The rules of punctuation of dialogue tags and interruptions without a dialogue tag are quite different. The two types of interruptions usually can be distinguished by the verb used - if it describes speech, it's a dialogue tag. If it doesn't, it's speech interrupted by action.

Which rules to use though, if one side of the dialogue is mute, and using various alternate means to communicate. I mean "tags"(?) like

  • she wrote
  • she signalled with her hands [sign language]
  • appeared on the screen [while she typed it out of sight, but within earshot]
  • she amended the text [added to what was already written].
  • she touched letters on the keyboard in sequence. [unpowered computer]
  • she scratched in the sand with her foot.

Should actions like these be considered dialogue tags?

  • 1
    Perhaps you can clarify, but I think this is a distinction without a difference. Why do you care if those verbs can specifically be referred to as dialog tags?
    – Nick2253
    Apr 3, 2015 at 16:54
  • 1
    You mean like "What are you doing tonight?" she signed. ?
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3, 2015 at 16:55
  • 1
    My daughter speaks perfectly well, but she often interacts using sign language in her job. When reporting what she (and most others) would call a conversation with someone who can only use sign language, she'll still quite naturally use I said ... He said. Just the same as we habitually refer to what people say in comments here, even though obviously it's all writing. In short, unless you specifically want to keep reminding the reader that one of your "conversants" can't speak, there's no need to differentiate. Apr 3, 2015 at 17:13
  • @Nick2253: There's a significant punctuation difference. You end the quote with a comma, followed with lowercase for dialogue tags. You end with a full stop and follow with capital letter for actions. "Yes," he said with a snicker. and "Yes." He snickered.
    – SF.
    Apr 3, 2015 at 18:58
  • @FumbleFingers: Yes, especially that the character doesn't use sign language in my story, and the substitute methods are wildly varied and sometimes quite cumbersome, affecting flow of the the communication a lot.
    – SF.
    Apr 3, 2015 at 19:02

1 Answer 1


Consistent non-verbal communication shouldn't be treated any differently than any other communication trait, unless it's important to the story at that moment. For instance, you might write that a character has a heavy southern drawl, or an Irish lilt. Those are things that you wouldn't continually pound into the reader's head. You may mention when the character is introduced, as context, then occasionally as a reminder, but you won't constantly write, "she lilted."

Usually, you won't need to remind the reader anyway. Non-verbal communication is typically written in italics.

[ ... previous context ...]

"Can we talk, please?" she asked.

"You said you didn't want to talk."

"That's not what I meant."

Of course, that could get annoying if your character has a lot of dialog. Then, you might want to set up the alternate communication method, and use descriptions to gently remind the reader of the character's "dialect."

[ ... previous context ...]

"Can we talk, please," she asked?

"You said you didn't want to talk."

Her eyes sprang open, and she flailed her arms. "That's not what I meant!"

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.