Tag Archives: Reading (process)

How To Write Great Dialogue

I found this on my tumblr dashboard and thought I’d share it here as well.



Modern novels are filled with dialogue. More than 50% of your book should be filled with characters talking to each other. Beginner novelists are often afraid of dialogue and they should be.

Writing dialogue is complicated. An author has to give the impression that characters are speaking as if they existed in a real world. However, ‘real world’ dialogue is the kiss of death in a novel. Real life has no plot. Most everyday conversations have no point. They exist for the sake of appearances. They are made up of exchanging greetings and pleasantries. Small talk is just that and has no place in your novel.

Writing Tip: An interesting way to test this for yourself is to tape a series of conversations and write them down exactly as the words are spoken. You will find people ramble on. They repeat what they have said, they struggle to find words, their grammar is terrible, and they talk ‘at’ each other.

How do authors only include dialogue that is necessary?

One way is to read a variety of novels published in the last 10 years. Examine the dialogue. Good authors only include what is necessary for the story. Sometimes this means dialogue has been pared down to the minimum but this is necessary. Never include unnecessary conversations. Readers expect every conversation to be significant. Unnecessary conversations are the red herrings of the dialogue universe.

The Three Reasons

Authors should remember that there are three reasons for including dialogue in a novel.

  1. Dialogue should move a plot forward. ‘Let’s go.’ is better than ‘Peter said that they should go.’
  2. Dialogue should reveal character. Every word your character uses shows the sort of person he or she is.
  3. Dialogue should provide information. Treat this one with care. There is a fine line between revealing important facts and boring the reader with details. Do not allow your characters to ‘tell’ in dialogue. Rather use a short summary.

The Supporting Act

Remember that people don’t just utter words when they interact. They act, they move, and they use body language – intentionally or unintentionally. Friends may walk or drink coffee as they speak. A young mother may jump up to prevent her child from crawling away. A woman may cross her arms as she listens to her husband.

Writing Tip: Introduce a habit with dialogue. Your villain might flip a coin when he speaks. Your love interest might smoke when he or she speaks.


Novelists should ignore the many posts suggesting 50 words to use instead of ‘said’. Said is perfect. It shows the reader who is speaking. It keeps the reader focused on the dialogue. When characters mutter, proffer, utter, cry, growl, and grin words, the author just looks silly.

Writing tip: Read your dialogue out loud. Your tongue will trip over all the nonsense words. Remove them.

Accents and Dialect

Follow speech patterns rather than misspelling words. It takes a dedicated reader to muddle through idiosyncratic vernacular. Add the odd foreign word to show the speaker is not English.

Like everything else in writing, perfecting dialogue takes practise. Write every day, and include dialogue in that writing if you can.

Image created by Writers Write at Someecards


by Amanda PattersonSource: Writers Write

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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Fun, randomness


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Seven editing questions to make work sparkle


While scrolling through tumblr’s dashboard, in the writing tag (this is a thing I do early in the morning with a cup of coffee) I discovered this interesting set of rules when writing.


Writers rarely like to revise, but revision is a reality of the writing process—and more important than the initial draft. Without revision, you can’t realize the true potential of the story you envisioned, and it will likely never be published. Here are seven self-editing questions to ask as you begin revising your short story or novel:

1. Where does the story really begin? Reread the first two to three pages of your story carefully. Where does the action start? A major fault with many first drafts (mine included!) is too much background material at the beginning, before the conflict is introduced and the characters finally take over the story.

In my case, I can almost bet that my story doesn’t really begin until about halfway down page 3, so out go the first two pages. If the material I have cut is essential for the reader to know, I find ways, through dialogue or my characters’ thoughts, to get the information to the reader later. The late additions are never as long as the original two and a half pages, and the story gains needed speed.

2. Is this adverb necessary? Chances are, if you are using a lot of adverbs, you are telling and not showing. Think about the character that has just won the lottery. Rather than have her yell “joyfully,” why not have her jump up and down screaming so loudly that her cat runs under the bed in terror, and it takes her 20 minutes to get it out? Maybe she runs to her closet and throws all of her old clothes in the garbage while blasting “If I Had a Million Dollars” on her CD player. Both of those pictures show how the character reacts instead of telling, and they are certainly livelier than the word “joyfully.”

3. Is this adjective doing its job? Look for empty adjectives and replace them. Instead of relying on “amazing,” “interesting,” “exciting,” “awful,” “ugly,” “beautiful,” “nice,” “scary” and other similar adjectives, use sensory details that bring to life what you are describing. Find places to get the readers’ senses working; it means you are making the story real for them.

4. Whose problem is it? Your main character has the primary problem at the center of your story, and your main character needs to solve it. Make sure that your protagonist remains the chief actor in the story and doesn’t become solely the reactor to another character’s influence. Sometimes, in longer pieces, characters other than your lead can nab your attention and your imagination; this can be especially true of villains and comic sidekicks. Be careful that these characters don’t become so charming that they threaten to steal the book from your hero or heroine.

5. Are the grammar and spelling perfect? Yes, I mean perfect. Your story will compete with a host of other stories, so don’t blow your chance with poor spelling and grammar. Of course, publishers have editors who will help polish your copy, but you need to show your best work up front.

6. Have I read my story aloud? One of your best proofreading tools is the sound of your own voice. Reading your story aloud is a great way to find awkward or incomplete sentences, clumsy phrasing, and inconsistencies in verb tenses and pronoun agreement. If you hesitate when you are reading, or if you have to reread a sentence or phrase, then you may need to rewrite that part of your story.

7. Have I applied the Stephen King rule? In Stephen King’s On Writing, he shows a before-and-after example of how editing can improve a story. His revision rule is:

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

We have a tendency, as writers, to believe that every word we write is precious, and we are reluctant to cut our material—after all, we remember how hard it was to get it down on paper. However, editing is about making our prose lean and exciting, and compelling the reader to turn the page. See what you can do with 10 percent fewer words.

Finally, consider revision a reward. Remember that if you are revising, you have finished a project—how neat is that? Try these seven questions to kick-start your editing and begin your pursuit of a great final product.

I’m most likely going to add a bunch in the second draft, and then subtract even more in the third draft, mostly because after rereading what I’ve done there’s some elements and characters that need a bit of explaining.  So in second draft, I’ll put that in, rearrange the chapters a bit, flesh out some characters a bit more, and fix a few things (such as Felanus has changed to Felanar and the RVAF Tritan has changed to the RVAF Osprey).  Once third draft hits, I’ll be subtracting a lot of stuff, useless words, long convoluted sentences, cleaning up grammar.  I already think it was a better idea to just write “Senia speaks with a lisp” instead of displaying that lisp every time she talks.

I want the work of Rocket Fox to come about better than Black Mask & Pale Rider (even though I still love that book).  So the amount of work I have ahead of me is a lot, but it’s something that has to be done.

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Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Fun, randomness, Writing


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