action Beats work great, but can be overdone.
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Then you might have a passage with only Dialogue Tags.

All Dialogue Tags:

“This class is crazy,” Billy said and ducked the dark rectangular object on its way toward his head.
“We’re not playing! Find someone else!” Larry said.
“Thanks, Larry,” Billy said.
“You can get up now, Billy,” Larry said.
“Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?” Billy asked.
“If I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act as innocence as possible,” Larry said.
“Will that work?” Billy asked.
“Did last year. This is my second year in the class. I failed by a point last time. She’s tough. They don’t call her hard butt because she works out so much,” Larry said.
“Either way she’s my favorite teacher,” Billy said.
How boring is that? Annoying? Except for the exclamation marks for Larry there is no personality or life to the scene. Now you see why you use dialogue tags as little as possible. You also use Action Beats only when you need to. Of course you can pep up the dialogue itself and accomplish a lot.
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One thing you need to do when writing is, give each character a distinctive voice. I always try to do that in every story I write. One character might speak in short sentences, another in long. This guy doesn’t use contractions, this guy uses them even when they don’t exist.

By giving distinctive voices, you can have a conversation without a lot of tags or beats. Beats are good. You do need them. However, if you can get as much as possible across in your dialogue you are a long way to being a success.

No Dialogue Tags and No Action Beats.

“Billy, duck!”
“These people are insane. That could’ve hit me in the eye. Thanks Larry.”
“We’re not playing! Find someone else!”
“Ooo, you nailed him with that eraser.”
“He shouldn’t’ve thrown it in the first place. Uh, Billy?”
“Stop hiding.”
“Oh, yeah. Thanks. Do you think Ms. Willett will be mad when she sees what they did to her notes on the board?”
“Put it this way, if I were you, I’d be reading a book when she comes in. Act like an angel.”
“Will that work? This place is a disaster area. There is no way she will think we didn’t do some of this.”
“Worked last year.”
“Last year?”
“Uh, Billy, I’m a year older than you, remember? I failed by one point last time. But as bad as my grades were, I never got in trouble with Ms. Willett.”
“Larry, you’re always getting into trouble.”
“I know, but every time something happened, I stuck my nose in a book. She’s tough but fair. They don’t call her hard—”
“Okay, they don’t call her hard ‘butt’ because of how much she works out.”
“I don’t care why they call her that, she’s my favorite teacher.”
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Along with dialogue, one thing I notice in books I read and blogs I read is Dialogue Punctuation. I’ll only mention one form of punctuation at this time.

I’ll also make this as simple as I can. Where does the comma go?

Example: “The dog jumped the fence,” Bob said. OR Bob said, “The dog jumped the fence.”

In dialogue, we all know to use the quotation marks around the speech, the dialogue. Where does the comma go? Yes, there is a comma in most dialogue IF there is a normal expression of speech. Look at the example above. There is no exclamation nor a question mark, therefore you put a comma inside the quotation mark.

If you have an exclamation or question mark, then put the mark and close with the quotation, no comma is required.

Example: “The dog jumped the fence!” Bob said.

Example: “Did the dog jump the fence?” Sally asked.

No comma was required in the examples above.

You can do away with commas by not using Dialogue Tags and sticking with Action Beats. Yawn. Okay, not really yawn, if done correctly. When you have a scene with two people conversing, you can easily do away with Dialogue Tags and stick with Action Beats and no manner of denoting who is speaking at all based on the rhythm of the exchange.
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Grammar and Spelling

For those without Word to help catch spelling and grammar errors, I have a suggestion for you. However, first if you do have Word, I’m going to refer you to Using Proofing To Help Your Fiction Diction & More!, for how you can make the most of Word

Another TOOL to use, if you don’t have Word is Grammarly.com. It can be used inside of WordPress or any place you type, even comments on blogs. Also, they have a FREE version, which I use.
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Ronovan Hester is an author, with his debut historical adventure novel Amber Wake: Gabriel Falling due out in February 14, 2016. He shares his life through his blog RonovanWrites.WordPress.com. His love of poetry, authors and community through his online world has lead to the creation of a site dedicated to book reviews, interviews and author resources known as LitWorldInterviews.com.

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Writing Tips: Em Dash, Ellipsis and Error

Writing Tips: Em Dash, Ellipsis and Error

Let’s talk about flow for a moment. I am not one for punctuation. Anyone that reads my work will quickly discover that I am awful with it. I try to work around it by using different wording or shorter sentences. I imagine to myself this will hide my weakness. But to an expert, a pro it will be obvious.

