The final touch for your character; the icing on your character cake; and what makes them totally believable is what they say and HOW they say it. Each character needs to sound unique so that even without a tag, the reader knows who it is speaking. For instance, if I was to say, “Off with her head!” – you know exactly who it is speaking without me having to mention who it is. Unless of course, you are unfamiliar with the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland. The important thing here is that the way a character speaks, like how they act, has to stay true to their character. In this sense, the tag can almost become obsolete.
And speaking of tags, keep them simple. “Said” becomes invisible – if you must “told” and “asked” are also tags that blend in and disappear. If you feel the need to add more oomph to the tag, then perhaps think of using a action before or after the character speaks.
For example: The White Rabbit frowned, shaking a paw at the busload of children’s writers. “There’s not need to add a flowery tag when you have an action sentence before or after the dialogue!”
Get the point?
EAT ME. DRINK ME:
So lets try this out. Remember that journal you went out and bought? Well, add this exercise:
Writers: write a conversation between your character and a new character you meet – (note: this needs to be based on someone you may have bumped into or noticed in the supermarket; school; library etc). Remember that the dialogue has to be without any tag lines. You should also include how your character feels about the person, how they act and how they think.
Illustrators: ok so we can’t exactly draw dialogue but how about capturing the actions and expressions as your character meets this new character for the first time. Imagine the dialogue they are having and draw this interaction without words.