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book editing


What is Line Editing?

Line editing is a stage in the editing process in which a manuscript is edited for tone, style, and consistency. This stage of editing is extremely important for documents of all types and lengths, and a good line editing is a crucial in the manuscript editing process. Here are a few dos and don’ts to line editing.

DO Take another read through. If you find any minor (hopefully not major) discrepancies in your manuscript fix these before moving on in line editing.

DO before looking at lines, review and analyze your key scenes. Does each scene carry the aspect of the story that it is supposed to carry? If not, what does it still need?

DO, if you find discrepancies during line editing, fix those before continuing the line editing.

DO Look through other that may appear wooden but are necessary to the story. Is this scene really necessary?  Use the same treatment as you used for the key scenes. Have we seen aspects of this scene before?  Is this entire scene redundant or is it just certain elements of the scene? Unless we are doing a reprise technique where we purposely use certain elements for impact, eliminate redundant scenes, passages, and aspects of conversations that you may have missed previously.

DO evaluate transitions between scenes. Are they adequate? Are they too wordy?

DO read each paragraph out loud. Does the paragraph flow naturally?

DO insure that each character remains in character throughout the book.

DO eliminate words or sentences that are extraneous or overused

DO edit scenes where the action is confusing or the author’s meaning is unclear due to bad transitions

DO eliminate redundancies of  information repeated in different ways

DO unify tonal shifts and rewrite unnatural phrasing

DO eliminate or rewrite passages that don’t read well due to bland language use

DO create changes that can be made to improve the pacing of a passage

DO evaluate words or phrases to determine if they are the best words to use. Reassess and clarify if a better word can enhance your meaning.

DO take frequent breaks when doing line editing. If you have a deadline, work for 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break. For better efficiency, every two hours take a thirty-minute break. I personally get so much more done when I take frequent breaks by using the breaks for personal care and housework.

DO try to work on line editing at least a little every day rather than trying to block out large periods.

DO editing from front of manuscript to the back and do it in order to avoid missing any parts of the manuscript.

DON’T let run-on sentences remain in the manuscript, edit them.

DON’T give a pass to dialogue or paragraphs that can be tightened

DON’T leave in confusing narrative digressions

DON’T line edit too early in the writing process, you’ll just be wasting your time.

DON’T skip this part of the process and leave it for an editor to do. You’ll have a much better book (and your next one will be better as well) if do your own line editing.  

DON’T try to do too much at one sitting. You’ll produce better copy if you are rested.

DON’T procrastinate this step, the end of the tunnel is in sight! Don’t stop now!

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

Click Here Now to Get Your Free Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist


By the time you get to writing your third draft, your attention is drawn to writing individual scenes
When it comes to writing the third draft, focus comes to working on individual scenes.

You have read through your manuscript and scrutinized your dialogue, so what’s next. It’s time to edit the most important building block in the story. What is the most important building block of the story?

No, its not descriptions nor is it the reporting of events that these building blocks.

You could argue that it was characters, or the plot that are the basic building blocks, but it is not. Yes, they are important, but I think of those are more like the clay and mortar of the novel.

Scenes are the building block of the story. They are the energy of the story. They are about events that occur in a specific place.

Scenes are a Moment in Time

Scenes are where your characters are in a specific time, a specific locale and where they are doing things that move the story forward toward the next scene and the next act. 

In this edit, you’re making sure that each scene does exactly what the previous statement says. Nothing more, nothing less. Anything that doesn’t fit that description must be eliminated as fluff. Does the description of the paintings on the wall add to the tone of the scene or is it just filler? Does describing the weather foretell of what’s to come in the scene. (Like describing a small cloud on the horizon eventually becoming a storm). Get to the point, show up what is happening to our characters. Paint us a picture of what is happening to them. Can you picture your scene like a scene from a movie? If not, try it. Write what you see in action terms. Look at your next scene. Analyze and correct that scene and connect it to the previous one with narrative.

