Writing Exercise: Dialogue Tags

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Dialogue Tags

Should you do it or not?

I’m talking dialogue tags.

What on earth were you thinking?

Debate rages in the writing realm. Some point out that “he said”, “she said” has no real effect – people are trained just to glance over these cues of who is speaking. So we may as well go back to using them. Whereas for the last couple of decades “said-isms” have ruled  – muttered, sputtered, growled – but these start getting annoying after awhile.

I am from a totally different camp entirely. I like to write short, which means every word counts. Why would I use words people just glance over and do not contribute to my story. And for the longer works, again, why add something annoying or invisible when I can use description to enhance the dialogue. A writing weakness is keeping scene description and dialogue separate; once a writer gets in one mode, they tend to stick with it. But using the scene description to provide the dialogue queues instead of dialogue tags, the two required writing tools do double the work in half the time.

WRITING EXERCISE: So this month’s writing challenge is write a scene – likely you will need more than 100 words. Make the scene about the dialogue, but without dialogue tags (both saids and said-isms). The reader should clearly be able to tell who is talking. An example is below.


Clifford & Rozetta 2

“Oh God, Clifford, why are you here?”

The man jerked, spinning around to see his wife. “Roz!” He crumpled the racing form and stuffed it into his shirt.

She pushed her way through the lines around the betting booths. “You promised!” Tears formed in her eyes, but the panicked edge to her near-screams were what made the crowd give them room. “You were doing so well with the 12-step.”

“Roz, Rozzie, Rozetta, it is okay hon. Just this one time. I have a sure thing.”

“NO!” Her voice broke. “No more.”

Clifford reached towards his wife but she stepped back. “It’s for us sweetie. A way for us to get our house back.”

“The house was lost two years ago.” Roz’s mascara ran in streaks. “We just got back on our feet enough to stop living in the cars.”

“Yeah, got really lucky last month.” A proud smile crossed his rugged good looks.

Her voice dropped to a hush, still audible in the crowd because everyone was quietly trying to ignore the couple. “How long have you been betting again?”

“After two trips to the Y, I realized only losers are part of the program.” The man grabbed the shoulders of her tread-bare coat. “We are winners, you and me.”

“You Lied To Me?!?” Her quiet accusation carried to the front of the line while they unconsciously moved forward as the betting lines continued to be processed.

“Honey, you weren’t ready yet.”

“No, no more lies.” She shook him off. “No more luck, no more sure thing. We’re done. I’m done.”

The last person in front of them cleared. Cliff pulled the betting form out of his pocket. “Give me a second honey.” Smiling, he turned to the window.

Roz screamed. Even the bored cashier paused pulling Clifford’s form and cash through the drop slot.

“Don’t come home. No, do come home to that shithole apartment. Me and the kids will be gone.” She stalked off, the betting lines parting like the Red Sea before Moses. Crazy beats obsessive.

Clifford shook his head in exasperation. “It is a sure thing.”

The cashier nodded his head.

“She’ll be back when I am rolling in the dough.”

(Words 366 – first published 2/19/2015; republished new blot format 8/23/2016)