When writing a story, you want your speech tags to be as invisible as possible. The most common way to do this is by using ‘said’ as it tends to blend into the background. Although using it continuously can eventually lead to the reader finding it jarringly noticeable. Vary the way you let the reader know who is speaking.
Each character’s words should be on a new line from the words spoken by the previous character. This helps separate what is spoken and done by each character. It also means that any actions performed by that character will show the reader who is talking without needing a speech tag.
Pam waved to Sarah. “I’ll see you next week.” (Spoken by Pam.)
Pam waved to Sarah.
“I’ll see you next week.” (Spoken by Sarah.)
Characters can interact with the setting and props. Sitting in chairs, drinking from cups or eating. They can also interact with other characters. Reaching out to prevent a character from leaving, cleaning a child’s face or showing someone a picture.
POV Character’s Thoughts
People don’t say everything they think and neither should characters. Inner thoughts can show the reader who is talking and give more depth to the story.
Waving, Pam rushed across the street. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you for ages.”
“I’ve been meaning to call you, but I’ve been so busy.” Sarah thought of and discarded several excuses. Why couldn’t she have had some pressing appointment she could have claimed she needed to hurry away to?
Accents and Quirks
A frequently used word, a certain style of speech or an implied accent can help differentiate between characters. This technique needs to be used carefully. Creating an accent phonetically can make it difficult for a reader. You don’t want them spending all their time trying to decipher the words. An accent can be created by sentence structure.
Shouted, Whispered, Shrieked
These types of words can be useful. Particularly when you want to keep the pace moving fast. Where possible, use one of the above methods of showing which character is speaking.
“What are you going to do about it?” Bob demanded.
“I don’t know,” Pam said.
Bob pressed his palms flat against the table, leaning over Pam who remained seated. “What are you going to do about it?”
Pam stared at the surface of the table, her gaze travelling along a scratch in the pine, unable to bring herself to meet Bob’s gaze. “I don’t know.”