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190 Ways to Say “Said” OR 187 Creative Dialogue Tags to Avoid

Posted by on Oct 27, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

190 Ways to Say “Said” OR 187 Creative Dialogue Tags to Avoid

Over the last few days, a picture has shown up in my Facebook timeline over and over again. The caption reads “190 Ways to Say ‘Said.’ ” Grammatical issues aside—the synonyms are actually all present tense, so they’re 190 ways to say say—it was causing a buzz in my timeline. If you’ve seen it, chances are you’ve had one of two reactions: 1) woo hoo, more synonyms or 2) oh no, creative dialogue tags to avoid. And after reading the comments, it seems like people are pretty much divided along those lines. There are those who believe said and asked are the only necessary dialogue tags ever required in a novel. Then there are those who feel they should be able to use whatever they want to describe everything in their written work. I’ve read comments from many students saying they’ve been taught that “said is dead” and they should try to be more creative in their writing. I absolutely agree with the second half of that statement. However, as an editor, I tend to lean on the “less creative dialogue tags” side of the equation. Editors like words like said and asked and replied—words that describe ways of speaking—as opposed to words that could—maybe, possibly, but not necessarily—indicate speech. Why? Well, like you’ve probably heard before, words like said and asked tend to become invisible to the reader, allowing her to focus on the dialogue… not the dialogue tag. But editors would also rather encourage the author to use creative, descriptive narrative to show the character sobbing and not state that someone cried. Editors will ask authors to describe why a character is angry and show examples of that anger in the narrative through actions and setting rather than use dialogue tags like screeched or howled. Sure, it’s easy to say he cried, she screamed, she ordered, or he agreed. And yeah, most times it gets the point across. But what’s better—harder and more work—is taking the time to create the scene, to write the character, and show the character’s body language ordering or agreeing. Imagine how that would look… Does any of this mean that you should never use words other than said or asked? No, of course not. The best part about being an author is choosing your own words. But what an editor wants you to do is to stretch your writing, think outside the box, and draw a picture for your reader instead of handing them the details on a silver platter. With NaNoWriMo starting soon, I’d like our readers to think about their dialogue tags. Focus on one scene and write the narrative so that your readers will know exactly how your character says his words, even without a dialogue tag. How would your character act? What does his body language portray? Do his words match his mood? How can you describe this to the reader? The more you do this, the more automatic it becomes and you’ll rely on creative dialogue tags less. Happy...

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NaNoWriMo is coming. Are you ready?

Posted by on Oct 19, 2015 in Featured Articles | 2 comments

NaNoWriMo is coming. Are you ready?

Yesterday my son reminded me that November is almost here, and I realized it’s almost time for NaNoWrimo aka National Novel Writing Month! I know, some of you are thinking I have such a thoughtful son, right? Hah! He’s more concerned that I don’t forget his school play and less about me being ready for NaNoWriMo. But I digress. November sneaked up on me. I’m still in the process of creating my writing space after playing musical bedrooms when my daughter left for college and my son wanted her room. But we finally got my new computer desk put together in my new office, which will double as my writing space. I have my comfy chair, computer, headphones, music, chocolate and caffeine. If your plan is to participate in or support someone in NaNoWriMo this year, I’ve put together a few things to make NaNoWriMo go a little smoother. Have a plan. How many times have you heard “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”? Too many times, I’m sure. Will having a plan guarantee NaNoWriMo success? Nope. But it just might make life a little easier, especially with all the demands on your time. Do you know what story you’re going to write about or are you waiting for inspiration to suddenly strike on November 1st? If you haven’t already decided what your story is about, it’s not too late. Make a decision today. You’ll still have time to bounce around ideas with your favorite betas to flesh out the story before you start writing. Whether you’re a plotter or pantser, you still need to have the premise of your story and a vision of where it’s going. Print off some character sheets and write down the basics of your main characters. Do the same with your plot and setting. But don’t get so hung up on the details of character names, physical attributes, and world building that you forget to do the big picture stuff to be ready to start. Know where you are going to write. Do you have a designated place to write? Whether it be your office, the coffee shop or the cupboard underneath the stairs, pick your designated writing space. Can you have more than one? Of course! Have as many as you like. Just know where you plan to write and then have a backup for those unexpected hiccups along the way. Then stock your writing cave, nest, nook, or whatever name you want to call it with those things that help you get into that creative mode. Make sure you have all the equipment you need to get the job done. If you’re going to write on your computer or laptop, make sure it is in working order. And save often. There’s nothing worse than reaching your goal for the day only to have your computer crash, leaving you sobbing in your coffee and bingeing on Haagen-Dazs. Okay, that last one doesn’t sound that bad. Who doesn’t love Haagen-Dazs! But the idea here is to make sure your tools of writing aren’t causing you grief. There is no crying in NaNoWriMo! If you like to use your tablet or your phone or multiple devices, store your manuscript on the cloud for easy access so you don’t have to deal with multiple versions. And if writing your story using pen and paper is what gets your creative muse hot, make sure you are never without a notebook and your favorite writing implements. This means several designated writing notebooks and fancy pens and pencils. I’m getting excited just thinking about it! Set aside time to write. There’s no right or wrong time to write. It can be in the wee hours of the morning, while the kids are at school, riding the train to work, or any time you’re able to catch a few minutes to jot down more of your story. If all you can fit into your schedule is several 15 minute blocks scattered throughout the day, then use them. One of the hardest parts of trying to write anything is...

