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.


Let the Great Agent Hunt Begin!


I finished revisions on The Swallow’s Spring during Christmas break, and tomorrow–MLK day–I am going to finish typing in the changes on the first 50 pages and send her out to the agents and editors who have requested see them.

At last. What a long haul! When I set out to do just one, last, quick revision in September, I did not think it would take so long. However, I think the recommendations made by Karen Ball, of the Steve Laube Agency, have definitely helped me to take the quality up another notch. Thank you, Karen! I know I feel the manuscript is definitely stronger. I can’t wait to send Swallow on her way!

And so, let the great agent hunt begin!

Hooray, The Swallow’s Spring Read-Through, Done!


Yesterday I finished my revision of The Swallow’s Spring.

I had needed to read through it because I discovered the formatting was not correct for electronic submissions, and I wanted to make sure, once I’d redone the formatting, everything had landed where it ought.

Also, I met an agent last summer who was interested in the novel but recommended I revise one more time before I submit. So I did.

I am excited about the finished novel, and even more excited that soon it will be able to fly out from my nest. All that’s left to do is key in the chapter changes.  (I revise best on paper, in pencil). By March, this swallow should be winging her way into the publishing marketplace!

What kind of revision journey are you on, and how do you revise best?

Back to School + Writing Life = Sanity? I Hope So…

School house Today is what my children always “affectionately” called THE LAST DAY OF FREEDOM.

Yes, school starts tomorrow and I return to my job–tutoring GED students in writing and holding down the fort two-days-a-week in a little jewel-box of a high school library. I love both my roles. And I love regularly switching from one to the other. There’s no chance to get bored. I count myself truly blessed to have work I love, that helps teens learn to communicate effectively, and that connects high school students with books.

So why THE LAST DAY OF FREEDOM? I suppose a better description is “my last day to dance to my own fiddle.” As of tomorrow, I will return to balancing my writing life with set working hours.

Do I return rested? Yes!

Do I return with the satisfaction of a long-term goal accomplished? Yes, I finished revising the final pages of The Swallow’s Spring right up to the words “the end”!

Do I return with wisdom? Yes! (See “Happy New Year!”)

Do I return with a plan? I do. I will:

  • write whenever the opportunity opens up for me
  • revise during my lunch half-hours (It’s amazing how the bits of time add up)
  • blog on the whim
  • submit my stories to agents and publishers
  • be prepared to participate in my writing groups
  • and continue to learn and grow as a writer.

What about you? How are you going to make your writing life real amidst the realities of daily life?

Edit Adjectives: Play With Your Words Writing Prompt #61


For this editing exercise, select a piece of writing you have been working on and make a copy (either as a computer document or a paper print-out, depending on which format you most like to work with).


Go through your document, crossing out all adjectives. (Remember, adjectives are words that describe nouns–and nouns are words for people, places, and things.)


Read what remains.

List, and then add back in only the adjectives you feel are absolutely necessary to convey the meaning you intended.

Make a separate list of all the adjectives you were able to leave out.


What kinds of adjectives needed to go back in?
What kinds of adjectives were you able to delete?


Read what you’ve written with your writing partners and discuss the kinds of adjectives you each found essential and why, as well as what kinds of adjectives proved themselves unnecessary.

Revision? Done!

I did it! I may not have completed it in November, but I am finally done revising my novel and can now and enjoy the remainder of the advent season.

So, as I used to ask my students, (which drove them nuts, by the way) “What have I learned from this project?”

I used to worry my storytelling style was too simplistic. (I got a D on one of my first writing assignments at UC Berkeley—where I planned to be an English major! I’ve carried with me huge insecurities about my personal “depth” as a writer ever since.) However, I think I finally learned how to get some depth into my novel.


Well, first of all, as I’ve written before, my mission was to kill all telling. It’s amazing how much deeper a story reads when lazy, cheap-trick telling has been either eliminated or filled out with juicy showing.

Second, I took a hard look at my subplot. For a long, long time I thought my main plot was so complicated, I didn’t need a subplot. (I also, coincidentally, felt totally incapable of conceiving, weaving in, and writing a subplot.) But as I did my quick read-through in preparation for the revision, I noticed the story actually has a thin subplot. I also realized that this skinny little subplot has a powerful influence on my main character that I had never addressed in the novel. Indeed, its influence is powerful enough to impact the decision she makes that ends the story. And so, this time through, I fleshed out my subplot.

