Who Needs Dialogue Tags?

Wonderful Words 1Who 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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.


Wonderful Words! From: Ursula Le Guin’s The Langauge of the Night Part 3

51TRh2ipMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_This week, I have been culling quotes from Ursula Le Guin’s The Language of the Night. Today’s post looks at the conclusion to her National Book Award Acceptance Speech for The Farthest Shore:

At this point, realism is perhaps the least adequate means of understanding or portraying the incredible realities of our existence. A scientist who creates a monster in his laboratory; a librarian in the library of Babel; a wizard unable to cast a spell; a space ship having trouble in getting to Alpha Centauri: all these may be precise and profound metaphors of the human condition. The fantasist, whether he uses the ancient archetypes of myth and legend or the younger ones of science and technology, may be talking as seriously as any sociologist–and a good deal more directly about human life as it is lived, and as it might be lived, and as it ought to be lived. For after all, as great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.

This is such an important concept to remember, especially now, as our children, and grandchildren, and neighbors, and young friends enter the era of Common Core Curriculum. The role of fiction and imagination is being shrunk in the school child’s life in favor of analysis and evaluation. How are we going to make certain it does not get squeezed out entirely?

Wonderful Words! From: Ursula Le Guin’s The Langauge of the Night Part 2

51TRh2ipMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In her essay, “Why Americans are Afraid of Dragons” Le Guin discusses the nature of fantasy literature:

For fantasy is true, of course. It isn’t factual, but it is true. Children know that. Adults know it too, and that is precisely why many of them are afraid of fantasy. They know that its truth challenges, even threatens, all that is false, all that is phone, unnecessary, and trivial in the life they have let themselves be forced into living. The are afraid of dragons, because they are afraid of freedom.

Ouch! Are we as a culture afraid of freedom? Am I, are you afraid of freedom? What do you think?

Wonderful Words! From: Ursula Le Guin’s The Langauge of the Night

51TRh2ipMYL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I recently finished reading The Language of the Night, a collection of Ursula Le Guin’s essays on fantasy and science fiction. Since 1979, when the book came out, she has truly grown to be the sage of science fiction and fantasy, particularly here in the Pacific Northwest.

I love the way she advocates for the power of stories and encourages fantasy and science fiction authors to consider themselves artists, called to serve their stories and enrich their societies. I found myself inspired by her words and, in my long neglected tradition of doing so,would like to  share some quotes with you over the next few days.

Today’s quote–on the power of story (from “Prophets and Mirrors: Science Fiction as a Way of Seeing”):

What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel–or have done and thought and felt; or might do and think and feel–is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become. A person who had never known another human being could not be introspective any more than a terrier can… he might (improbably) keep himself alive, but he could not know anything about himself, no matter how long he lived with himself. And a person who had never listened to nor read a tale or myth or parable or story, would remain ignorant of his own emotional and spiritual heights and depth, would not know quite fully what it is to be human. For the story–from Rumpelstiltskin to War and Peace–is one of the basic tools invented by the mind of man, for the purpose of gaining understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.