Who needs dialogue tags? Not me. Thanks to the marvelous, personalized instruction of Karen Ball, author, literary agent, editor, and writing teacher extraordinaire, I have spent the last few months removing dialogue tags from my novel, The Swallow’s Spring.
It is incredible! I can hardly believe I never saw how unnecessary they were until now. And now? I’m even editing them out in the published novels I read!
“But how will the reader know who’s talking?!!!”
Easy. There are two ways:
- The natural ebb and flow of conversation: When one speaker stops talking, it is obvious their conversational partner speaks next. (It’s even more obvious thanks to those handy-dandy paragraph breaks that are supposed to occur every time you change the speaker.)
- Use beats: Beats are like little action tags that not only help indicate who is speaking, but tell you a little more about what’s going on in the story as well without slowing the pace down to tell you that somebody is speaking. For example, from The Swallow’s Spring:
Instead of this: “But what if he is right?” Iseult said, forcing herself to meet Da’s gaze.
Do this: “But what if he is right?” Iseult forced herself to meet Da’s gaze.
How could I have been so blind for so long!
Yes, once in a rare while, dialogue tags come in handy. For example when you are writing a dialogue between three or more people. However, beats can generally do the heavy work.
So, who needs dialogue tags? They only slow down the pace of your story. Use conversational rhythm and action. Your readers will be glad you did.