Dialogue Tags and Reading Culture

The greatest literary works are drowning in dialogue tags, but a lot of authors today are ditching them where ever they can. Why? Shouldn’t we follow the example of the greats?

It depends.

To really understand why this norm has changed, you really need to understand the changing culture of reading as a pasttime.

Books written during the literary classic time, such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, even JRR Tolkien were often read aloud as a communal past time, making dialogue tags essential for the audience to understand who is speaking in the story. It would be virtually impossible to follow along otherwise, unless the reader was a spot on voice actor.

Now it’s a lot different. With the rise of TV, internet, and video games, reading a book as a group pasttime is a thing of the past. Books are now usually read quietly and alone, which make dialogue tags cumbersome and annoying to the reader when the context explains itself.

Many children’s stories are meant to be read aloud, and younger minds may be challenged to understand how certain written phrases inherently follow a pattern of character interaction. So if you’re a children’s book author, lots of dialogue tags will likely still be an absolute must to include.

For young adult and adult books, however, consider carefully where you use them. If the context makes it clear which character is speaking already, maybe consider leaving them out to keep the story moving at an engaging pace.

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