Yes, thinking can be a scene and so can dialogue, and remember you don’t want your characters just to be talking heads. They have to be doing things too, like a woman kissing a man, cleaning the house, and fighting a storm.

Give your readers scenes they can see, touch, hear and wonder over. Write for the senses and emotions and to mull over. Make those locations come alive. Remember that people see, move, smell, taste, and touch  their surroundings.

Break Up Monologues  

If you’re going to use a scene with a lot of thought or dialogue where either one person is thinking without interaction with someone else or multiple characters speaking back and forth, make sure the reader knows the who, where, and when of the scene. Don’t write from the aspect of a talking or thinking head for two pages. Interrupt that thought with reminders that put us in a place. Remind us why you are showing us why the character is having these thoughts, and then go back to those thoughts.

 Don’t give us only talking heads, existing independently of all else (I know, this has been discussed before, but, at this point, be sure that every one of these have been handled.)

 If you choose to throw in back story, first show us where the character is, and what brought about these deep thoughts of the past. Does the character walk around randomly thinking of the past? Does he pick up something that relates to what he’s saying? Unless your character is naturally crazy, go for something that sets him off. And don’t forget to let us know what’s happening while the character is off remembering. Ground the character—and the reader—in a place and then do your thing with deep thoughts. Include reminders of place, passage of time, and events happening while the characters talk. For instance, you could show someone smoking and the cigarette getting shorter and the speaker taking a puff.

Show Characters Interacting with Their Environment

Use description in scenes, but don’t just create descriptions. Your characters need to be interacting with their location, with other characters, and their own demons.

 Rewrite narrated scenes. Make the story events real. Force the reader to live those events with the characters, to feel their emotions, their pain and their shock!

Be sure that each scene is written from a single POV character who is experiencing this scene. If you’re using deep POV, make sure that your character’s thoughts are not betraying him.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

Click here to pick up your free copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist.


working on the third draft

When Michelangelo was asked how he was able to create such a beautiful statue when he created his Statue of David, he told him that David was already there in the rock. All he did was cut away what wasn’t part of the statue. If you have worked hard to get your second draft to the best place that you could, your book is now the point where it too is like the statue. Everything is there. All you have to do is cut away what isn’t part of your story.

In your second draft, your novel should have expanded it beyond the anticipated word count. In your third draft, it is time to start cutting out what doesn’t belong in your book and tightening your prose.

Before beginning the third draft, read through your manuscript, focusing in on what needs to be eliminated.

Cut the Chitchat

I believe that the easiest place to start editing what doesn’t belong is in your manuscript’s dialogue. It is also one of the elements that demand ruthless scrutiny. I know we have gone through this before when we were working on the second draft, but going through your dialogue again now will  

The importance of editing dialogue cannot be overstated. It is the primary interaction methods between characters. Dialogue drives attitude, enables and motivates conflict, mirrors personal development, and so much more. If you tend to be heavy on the dialogue like most people, you’ll need to ruthlessly edit your dialogue.

Remember that every piece of dialogue needs to serve the story. Every conversation must move the story forward. Look for stretches of dialogue that don’t serve the story and delete them. For instance, a conversation of a family eating dinner and setting up the sense of normality before your inciting incident occurs might seem a good idea, but does it really?

If your characters are just making chitchat that is not relevant to your story, you’d do better to remove the conversation all together or at least review it. Is it possible to re-work this dialogue so it also speaks to deeper issues? Perhaps you could use the scene to foreshadow future events or help develop a better understanding of either the protagonist or the antagonist. 

Characters Shouldn’t Always Say What They Are Thinking

Another common problem with dialogue is that when we talk in real life, we rarely say what we are really thinking. What we say rarely connects directly with our thoughts. Instead, we allude, suggest, try to persuade and negotiate, often to clumsy effect, when talking. There’s a difference there between negotiation and deceit, but we don’t tend to spill all the fine details of our thoughts or intentions.

