Personal editing. Professional results.

Let your speakers go nameless

January 12, 2024
Posted by:
Ron Seybold


Dialogue brings bright light to stories. The sound of voices in a tuned-up conversation makes us lean in to listen. It's even easier to follow when we hear just two voices trading lines. Tell yourself to think hard about whether you must bring a third or fourth voice into your dialogue scenes.

One reason to keep the stage cleaner is how it simplifies making speakers clear. We don't say "Harry, why don't you hand me those wine glasses?" People don't reply, "Which wine glasses do you mean, Melba?" Readers like to have jobs to do while they read, and these jobs should be simple but needed. One job readers can do: keeping speakers straight, with just a tag every third line along the way.

Speaker attribution is a job to give to your readers as if they're working dogs. Trust them to know how to fetch and where the water bowl is, and whether that's one speaker or another. "He" and "she," or "they" for nonbinary players, will be enough in many cases. Leave the names out of their lines. We don't talk that way.

Instead, do your work to distinguish voices with tone and style, so we know who's speaking without any dialogue tags at all. One of the joys of reading fiction is building scenes in our heads. All of the Harry's and Melba's clutter the floor, so we can't dance through the scene.


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