There are three things I would like to talk about. This has to do with the flow of a sentence, its basic appearance. The em dash, the ellipsis, and the double space error are also three things that can call you out to an agent or editor.

I’ve written for decades now, but only recently, or so I believe, have I taken notice of the little things of writing that are really much larger than I ever imagined.

The em dash:

In all honesty I had never heard of this until recently. Oh, sure I have seen it but I didn’t know it had a name. I should have known everything has a name and if it doesn’t someone will come along to name it shortly just so they can say they did it.

 Humphrey Bogart as Sam SpadeYou are to use the em dash when there is a sudden change or interruption in the sentence. Strunk and White states to use this only when a more common form of punctuation will not seem to work. That seems a little vague to me. But if you take a look at just about any form of writing you will see the em dash everywhere. By the way, the em dash is a double dash. Basically it is called an em dash because it takes up the widest letter font, the letter m. The en dash is a single dash.

Some writers just use it any time they like instead of commas or semicolons. Why? Either they think it’s cool or they don’t know punctuation or it could just be a style. Is it wrong? Truthfully, writing styles are slowly  becoming less and less strict with structure but there is a purpose to proper structure. It isn’t just for a good grade. It’s for a good read.

For me, I think I would use the em dash in harsh situations, or rather tough talk situations. If I were writing a detective novel I think the em dash would fit. I can see Humphrey Bogart in the Maltese Falcon reading out the punctuation of the dialogue now and I can hear ‘dash’ instead of ‘comma’ coming from him. Bogey did rapid fire dialogue great and he could switch between directions of dialogue so quick you almost didn’t see it happen. That script must have been em dash loaded.

“We beat it down to the docks and kicked the door in.”

“You did what?” Carson asked.

“I said—what’s she doing here?” Sam looked at the woman walking in the door.

Carson looked at the long legs as they passed him. “Sam–she’s doing anything she likes.”

In this example you get the fill that Sam immediately changes his words as the woman walks in. There is no pause. He just goes straight into questioning. For me that works. In the second case it doesn’t work for me. To me Carson is pausing after he says Sam as he thinks about the woman, so the em dash is too harsh there. The ellipses wouldn’t work because there is no missing dialogue or trailing off, there is just a hesitation so I would use the comma.

The Ellipsis:

The ellipsis is when you use (. . .). Of course that is without the parenthesis. You use three periods with a space between each one. Again, I had no idea such a thing had a name. And would you believe it . . . I had been using it wrong all these years. I didn’t put a space between the periods. Oops. And, I just used it incorrectly.  And no, I did not do that intentionally. I read back through this article and found it. It happens, so always proofread your work.

BacallYou use this when a sentence is trailing off or you are picking up in the middle of a conversation or a place I use it is when I am writing a telephone conversation but we only hear one side of it.


“We beat it down to the docks and kicked the door in.”

“You did what?” Carson asked.

“I said . . . what’s she doing here?” Sam looked at the woman walking in the door.

Carson looked at the long legs as they passed him. “Sam . . . she’s doing anything she likes.”

Now we have a pause here instead of the em dash and it’s as though Sam has looked at the woman a moment first before speaking.

The second pause works for me, but it’s not right. A comma will do the job.

 “We beat it down to the docks and kicked the door in.”

“You did what?” Carson asked.

“I said–what’s she doing here?” Sam looked at the woman walking in the door.

Carson looked at the long legs as they passed him. “Sam, she’s doing anything she likes.”

Combining the both the em dash and the comma pause in the passage works for me because I get a change of pace with each. There is a sense of urgency from Sam and casualness from Carson. It adds to character development with just a little change in punctuation.

The Space After Punctuation:

People from my age and older learned to type on typewriters, even if they were electric ones. This means we learned to hit the space bar twice after the ending punctuation of a sentence. For all those who do that, STOP! Computer fonts are set so that everything is spaced properly.

An agent or editor will look at your work and immediately see the spacing error. Should this be a killer to your career? No, but many agencies use interns and they like to sort through the submissions and for a punctuation pet peeve artist or someone who has a space phobia you have put them off already and they’ll just not continue. Hit the space bar once…ever.

© Copyright-All rights reserved-RonovanWrites.wordpress.com-June 16, 2014.

Writing Tips: Character Beyond the Internal

We’ve come to Part 5 of the Character series.

To date:

Part 1: Creating Character Names

Part 2: What to Avoid when Creating Character

Part 3: Giving Your Characters Their Character

Part 4: Creating Believable Characters


So far these have been specifically internal or cosmetic developments of character, name being cosmetic to me. Now we need to give movement and life to the character.