Imagine a scene where three characters are being chased by a bear. They run across a creek and toward a large oak.

As they go, one character grabs a limb. She quickly formulates a plan in her mind.

Does she:

1. Yell. “Quick, grab my arm.”

or

2. does she shout “Here! Take my arm! I’ll pull you up after me and we can get away from that bear.”

The first option feels more natural. There’s no time for explanation. It also doesn’t give the reader further information about what the plan is once our trio reaches the alley. This character may indeed know exactly what she plans to do next, but the reader shouldn’t have this information. It’s better keep the actions in the moment and out of the character’s head.

Introducing body language is an ideal way to avoid the trap of overusing adverbs in your dialogue tags – telling the reader that someone says something “angrily” or “despondently.”

People aren’t just talking heads, so make sure to address their body language along with the words they say, and you’ll paint a much more vivid and involving picture for your reader. Body language is also useful if you find yourself editing stretches of dialogue that feel too long. The interactions and information within the dialogue may be essential to the story – and perfectly well written in terms of the inter-character chatter – but it just runs on for too long in one big block. However, as stated in an earlier post, don’t overdo the body language. Knowing when you are using enough is part of the reason that writing fiction is considered an art.

But beyond the mouth, remember to tap into the thoughts of the character.  Avoid giving too much exposition, in other words, telling, not showing.

Now is a good time to read your dialogue aloud to see if it flows natually. If you stumble over words, or everything feels too robotic—rewrite. It also helps to get into character when you’re reading your dialogue – taking on the affectations and attitude of each character to see if it too is natural. This way, you can also easily tell if your characters clearly have their own voices and aren’t blending together – or, worse, failing to differentiate themselves from your narrative voice.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR FREE NOVEL EDITING CHECKLIST TODAY


In fiction, pacing refers to how quickly or how slowly the action of the story unfolds. Pacing is important because it helps to keep the reader interested and maintains a desired atmosphere and tone of your story. A suspense thriller shouldn’t move at a crawl, just as a romance move too quickly. In an earlier post, I discussed some of the aspects of pacing as it relates to dialogue, this time we are discussing other techniques used to speed up or slow down pace.

As you write your novel, you will need to plan the rise and fall of your novel’s plot and action. Taking time to outline your novel can help with pacing because you can see at a glance where there is concentrated actions or events and where movement should be slower. Sometimes your action might be too slow, and you need to speed it up at other times, you might need to spread out the face-paced moments of peril and adventure and include a few pages where the reader and characters can catch their breath (and possibly add a little humor).

The Act You’re in Determines Your Scene’s Pace

Your novel pacing should be determined by the type of Scene you’ve constructed. In addition, certain things will be happening in your novel at specific times or acts. For instance, if you are using the three-act structure, there is an opening, middle and end to the story. In first act, you’ll introduce readers to the main conflict and main characters. The second act is where you develop that conflict and help the reader understand why it came about and how it is affecting your characters. The Third act brings the conflict to a head and brings resolution.

Each of these sections of your novel will have different pacing. The first act usually doesn’t dawdle and take its time hooking the reader into the story. In the second act you can push and pull pacing more. If in the first act your protagonist (main character) is struggling with a desire to fall in love, the middle act can show him slowly giving in to (or overcoming) this urge. There can be moments of calm and moments of high tension.

In the third act, though, the pace usually increases as tension builds. The cracks have started to show in your main character’s personal life – he can no longer keep her love for the other person a secret. The stakes increase and the reader wants to know how it will all end.

To make the pace move at the correct speed in each of these larger structural units, think about the purpose of each act. If you want to grip the reader, use conflicts and move your characters from scene to scene creating a sense of momentum. However, if you want to give the reader some respite before the major climax, you can slow your story pacing and lessen the conflict and tension for a while.