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What Your Editor Expects From You

Posted by on Oct 5, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

What Your Editor Expects From You

We often talk about what to expect from your editor during the editing process, but how many of us have thought about what the editor should be able to expect from the author at the same time? Sure, I know what some of you may be thinking. Authors pay editors to do the work, so why should they have any expectations at all? The words “that’s what I’m paying you for” come to mind. But the truth is, the better shape your manuscript is in when your editor gets it, the easier the edit will be—on both of you—and the faster things will go. So here are a few things you should consider having ready when it’s time to edit your book: A completed manuscript that has been read through at least twice and self-edited accordingly. First drafts are not ready for editing. First drafts are called drafts for a valid reason. Most of us do not self-edit as we write. Therefore, all drafts should go through several revisions, and definitely some beta reading, before they’re ready for editing. An open mind. There are generally two kinds of editing, objective and subjective. Objective editing is the technical editing—the spelling, punctuation, and grammar that is, for the most part, rule driven. An editor says, “No, the closing quotation marks go there,” and you’re probably going to nod and smile and follow along. However, there is a lot to editing that is subjective, or based on opinion. One man’s poetic narrative is another man’s wordy prose. All editors may agree on the stages each novel should have, but they may disagree as to when they must occur. As an editor—and reader—I happen to enjoy descriptive narrative. Other editors may see it as a waste of words or find it excessive. All of these things are subjective based on the situation and the manuscript. No two editors edit exactly the same, even those who work closely together. So the open mind is necessary when disagreements happen. Keep in mind that your editor has only one goal. To make your book the best book it can be. There are no ulterior motives to her changes. When you come across a suggestion or a change you disagree with, step back and look at it from a different angle, trying to see where the editor is coming from. Talk to your editor about the change. Walk away and sleep on it. If you still disagree, reject it. You know your book best. But don’t simply reject changes you disagree with without giving them a chance. An open line of communication. During any edit, prepare to speak with your editor several times. Most editors will try to anticipate questions ahead of time, but no one can anticipate everything. A lot of conversation happens after the edit is returned to the author and the author is going through the changes, additions, deletions, and suggestions. You may want additional clarification on a change your editor has asked you to make, or you may not understand the reasoning behind the change. By all means—contact your editor.  Absolutely. I tell every author I work with to email me if they have any questions or concerns about anything to do with the edit. If they disagree with something and want to discuss it. If they don’t understand something and want clarification. If they see something I may have missed—nope, I’m not perfect. No editor is. But your editor is there for you. Your work ethic. Just because you’ve handed your manuscript off to your editor doesn’t mean your work is done. Sometimes it means the hardest part is about to begin. Your editor will ask you to cut scenes—perhaps even some of your favorite words. She’ll expect you to rewrite dialogue when your character’s voice isn’t right, she’ll ask you to expand on scenes where there’s a lot of tell with not a lot of show, and she may even suggest you cut a beloved extra character. Don’t be afraid to jump in and do the work. The more willing an...

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Voice Drift: Does your manuscript have it?

Posted by on Sep 28, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Voice Drift: Does your manuscript have it?

