Had my first meeting in Oakland last night, and one of the, erm… discussions that came up had to do with writing attribute-less dialogue.  Charlotte vigorously held that it cannot (or at least shouldn’t) be done.  I thought that done right, it can work.


So, here’s what I want to know from you.  Do you think a two-person dialogue is too hard to follow without attribution?

Here is a short story with two characters, with no dialogue tags.  Does this work for you?  Can you follow it?


That Ain’t Write


“What’s the matter, your dog die or something?”

“I don’t have a dog.”

“It’s just an expression.  So, really, what’s wrong?”


“She’s still givin’ you grief about your writing?”

“Yeah.  It’s not like we’re hurting for money, or anything.”

“Well, it wouldn’t be a bad thing if you sold something.”

“Don’t I know it.”

“So, what was it this time?”

“My sweats.”

“Pardon me?”

“OK, see, I don’t really need to get dressed up to sit at my computer and write.”

“So you wear your sweat suit all day, right?”

“Right.  All except for my–”


“Yeah.  Shoes.  Did I tell you about that?”

“You might have mentioned it… oh, just about once a week for the last 5 years.”

“Really?  Well, it’s true.  I can’t write if I don’t put on my shoes.”

“You know that’s really weird, right?”

“You want to hear this, or not?”

“Yeah.  Please.  I’ve got nothing better to do than–”

“–I can go home.”

“Nah.  Sorry.  What happened?”

“Well, she’s on her way out the door.  You know, shopping with her girlfriends, when she stops, comes over to me and tells me that I dress like a slob.”

“You do.  Everybody knows it.  What was her point?”

“Right.  So I ask her.”


“Oh.  Yeah.  Well, she says that knowing me, I’ll be sitting in front of the computer wearing the same dumb sweatshirt and pants when she comes back from shopping, and she’s really bored with it all, and, hell, I don’t know what else.”

“You stopped listening?”

“I stopped listening.  I mean I’ve heard it a million times.  Gets old, you know?”

“Yeah.  So, what’s the point of this?”

“Right.  Getting to it.  So, she’s out the door, slams it, actually, and I’m sitting at the computer and thinking.  She’s right.”

“Good for you.”

“Shut up.  So, I’m thinking she’s right.  I want to do something about it.  You know, surprise her.”

“What did you do?”

“I put on a pair of jeans.”

“Big whoop.  That must have gone over well.  Were they clean?”

“I don’t know.  I found ‘em on the floor of my closet.”

“Uh-huh.  So what’d she say about that?”


“Nothing?  You mean to say she didn’t notice?”

“Nah.  She didn’t come home.”

“She left you?”

“No!  Cheeze, man.  I mean she didn’t come home from shopping right away.”

“So you waited there at your computer, dressed to the nines in a sweatshirt and a pair of dirty jeans.”

“Well, yeah.  But you know, I got to thinking about it.  I thought, what the hell?  I found a shirt.”

“Was IT clean?”

“Probably not.  It was in the clothes hamper, but that’s not the point.  It wasn’t a sweatshirt.”

“Quite a push for you.  So when she came in…”

“Well, she still hadn’t come back yet.  So, I’m working on the novel, see, when I notice what time it is.  It’s getting late, and I’m starting to worry a bit–”

“So you called her cell?”

“No!  I don’t do that.  Makes her think I don’t trust her, or something.”

“All right, OK, so what did you do.”

“Well, I got to thinking, I’m getting dressed up, anyway–”

“–old jeans and a dirty shirt, and you call that getting dress–”

“So, I’m thinking, since I’m getting dressed up anyway, why not really do it up.  You know, surprise her.”

“Not bad.  Now you’re movin’ in the right direction.  What did you do?”

“Went digging in my closet, and I found a white shirt.”

“Aw, man, just when I thought you were getting it together.  I don’t think one of your “Firesign Theater” t-shirts would impress her.  Did it?”

“Let me finish.  I found a dress shirt, clean, and on a hanger.”

“You’re kidding me.  I didn’t know you even owned a dress shirt.”


“Sorry.  So, you put that on?”

“Yeah.  Then I take a look at myself in the mirror, and I’m thinking, shirt looks nice, but slacks would be better than jeans, and–”

“You have slacks?”

“Do you want to hear what happened, or not?”

“Hey, I’m in.  Talk away, maestro.”

“OK, so, I find my slacks, and they’re in pretty good condition, and I put ‘em on.  They fit, and everything.  I dig around, I find a belt–”

“Man, goin’ for the gold!”

“I find some dress socks, and I find my dress shoes.  They’re a little scuffed up, but I brush ‘em up a little, and–”

“Who are you?  And what have you done with my friend?”

“Cut it out, will you?  Anyway, I find a tie, it’s a skinny one, but hey, and I find a sports coat that I’d forgotten I owned.”

“This is amazing.  She must have been shocked.”

“Wait.  Not done yet.  So, I’m looking at myself in the mirror, and I can hardly recognize myself.  It’s pretty remarkable, but there’s something wrong.  Then I get it, and go into the bathroom and comb my hair and shave.”

“You did this while wearing a suit?”

“Yeah.  Well, I took off the coat and loosened the tie, but yeah.”

“I can’t wait.  She must have been amazed.”

“Nope.  She hadn’t come home yet.”

“Must have been frustrating.”

“Yeah.  So, anyway, I’m looking at myself in the mirror, all spiffied up, and I’m thinking I’ll take her out to dinner.  Really blow her mind.  Then, all of a sudden,  I remember the tux.”

“You’ve got a tux?”

“Yeah, I know it’s hard to believe.  But back when I was working in an office, I got it for a Christmas party.  It was all the thing, back then–”

“Don’t tell me–”

“Yeah!  I’m thinking, if me shaved and clean, and wearing a suit would start her fire, how would it be if she came home and found me waiting for her in my tuxedo?”

“So you put it on?”

“Well, I got it out, and it was in great condition.  You know, the whole works.  Bow tie, cummerbund, cuff links, ruffled front shirt, studs, I mean the nines.”

“So you put it on?”

“Well, I started to.  I was getting out of the suit when I had an idea for a story.  See, it’s about a guy who’s lady doesn’t get it about his writing, and is always complaining about how he dresses, and–”

“You’re kidding me.”

“No.  So, I’m standing there in my underwear when the idea hits me full on, and I run back to the computer to start writing it, and then–”

“And THEN she walks in.”

“Yeah.  Go figure.  So, she puts down her shopping bags, looks at me sitting at the computer in my underwear, and she says, ‘Nice.  Well, at least you shaved’.”


That’s it.  Were you able to follow the story?  Did it need dialogue tags?

Your help will be greatly appreciated.