Hone Your Pacing Skills

Hone your book’s pacing by reading the thrillers and spy novels. Even if they aren’t your preferred genre, read bestsellers who have mastered pacing. This will help you to understand how to make your plot ebb and flow engrossingly.

Make notes as you read on pace. Note elements such as:

  • Any time reference in the book
  • The number of pages in each chapter
  • Why you think short chapters are short and what effect they have on momentum.

Sentence Structure—A Simple Strategy to Speed up and Slow Down Pace

Use sentence structure to manipulate your novel’s pacing. Pacing in writing is affected by sentence length. Think about it. You’re reading this faster. There are fewer words. The sentences are simpler. When you want the reader to feel events are coming to an important climax, shorter sentences can be effective.

Shorter sentences keep the pace moving by not losing action in lengthy sentences and detailed descriptions. Of course, you could also keep your writing descriptive until the conversation starts and then alter the pace, to create sudden tension. These are the choices you will need to make regarding sentence structure: Where will the story start to move? Where will characters sit back and admire the scenery? How will you bring it all together into one cohesive story?

Slow your story’s pace with focus shifts and put detail into longer chapters.

Vary Pace

Seldom does a novel hurtle along without the occasional strategic pause that allows your characters and your readers to gather their wits. There are several ways to slow down your story in strategic places. You can reduce the pace of a story by shifting focus to a secondary subplot for a while to take the heat off your main story line. One way to do this is by writing longer chapters and by being more generous with extra descriptive details. Also, you might want to have fewer things happen per location or scene.

A great novel has some scenes that hurtle along while others dawdle and meander. It has balance. Some genres have more of the hurtling (such as thrillers) while others more of the dawdling (many character-driven dramas and romances). Whatever type of novel you’re working on, getting pacing in writing right will keep readers entertained and committed to finishing your book.

Pacing Techniques

Pacing manipulates time. The elements of time delineated in your story or screenplay include the time of day or period; scene versus summary; flashback; and foreshadowing. The novel’s elements of time tell us when the story is being told as compared to when the events of the story took place. What is that distance? When does the story begin? When does it end? What narrative strategies do you convey to convey that sense of time?

As we’ve said in previous posts, scenes are the building blocks of all fiction. In order to have a crisis moment, scenes indicate a moment in time and are not summarized. A summary covers a longer period of time in a shorter passage. A scene covers a short period of time in a longer passage. What could take only a few seconds in real time might be covered in paragraphs, even pages, depending upon the writer and the event.

Instead of summarizing a scene, try to picture them in your head as though they were happening on a movie screen. Sometimes, when you are writing a first draft, you might summarize an event, but the scene is how you dramatize the action. You must learn to balance the scenes and use the exposition gracefully.

As I have said in other posts, every scene should have some form of conflict, even if it is just in the mind of the POV character. Just as in a story you have conflict, crisis and resolution, each scene should have a similar shape. Move your story forward using scenes that specific important behavior of your characters. Transitions of time or location that is secondary to the plot can be expressed in a narrative bridge that summarizes otherwise boring events. (If your character is taking a train trip across the country, but no significant events occur in that train trip, simply go to the next event by saying something like, ‘Nancy took a train to her destination and met her friends at a local café.”

Summarize secondary Dialogue

Dialogue that is secondary can similarly be summarized. So, if you find dialogue that expresses information that is fairly routine or not too interesting, you should summarize it. For instance if your character is sharing information that was shared before, but want the receiving character’s reaction (and it is significant to the story) you can write something like, ‘Joe told Julie about his pay raise. Julie could now start planning their wedding.’

 For example, to avoid boring dialogue when exchanging greetings. Simply say they exchanged greetings.

Challenging Pacing Techniques

If there is a scene that you are having trouble with, especially one that provides a turning point in the story, focus in on that scene. Could it use action, not necessarily physical action, but movement, change? Expand that scene and explore the interpersonal dynamics of the characters. Dramatize and see how the balance of power in the scene changes.