Visual Traits and Tags

You are wondering what a Visual Tag (VT) is. A VT is that visual thing that you identify with the character. It could be a nervous tick such an eyes twitch or a swagger or how they wear their hat a certain way or even how they walk around with their shoes untied with short laces.  The VT gives a distinction to the character and should enhance connection and description of the character and server a purpose. For me the shoe laces would be for a younger person who is perhaps attempting to be cool or unique or trying to fit in with a certain crowd.


Dialogue Tags are things most writers now about, but don’t often consider being character related.  We think of them as he said or she said. But there are affectations a character may have that you can mention, or how they whistle on certain letters or cannot pronounced certain words or letters properly. Once established you don’ t overuse the tag any longer.



Dialogue; both Voice and Body Language

Dialogue is the key to your characters and often times the accepting or rejecting of your novel to be signed. I’ll get into Dialogue in another series because it is such a large subject but how one speaks externally and internally tells you everything you need to know about a character. Dialogue tends to be my stronger point, or so I believe, while I need to focus on a lot of the external and sensory things. Dialogue cannot be the book but it is a huge part of the book.


Body Language is something we forget about. The tension in how someone holds their shoulders drawn up so tight that they almost reach their ears.




What is another way to know a character? You need to see them in action. Seeing them react in certain situations and those reactions staying within character you have created. It’s an interesting thought but think of someone like Mr. T as B.A. on A-Team. Quiet for the most part, but his actions said enough. A tough guy with a heart. You didn’t really need any words. And it isn’t just action heroes this works with. You need to have the tender moments shown by the characters as well. Even a man on the witness stand  at a murder trial has action.


Until Next Time,

Much Respect


 2014 © Copyright-All rights reserved-RonovanWrites.wordpress.com

He said she said….

Nishi is really expanding on her writing and blogging style. That ‘My Best Friend’ about broke my heart, and now she nails the man woman relationship in the technological age.
You have to check it out and let her know how great she’s doing. 🙂 Although I don’t need any further writing competition around here. Never mind!

The Showcase

ncEEbbacA.jpeg (500×359)

“Hey, what are you doing?” he asked

“Cooking” she said

“Are you watching that show on your iPad?”

“Hmm.. yes” she said

“Why cant you just do one thing at a time?”

“Because I CAN do both” she said

“Whatever” he said dismissively

“What are you doing?” she asked

“Working” he said

“And your headphones?”she asked

“What about them?

“They’re in your ear”

“Im listening to music” he said

“Let me see… and Facebooks open..”she said peering into the laptop screen

“Yea, so?”

“I rest my case”

Word of Warning: Never text and drive.

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Lemon Squares and Stupid Boys

Lemon Squares and Stupid Boys

by: Ronovan

 Lemon Squares

“What’s wrong, Becky?”

“I don’t get it, Jonesy.” I kept my eyes on the people across the street. “Why would Old Chubs kick Mrs. P out? She’s lived here longer than anyone else.” 

“Your dad said her sons won’t help her pay the rent since Mr. P died.”

“Ugh! Boys are so stupid and mean!” 

“Really?” Jonesy asked. 

I glared at him. “You don’t count. You know what I mean.” 

Brown eyes stared at me.

“Besides, who is going to make us lemon squares now? Mom can’t make them. She pretty much sucks at those.” I thought for a moment. I thought so hard my brain hurt. “Wait! Maybe she could sell lemon squares and make money for rent.” I jumped up.

“Sit down, Becky,” Jonesy said. “It’s too late. They’re bringing her out now.” 

I watched a policeman help Mrs. P down the steps. Chubs stood on the sidewalk, and looked up at the window of the apartment. The flowerbox was full and overflowing with purple and yellow somethings. 

“I hate him,” I said. 

“Hate’s one of the biggest little words there is.” 

“Hush up, Jonesy.” I wasn’t in the mood to hear what was right and wrong. I knew people had to pay bills and stuff, I just hated that her sons were so stupid. Six sons and they couldn’t put in a little each to help her with bills? “She did all the nasty stuff for them when they were babies. They should do something.” 

The door opened behind us. “Becky, it’s time for lunch.” I looked up at Mom. She glanced at Chubs and frowned. “Make sure to clean Jonesy’s feet off before he comes in and hang his leash up. You keep throwing it on the floor. He’s yours remember, so you have to do things right.” Mom closed the door.

I looked down and scratched Jonesy’s golden head. “You better take care of me when I get older, Jonesy or no more hotdogs for snacks when Mom isn’t looking.” 

Jonesy licked my face. “Eww … Jonesy, I know where that tongues been!”


© Copyright-All rights reserved-RonovanWrites©.wordpress.com-June 25, 2014.