This week’s Thursday Writing Prompt is about dialogue. During a recent writer’s group meeting one of my reviewers noted that my draft had a lot of dialogue tags. Those are things like “Sam said,” “she said,” etc. It’s good to have some of them to make sure that a reader can follow your character’s exchanges and know which of them is speaking, but too many tags draw attention to themselves and not the speech.
So that gave me a thought: why not write some dialogue that purposely uses too many tags, and then rewrite the entire piece with none at all? The point is to become aware of using tags by planting one on every line of speech and then seeing how many you can get rid of before it’s too difficult to follow the dialogue.
You can avoid dialogue tags by adding descriptors to the sentence that show action. For instance, in my novel Seacombe Island (I’m still looking for an agent — hey, is anyone reading this?) I have these two short paragraphs. On the first one there is clearly a dialogue tag to indicate that Jasper is speaking, but on the second one I’ve avoided having a tag by instead providing a descriptive bit about Tom:
“You wouldn’t have jumped,” said Jasper, spreading his hands wide and stepping down off the stairs. “We had no time for niceties and such.”
“I could have drowned!” Tom’s voice seemed strained to his own ears, as though he had been shouting for hours. “Did you even think of that?”
So there’s your inspiration. Write at least ten lines of dialogue between two or more speakers (of course, I’m assuming your character doesn’t spend much time talking to himself or herself). Copy and paste the text so you have two sets of speech. Now, on the first set, make sure you have a dialogue tag for every character every time they speak. For the second set strip out all the tags and rewrite as necessary to make sure the dialogue is clear.