Setting incorporates place, but you also have to consider the time of the year, the time of day and how you reveal this information without being too obvious. This information is not always essential but depends upon your story. Basically, you’re ‘establishing shot’.  Just remember to be consistent and to make the timing logical. It might be boring to mention ‘in the morning,’ but you could use other words to show time of day. However, don’t skip this time element altogether since it adds facts about the characters and their surroundings. If a family is having supper, then we know the time of day. If a character is wearing shorts, this establishes the time of year.

Handling Flashbacks

Flashbacks provide emphasis and balance within a novel. It’s possible they may be used to enrich the narrative, and you might want to rearrange the chronology of your story during your editing process using this technique.

A flashback is a narrative passage that takes us back into the past of when the story is set.  I personally usually write the first draft in chronological order, including everything in order that they occurred for the character, but often, I cut out earlier scenes put them in flashback to create a better flow of events in the story.

A flashback slows down the pace of the story. The flashback reveals something about the character that we didn’t know before that explains things by showing not telling. You should use it when the character is going into a situation that varies from the behavior that we have come to expect from him or her. However, you need to be sure that the flashback you have selected tells us something relevant to the story. There’s nothing worse than slowing down the action with a flashback that doesn’t contribute to the story.

You might use a flashback if, in the present of the story, the character has an unexpected reaction to an event (like Indiana Jones’ fear of snakes) , and you want to provide an explanation for their behavior.

Beware of using flashbacks as a way to avoid conflict you want to emphasize tension and anxiety in your novel, not limit it.   

A question that is always asked is about how to construct a flashback. The mechanics of the flashback technique can be difficult to manipulate and may create cumbersome verb constructions. To prevent this, keep the transition into the flashback as simple as possible. If you are writing the story in the past tense, you can begin the flashback in past perfect. You can use ‘had’ plus the verb a couple of times. Then you can switch to the simple past.

You don’t always have to use a flashback to include past events in your story. Instead of flashback, you might use dialogue, narration or some detail to give the required information. Also, remember the power of inference. There may be more going on in the background of a character than you reveal in the actual prose. Be economical with your words. Imply what you can about the character or situation without being obvious. Flashback reveals information at the right time, but it may not be part of the central action. Flashback is an effective technique to show the reader more about character and theme.

Foreshadowing

Foreshadowing is another technique that plays with narrative time and slow down the forward movement of the action. It is not actual conflict, but the promise of conflict. The technique of foreshadowing promises that things go from bad to worse. One way to foreshadow is to place something early in the book that makes a conflict or resolution seem realistic at the end. A question comes up later in the story that can be answered later. Foreshadowing can be used to get the reader through a section of a narrative. For example, you could create suspense by something that will happen:

For instance, what happened in the massacre at the beginning of Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, not only impacts the end of Soldiers, but it also creates a foreshadowing the entire premise of A Coward’s Solace. Because of this event, those other two events make sense to the reader.  If the story questions are strong, then your reader will stay interested in the narrative.

Of course, you need to use this technique judiciously. You can employ the minor characters to foreshadow the actions of the major characters, for example. If you make a promise by foreshadowing, then make sure to fulfill the promise; otherwise, the reader will tell you about it in their reviews!

With foreshadowing, it might be better to err on the obvious side because if your attempts are too subtle, there will be no shadows to see.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

FOR YOUR FREE EDITING CHECKLIST CLICK HERE


What is Deep POV?

Deep Point of View (Deep POV) is a style of writing that encourages readers to experience the story through a single character’s perspective at a time, making the events of the story more personal and compelling. This technique is a popular one in modern genre fiction, as it mimics the experience viewers have when watching many of their favorite films.

It cuts the narrative tags of “said” and other words that replace “said” that jerk a reader out of the character’s head. By using deep POV, the reader steps right into the character’s shoes. For strong, emotional writing, Deep POV is a skill that every novelist should learn and conquer. Although it can be difficult at first, it is so important, that I have written an entire post just on this skill.