You know when you’re around that one friend who speaks in an accent (Southern, British, Spanish, etc.) and after a while you find yourself using the same words and phrases or speaking with a similar accent as that friend? This is called voice drift. It happens in writing too. Have you ever read a book where the characters all sounded the same, the narrative (especially third person) sounded like all the other characters, or all the characters had a white bread feel to them? This too could very well be due to voice drift. Voice drift is when the voices of the characters start to sound like other characters, destroying any efforts you may have made to give each character a unique voice. When voice drift happens, it is often the default voice that has taken over. What is the default voice? Well, it’s quite simply the voice of the author. It’s a shift from the voice of the story. It’s no longer the voice of point of view character telling the story. It is the voice of the author. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the author is now the POV character, but rather the POV character now sounds like the author. Many times it’s not clear at first because you, the author, have created unique voices for each of your characters. However, as the story progresses, the characters’ voices might gradually start to sound alike. Books in a series are particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon. In fact, it is an aspect of writing that even experienced writers must watch for. But is voice drift something authors should be concerned about? If you want unique memorable characters that will stick with your readers, then yes. There are a some ways to determine if your book suffers from voice drift. He Said / She Said Have you had any of your readers or anyone in your support network have a hard time keeping track of who said what in conversations, whether it’s a two-person conversation or a room full of people? Unique Word Combinations Make a list of any unique phrases, sayings, idioms, etc. your characters use verbally and/or internally and who said them. Do more than one character unintentionally (as in you, the author, didn’t mean to do that) use the same phrase or saying? Unless there is a compelling reason for them to use these same elements such as siblings who pronounce “especially” as “exspecially” because that’s how their mother pronounced it, your characters’ voices shouldn’t be that similar. Sense of Humor Another red flag is if your characters share the same sense of humor. While we might have two characters who will generally laugh at humor, rarely do you find that all friends, family member, coworkers, etc. find the same things funny. Humor is tricky. One person might find something hilarious, another might find the same thing cruel. Part of the Crowd If your core group of characters—or if all the periphery characters—agree on everything and have the same opinion, take a closer look to make sure the characters aren’t too alike. Now I’m not talking about things that most people will universally agree upon, for example, most people will agree that world hunger is an awful thing. But what people don’t agree on how to rid the world of hunger and make sure everyone has food for the forseeable future. Cardboard is Boring If you’ve had complaints about boring dialogue or characters that are cutouts or cardboard, it could mean that your characters are too similar. Writing Exercise Take a conversation from your manuscript and remove all dialogue tags and narrative that shows who is speaking. Read it aloud to someone else without changing the tone of your voice or giving verbal cues. If the listener has a hard time following who says what in the conversation, take a look a closer look at your characters’ voices and the possibility of voice drift. One way to keep voice drift out of your stories is to constantly be on the look out for the offenders listed above. Another is to compare conversations...

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Start With A Bang! Opening Scenes and First Chapters

Posted by on Sep 14, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Start With A Bang! Opening Scenes and First Chapters

There! Got your attention, didn’t I? Now that I have it, let’s talk about opening scenes and first chapters. What makes an opening scene great? What is it about an exceptional first chapter that makes a reader want—or need—to continue on with the story? What should an author include or stay far, far away from in her opening scene to engage the reader and give her the need to continue reading. I read somewhere that the opening scene is the bait an author uses to draw the reader to the hook, what makes this book worth reading. By the end of the first chapter, I know whether I want to continue reading or flip that book into the not-for-me pile. That’s what I mean by bang in the title of this article. I don’t necessarily believe that all books should start with an action scene or high drama. There are many other ways of pulling a reader in without a huge action sequence. First, you must start with a protagonist your readers can care about or an antagonist whose actions are a cause for worry. Your reader doesn’t actually have to like your protagonist—that’s what character development and growth throughout the story are for. And your antagonist doesn’t have to be the epitome of evil and evoke hatred from all for your reader to worry about how her actions will affect the story. Antagonists should be more than one-dimensional wicked witches or ax-murderers. That makes them more fun. But if your reader cannot connect with the character at all, you’ve already lost her. Feel free to throw a little dramatic arc into your opening scene or your first chapter. It doesn’t have to necessarily mimic the arc of your story, but it certainly doesn’t hurt. Stories that begin with conflict or mystery draw the reader in with the need to find out, sooner rather than later sometimes, what’s going to happen. Make sure to start the scene right at the good part; don’t add too much lead-in or backstory or your reader can become bored quickly. A bored reader won’t continue to chapter two. If the conflict in your scene is the slamming of a door in your protagonist’s face, don’t begin your scene with the drive to the house. Start with the knock. Or better yet, the slam. You have the rest of story to explain to the reader what happened. Just make sure you don’t regurgitate all that information in chapter one. Take your time and weave your story—add bits and pieces of backstory as the tale unfolds so your reader can infer the information and not assimilate an info dump on page seventeen. Part of this weaving includes dialogue. Not just banal, everyday dialogue, of course, but from-the-heart, gut-wrenching dialogue that gives your reader the feels. Take that door slam from the last paragraph. Dialogue with that slam could include something like, “I hate you!” Yeah, okay. Boring, right? But something like, “Do the words restraining order mean nothing to you?” might make your reader more inclined to keep reading. Keep opening scenes and first chapters brief. Long scenes with gobs of detailed description, narrative, and backstory are going to bore your reader. Think of the first scene as the one that grabs your reader by the lapels and slams him—figuratively speaking, of course—against the wall. And now that you have his attention, you’re ready to introduce yourself and tell him your story. If you think of your first chapter or opening scenes as your only chance to make a first impression, it will help you start with a bang. Remember to engage your reader with significant characters and compelling dialogue, creating tension or conflict early on to make her want to continue. And don’t overwhelm the first chapter with excessive details or backstory. You’ve got the whole story to make your point. If you’ve got more tips to writing an exceptional opening scene or first chapter, leave a comment and let us know. We’d love to hear from you! Happy...