I am so excited about what these changes have done to my novel. I can’t hardly wait to get them all typed in and do my last quick read-through before submitting it.

Please, say a little prayer that my novel will find a publishing home.


Yesterday I reached page 129 out of my goal of reaching page 175.

I promised to share my main mission in this revision of this novel, and then last week on the day I intended to do it, forgot! Oops. In my defense, I was very busy revising.

So, what am I trying to accomplish in this revis-a-thon?

First and foremost: KILL ALL TELLING!  This includes: backstory and flashbacks, pure explanation, explanation of character motives, telling in dialogue, sneaky telling, showing and telling the same thing, and telling in internal monologue.

My objective is for my writing to be cinematic—visual, audible, and sensory through action, setting and dialogue.

I am also working on developing my subplot, which has meant writing new scenes, especially scenes that explain by showing the relationships between the key characters.

I have changed some characters’ names.

I am finally making some vocabulary selections on which I had been waffling.

I am making certain all scenes start with the establishment of setting so the characters are “acting” in empty space.

For my indoor scenes in particular, I am trying to do a better job of detailing the interiors.

I am slowing down the front end of the story because I had rushed it, originally, in my eagerness to get to act two and the climax.

And last, challenge of all challenges, I am trying to let my main character be more flawed. I have my own issues with flaws and imperfections that have led me to fear my flawed character might be unlovable. So I’m trying to screw up my courage and get real.

What kinds of things do you find you need to revise for?

Novel Revision in a Month: Progress Report


Today I finally reached last Friday’s goal (Yes, that is LAST Friday you read) of revising through page 50 of The Swallow’s Spring (my latest title for my novel). I stopped working to make dinner after page 59.

Since November 1, I have revised a total of 59 pages and written 7 new pages.

Why seven new pages? It was rather a new experience for me. When I submit folktales I am often asked to cut the manuscript length, once by nearly 20%. So why am I adding pages to The Swallow’s Spring?

When I did a quick read through to prepare for revision back in October, I realized there were two things not yet developed properly in the novel—the subplot, and the main character’s relationship with several family members.

So, last Friday I wrote a temper tantrum (worse than a two-year-old denied her free cookie in the grocery store) for the main character’s mother. It was fun. Things got thrown (on paper, not in my house). There was much shrieking and wailing. Oh, and did I mention my heroine got slapped? Now it may be more apparent why she is such a goody-two-shoes peacekeeper and wants more than anything to control her own life. I also got to arrange a medieval Irish funeral for her Uncle (the research for that is what kept me up until midnight on November 1).

Now, the rushed through first quarter of the novel does not feel so rushed through anymore.

Next Wednesday: I’ll report my progress and share my main mission in this revision.

Play with Your Words! Poetry Prompt #4: Poetry Poker

I love writing assignments that sound like a game!

To play poetry poker, you need to collect words. Words you love, words you love the sound of, words you love the meaning of. Ask your friends and family to contribute. Be inspired by the seasons, events, and settings of your life. Build yourself a deck of words (index cards work great for this). Then its time to play.

Shuffle your deck and draw 5 cards from it. Look at your cards. Think about them. Decide which of them you want to work with. You can trade in anywhere from one card for a new one, to all five. But you can only trade once.

Now use the words you drew to craft a poem. Try to use all of them. However if one or two just won’t work, I give you “poetic license” to not use it.

Set your poem aside for a day or two then pull it back out. Revise it. Anything goes, and anything can be sacrificed for the sake of a better poem.

Enjoy your creation.

Contest!  Wouldn’t it be fun to build a communal deck? Contribute the words from your lists as a comment. I’ll hold back posting your comments and contributing my list until 10:00 A.M. Wednesday morning (Pacific time)–so no one can steal from anyone else’s list.

The prize for the best list? A free 10 page edit and critique.

And remember, share your poems with each other. Be sure to praise the strengths you see one another’s work.

And share your work here. I’d love to see what you came up with!