Deep POV eliminates narrative tags that remind the reader that they are not the hero or heroine of the story. Deep POV adds depth of emotion while stuff is happening, rather than apart from it in patches. This makes the passage more interesting and weaves emotion through the scene right through the action and dialogue. It draws the reader in by  providing that emotional punch that takes your story from a manuscript to a riveting tale by drawing the character into the story’s emotions.  Deep POV, with all its jam-packed emotion, grabs your reader with hard-hitting emotional punch! In this way, our writing takes on a life of its own.

With Deep POV you can utilize any tense and grammatical person (e.g. first-person, third-person, etc.), making this technique fairly adaptable to your style and your story’s needs. What defines a certain type of storytelling as being written in Deep POV is its subjective nature, distinct character voice, and limited marks of authorship.

Deep POV gives a third person POV a first person POV feel.  With Deep POV, you weave in sights, scents and sounds while the characters dialogue. You get inside the POV character’s head.  You show action and dialogue while at the same time you learn the POV character’s emotional response to what is going on.

How to Master Deep POV

To do deep POV right, we have to leave narrative tags behind. Tags like “he said, she screamed/whispered/wondered/thought/cried” which without Deep POV are necessary evils and drag the reader out of the story reminding them that it is just a story. Sometimes they must be used for clarity, but rarely in deep POV. This works equally for comedy as suspense or straight romance or any genre. It automatically cuts down on adverbs. Deep POV involves using signature actions to identify characters, using only one person’s thought, but never saying “he thought”. Weaving emotion right through dialogue and action is the key to this emotional punch.

In order to get your reader to be able to identify with your character, you have to first identify with the your characters. I have found a fun way to do this. I interview my Interview my characters not only to separate myself from the character, but also so that I can identify with that character.  

Become Your POV Character

As time goes on, I become my POV character! Role-playing is a fantastic method to give real, true emotional depth to my characters. I do this all the time. Sometimes I’ll take a scene and look at it from inside every character’s head. I create soundtracks and signature of smells for my book, so that I feel I am in their world. I close my eyes and put myself right into the world where they are. I try lines for specific scenes and feel the emotion. I’ll then back up and look at the scene from just the viewpoint of POV character and have that character look at each of the other characters and notice how each of the other characters is reacting to the scene unfolding. Everything then is only what the POV character sees and feels during that scene in relation to what the other characters are saying and doing.

I have a new novel coming out later this year called The Tower of Babel. It is a departure from the Locket Saga because it is a contemporary suspense mystery. To set this scene up, our POV character is at a party where she learns that the man she is working with is friends with the family whose child she surrogated. She doesn’t want the man she works with to know about it.

Have you ever read a book in which you felt one with the point-of-view character? That’s what can easily happen when you are reading a book written in Deep POV.

From the very first page, the author drops you in the protagonist’s shoes, encouraging you to see their world and experience their journey through their eyes. It’s novels like these that are often so easy to consume, and deep POV makes many of them tick.

Parameters of Deep POV

Once you’ve taken the time to develop your characters, it is time to go even deeper into POV. Here are a few key parameters to keep in mind.

  1. Limit your character’s knowledge
  2. Cut filter words
  3. Limit dialogue and thought tags
  4. Show Don’t Tell
  5. Become your POV character
  6. Avoid passive voice
  7. Avoid character thought explanations
  8. Handle hide your POV character’s thoughts carefully
  9. Avoid having the POV character asking questions in his internal dialogue.
  10. Avoid having POV characters filling the reader in on story facts.