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Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Posted by on Sep 8, 2015 in Featured Articles | 0 comments

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

I have found that the old adage actions speak louder than words is especially true in writing. One of the more difficult elements for a writer of fiction is the use of subtlety to show who your characters are. Especially when it’s so much easier to simply have your character say, “Derek is a jerk! Can you believe what he said to Sharon?” Then there’s the narrative that is oftentimes the author’s long inner-monologue about the various failings or perfections of various characters. It’s so much easier to tell your reader what you want them to know about your characters without allowing said reader the opportunity to discover who your characters are as the story unfolds. When I really think about the reasons for all the telling, several come to mind: Fear that readers won’t like your characters and that your readers won’t understand who your characters really are unless you tell them. Insecurity that your words won’t be good enough for your readers to see what kind of people your characters are if you try to show those attributes instead of simply stating them. Lack of understanding of what everyone has been going on about when they say “show, don’t tell.” If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In other words, if your readers aren’t complaining, why should you change how you write? Time constraints. You simply don’t have time to figure out the subtlety thing, but when you have a free moment, you’ll look into it. And… so on. Here’s the deal. If you’re serious about your writing and it’s more than just a nice little hobby, it’s time to look at how you write. Every book should ideally improve upon the last. Those who have worked with me before know I don’t try to correct every issue in an author’s writing with a single edit. Depending on the author, that can be a lot to take in and my goal as an editor is not to discourage, but to point out the biggest issues with the current book and the way the story was written. Once those have been tackled and the next manuscript comes in, my hope is that the author learned something from the first edit and has improved her skills so that we may move on to improving other aspects of writing. I learn something new with each edit, and I hope my authors do, too. Developing your skills as a writer is a process that takes time and practice. Telling is the ultimate safety net! If you want to use subtlety to show who your characters are, do it through their interactions with other characters. What they do and say are just as important as what they don’t do and say. Never give too much information and lead your readers around by the nose. Frankly, you insult your readers’ intelligence when you do this because it says you don’t trust your readers to come to the right conclusions. Have a little faith. I get it. It’s a scary thing to work without that safety net, and that’s exactly what telling is: a safety net. But your readers will connect emotionally with your characters if they can identify those characteristics through words and actions. Remember, a story full of telling makes for a boring book. (Don’t be hating the messenger.) Let’s look at two examples: Example One: Theodore loved his father’s leather chair where he smoked his cigars and pretended he was better than everyone else. This first example tells the reader what I want them to know about Theodore, but doesn’t show him doing anything or how he treats others. Example Two: Theodore sat down in the faded chair and caressed the creased leather arms worn smooth by generations of Carringtons. He took his time removing the cigar box from the side drawer of the massive oak desk before offering one to Derek, who waved him off. No surprise. He ran the Cuban under his nose before snipping off the end and lighting it with Father’s oversized lighter, and eyed the unnatural sheen of...

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