Use speech and action to convey emotion

Many new writers—and, frankly—some experienced writers—take a short cut in first draft writing by using labels to convey emotion. Do what you must to get through the first draft, but our editing pass is the time to root those things out and replace them with something meaningful.

Emotional states are shown through speech and action rather than dialogue tags.

This item happens to be under Dialog only because tags are where this often shows up. But emotion labeling can occur in narrative also. Sometimes, you do just need to drop a label in, but more often, it’s best to use the dialog and action to convey the emotion. A first draft might look something like this: Continue reading

Use dialogue tags wisely

Dialogue tags seem simple, but in practice they are a complex element that many new writers fail to appreciate. One characteristic that distinguishes great writing from good writing is the efficient and elegant use of dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags convey meaningful information, such as action beats.

One of the first things writers learn is that a simple he said is almost always preferable to more complex constructions like he pronounced or she observed. I only put that almost in there because I’m not one to forbid something outright. But really, the best writers just don’t do that.

dialogue tags

© Scanrail •

Some editors advise against using all speech verbs except said and asked, but that’s going too far. Speech verbs exist for a reason, and can be used judiciously. Just remember they are like spice. Use sparingly. Continue reading

Use dialogue to move story forward

Back in my college days, I had the great opportunity to take a writing course from TV comedy writer Danny Simon. He taught us a lot in that class, and I’ve probably forgotten most of it, but I kept my notes, so I can always go back and check.

One thing I don’t need to check is this: “Leave out the orange juice talk.”

What he meant by that is the boring conversations we have every day. Continue reading

Characters speak like real people

New writers’ manuscripts are often marked by unrealistic dialogue. Many things can go wrong in characters’ speech, but this is one of the biggest. If the characters’ conversations sound fake, readers will drop out quickly.

Conversations are natural and realistic.

When I say natural, I refer partly to the idea, mentioned last week, that a character’s background and personality will be reflected in their speech.

One fault I often see in manuscripts from people who spent too much time in academia is a lack of contractions. Continue reading

Give characters distinct voices

Editors talk a lot about voice, and it’s a tricky thing to get a handle on. For one thing, there is an authorial voice; that is, each particular author has their own writing style that comes through regardless of the setting or topic of each novel. I prefer to think of that as writing style—though there’s got to be a better term for that—and preserve voice for talking about characters and narrators.

If you are writing in deep POV, your narrative should carry the same voice as the POV character. If you are not writing in deep POV, avoid generic narrator voice and give the narrator a distinctive voice of its own. (See The difference between your voice and the character’s voice.)

Each character has a distinct voice suitable to their temperament.
Continue reading

Substantive Editing: The Secondary Elements

When you finish your developmental edit, I won’t make you do a fast read-through again, unless vast whacking chunks of your book have changed. If that’s the case, another read-through may be warranted, as well as another examination of primary elements. A new writer may have to do several cycles of developmental edits before the story really gets into shape.

Once all the primary elements are in place, you’re ready for the next phase. Continue reading

Developmental Editing: Implementing Your Plan

We’ve now gone through the six Primary Elements:

  • Character
  • Viewpoint
  • Plot
  • Structure
  • Pacing
  • Setting

As I noted earlier, if any of these things have changed, they are likely to cause changes to the secondary elements. So we will do at least one complete editing pass to address any issues that may have come up in these areas. This kind of editing is often called developmental, content, or macro editing, because it deals with large building blocks of story.

We talked about writing your editing plan early on. Now it’s time to implement the plan. Continue reading