In most contemporary fiction, characters don’t speak to readers. They don’t acknowledge that they’re even there. If you want readers lost in your fictional world, you don’t want to do anything that reminds them they’re reading fiction. Once characters acknowledge readers, readers become distracted by story structure. The reader is no longer a participant but revert to being an audience. The reader sees more than the events of the story, he sees the framework and the individual pieces and loses the fictional flow.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

GET YOUR FREE EDITING CHECKLIST TODAY


Time to Edit Your Novel

During the past several weeks in my blogs about editing novels, I have been about dialogue and this week I am continuing on this theme. This week we’re going over an important aspect of dialogue that actually relates to every aspect of the novel and that is, it must be interesting enough to keep the reader engaged. I know I have mentioned this before, but this is so important, I have designated an entire post to this subject.

Why Are We Having This Conversation?

When writing a conversation between characters, it is important that these conversations draw your readers along through the story and move the story forward. Every conversation in your novel must have a point that draws the story forward or that conversation should be eliminated from the story. When editing your dialogue, be conscious of what you want to achieve. What information o you want to pass to the reader. Do you want to get the reader get to know one or more of your character better? Knowing dialogue’s purpose beforehand allows you to direct your conversation.

Be sure that your dialogue sounds like real people talking. Ask yourself as you edit, “Does it sound like a real conversation or does it sound contrived.

Determine the correct topic for the conversation. What goals do you want the conversation to accomplish? Determine if this is the right place in the story to have this conversation or would it be better to have it earlier or later in the book.

If two people are just getting to know one another in the story, try to find things that they have in common interest that the reader would also find interesting. Discovering common likes and dislikes opens up a bond between two people. It harnesses the human touch to one’s relationship.

Maintaining Reader Interest During Monologues

Keep the theme of the conversation interesting to the reader. If you find that a conversation between characters is getting boring, cut. If you find that your reader is likely to skip over a portion of dialogue, delete it. (that goes for any portion of your novel. If it isn’t moving the story forward or keeping the reader engaged, cut it.)

Create Empathy in Your Reader for your characters, especially the POV character. Create a conversation where the reader will put him or herself in the shoes of the people in the conversation.

To help avoid what appears to be a monopoly, have your characters listening to and validating the other person thereby creating a dialogue. Rather than leaving one long passage, break it up with another character’s reaction to what the other character is saying.

Clarity, Please!

Allow your characters to show action and use their senses between sections of dialogue. If the one character misunderstands the other, allow the character to be misunderstood and make the conversation seem real. In addition, you can have characters ask for clarification to show the character’s interest in the topic. This also shows if the character is paying attention. If not, show it in the dialogue.

By creating dialogue that is realistic, your reader will better identify with what is being said and will create a better reading experience.

Get Your Copy of The Comprehensive Novel Editing Checklist

If you have a first draft that you would love to publish this year, be sure to pick up a copy of my novel editing checklist and if you haven’t already, sign up to make sure that you never miss a post of this editing series. 

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As writers, we should be ever evolving in our craft. This is why it is helpful to hear what others have to say about the editing process because it helps us develop better writing skills. Sometimes we hear advice that seems logical, but then we realize that maybe we need to take that advice with a grain of salt. Here are some strategies that defy some of the rules we’ve been told about writing dialogue.

Should Our Characters Always Stay on Topic?

We have been told that “dialogue should stay on topic”. However, in real life we talk in spurts and in incoherent mumbles, grunts, and murmurs while we try to form our thoughts. We stumble on our words and correct ourselves. We pause and reflect. We backtrack. We circle around in tangents. If our character is to seem realistic, our character’s dialogue needs to do the same.

These reveal character traits and priorities. If dialogue is too focused and direct, it’ll sound predictable and flat. Readers want to see the motivations, the quirks, the uniqueness our characters. These add texture when our characters speak.

When one character asks another character a question that the other character doesn’t want to answer, a great technique for showing that the character doesn’t want to answer the question is by having the character interrupt, change the subject and attempt to stay on their own course even though the conversation has taken a different course. Conversations overlap to reveal the characters’ attitudes.

