Sunday, May 08, 2016

Writing Prompt: The Challenge: No Tags!

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

This week’s prompt challenges you to write something outside of your comfort zone. It’s designed to push your creative boundaries and stretch those artistic wings.

Today’s challenge: Write a 1000-word scene without using any “(s)he said” type dialogue tags.

You can use actions, thoughts, internalization, narrative—anything but (s)he “manner of speech.”

For example, don't use:

“That’s not right,” he said.

“That’s not right,” she groaned.

“That’s not right,” he gasped, shaking his fist.

“That’s not right,” she wondered aloud.

Basically, if you'd need to put a comma at the end of your dialogue, it’s using the wrong tag, so get rid of it.

The goal of this challenge is to strengthen your ability to mix action, internalization, and dialogue without relying on tags to identify speakers.

Added challenge: Don’t use any character names in the dialogue.

This will encourage you to create unique voices for your characters, and to identify them in a greater variety of ways that flow seamlessly with your prose.


  1. Alec waved his hand over the door handle for what had to have been the hundredth time that day. "What am I doing wrong?"

    "Move." Jaime rolled up his sleeves and shoved Alec aside. Jaime took a slow, deep breath, then threw out his arm, sweeping it in an arch before the door. The lock clicked. Jaime gave Alec a smug smirk as he repeated the motion, but this time the door swung open. "See? Easy."

    Alec's shoulders slumped. "But what am I doing wrong?"

    "I don't know... maybe you don't' have magic. Maybe you're a freak."

    Alec curled and uncurled his fists. "You take that back."

    Jaime scoffed. "And if I don't, what are you gonna do about it?"

    "Take. It. Back." Alec stepped close enough to Jaime that he could feel the tingle of magic roiling off of him. An intense sensation overcame Alec, almost bringing him to his knees. His hands burned and tendrils of smoke curled from his finger tips.

    "See? Easy. Now let's try again with magic."

  2. John set his suitcase down inside the front door, expecting to see the apartment filled with boxes ready for the movers. Sally was sitting on the floor, crying.

    He pulled her to her feet and kissed her forehead. “I know you only had a day’s notice and it’s been overwhelming trying to get this done by yourself. Let me take a quick shower and I’ll help.” He was exhausted from the three-hour plane ride, but felt guilty that he hadn’t been there for her.

    She followed him into the bedroom. “I was going to get boxes and the car wouldn’t start. I called the garage, but they couldn’t get all the way out here to the lake until tomorrow. Christine was supposed to bring some boxes and help me pack, but she went into labor.”

    “Hell of a time for that to happen. The car, I mean.” He started the shower, then looked at his watch and came back out. “Aren’t the movers supposed to be here at six?”

    “Yes. We have less than three hours and we don’t have boxes.”

    “You should have called me. I could have picked up some on the way from the airport.”

    “I tried.”

    He looked at his cell phone. It was still in flight mode. He turned off the water and rolled up his sleeves. “We can throw everything into trash bags.”

    “Trash bags?”

    “That’s what I did when I moved in with you. We don’t have much. It’s only two tiny rooms and a few dishes, pots and pans. He pulled a large box of Glad bags from the kitchen closet and held out a handful to her. “We put the heavy stuff in the bottom of the bags and wrap fragile items in clothes and linens.”

    “Movers don’t move trash bags. We need boxes.” She stepped back, refusing the bags.

    He handed her his car keys. “Go to Walmart and get some.”

    “Walmart is in Centerville. That’s almost an hour away.”

    “Just go. Trust me.”

    Two hours later, Sally dragged a load of packing boxes through the front door. John stood in the middle of the living room grinning, surrounded by fully-loaded shiny black bags.

    “I told you, John, movers don’t move trash bags.”

    He winked and helped her with the boxes. “No, but they move trash bags if they're packed in boxes."