Dump Your Dialog Tags and Write Like a Pro

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By Al Kalar
I know I’ve harped on this before, but here’s a solid example so you can see how it’s done.

Anne McCaffrey is one of the top-selling authors in the Science Fiction and Fantasy arena. She’s a master of her craft.

I was re-reading a book of short stories (Get off the Unicorn, Ballantine/Del Ray 1977), when I ran across this short story. A sequel to her novel, The Ship Who Sang.

Background: Helva is a “shell person”, someone who can only live in a bio-shell, with special life-support. Her nerves and other functions have been merged with a spaceship (with her permission) so that she is the ship. Most “Brain Ships” are teamed with a “brawn”, a normal person who acts as a partner to do the things the ship’s “brain” (shell person) can’t do to complete an assignment.

Now, I want you to notice two things about these two pages:

  1. She uses ONE dialog tag only (“said”). In spite of that, you never have any doubt as to who’s talking.
  2. She keeps her “actors” in constant motion (okay, Helva can’t move, but she has verbal quirks to keep her “alive”). They are not two “talking heads”, but real-live people who move, gesticulate, scratch, etc. while carrying on a conversation.

These are two of the IMPORTANT things that make the difference between a “good” writer and a “great” author.

Here are the first two pages of the story:

McCaffrey-Short story-1

McCaffrey-Short story-2

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