At times you’ll want your dialogue to be layered with meaning to show character goals of, social context of the conversation and the scene’s subtext. Subtext and innuendo bring depth to triviality so sometimes it is important to include trivial things to the conversation. What the reader is witnessing is not what lies at the heart of the scene.

Scenes with romantic tension will often have dialogue in which the characters banter or engage in small talk. But in those instances, it’s what’s going on beneath the surface that matters most. Identify the core tension of the scene, then plumb subtext and use apparent triviality to your advantage in dialogue. Of course, not every scene will need subtext, but when you want to emphasize the emotional, subtext is necessary.

Dialogue digressions can also be useful. You can use them to insert red herrings, foreshadow important events, reveal clues about what motivates your characters, or add new dramatic elements to the story line.

Use Dialogue in the Context of What Each Character Trying to Accomplish in this Scene?

Another Mistake often made in dialogue comes from the advice to “dialogue as you would actually speak.

Although in real life people speak primarily to give information, in fiction a conversation is not simply a way for something to be expressed. In writing, rather than asking yourself, “What does this character need to say?” ask, “What does this character need to accomplish in this scene?”

Create mutually exclusive goals for each character in the scene to create tension which affects how the conversation will play out. When determining your character’s response to stimuli, remember that his agenda toward the other person will trump the topic of conversation.

Give each character an agenda. The speaker might be trying to impress the other person, entertain her, seduce her or punish her. Whatever it is, the goal—whether stated explicitly or not—shapes everything that’s said.

Often you can move the story forward more effectively by having the characters respond in a way that implies an answer, showing that they’re reading between the lines of what was said or have questions of their own.

“SAID” and other Dialogue Tags

It’s true that you’ll want to avoid cluttering your story with obtrusive speaker attributions. They can and will become a distraction. Readers will stop being present in the story and will start looking for your next synonym for “said”.  They will realize that you own a thesaurus and know how to use it, but they don’t want to learn new words, they just want to hear your story.

On the other hand, “said” can become tiresome when it appears repeatedly on the same page. And, when used improperly, it can be proof that you are a novice writer.

“Kayla said” does not equal “said Kayla.”

To hear how your dialogue reads, try inserting the pronoun instead of the character’s name. For example:

“That’s an awesome boat,” Mark said.

“That’s an awesome boat,” he said.

Both of those statements make sense. But look at what happens when you write it the other way:

“That’s an awesome boat,” said Mark.

“That’s an awesome car,” said he.

If you wouldn’t write “said he” then don’t write “said Bob.” Stick with placing the speaker’s name before the verb unless there’s an overwhelming contextual reason not to.

Don’t use attributions simply to indicate who’s speaking. Use them to create pauses reflected in actual speech, to characterize, and even to orchestrate the pace and movement of the scene.

Additionally, speaker attributions can be used to maintain or diminish status. Compare the two following sentences.

“Come here,” he said. “Now.”

“Come here now,” he said.

The placement of the speaker attribution in the first example creates a pause that emphasizes the last word and raises the dominance of the speaker.

You Don’t Always Have to Avoid Long Speeches

Sometimes allowing a character to have her say reveals more about her than forcing her to speak in sound bites ever could.

When deciding whether to let a character launch into a diatribe, consider if she’s trying to get her say in before anyone else can interrupt. Also, take into account the buildup of tension that precedes the speech. Like a garden hose, the more pressure, the more dramatic the release.

Must Your Dialogue to be Grammatically Correct?

Always be willing to break conventions when it’s in the service of the story and the reader. Getting the story right is more important than being grammatically correct.

In dialogue, sentence fragments sound more realistic to readers than complete sentences do. Cut semicolons from dialogue. Cut semicolons from any fiction. If you find them, it’s usually because you’re trying to include complex sentences that wouldn’t sound natural. Choose commas and periods instead.

Are Talking Heads Always a Bad Thing?

Just as dialogue should reveal the intention of the characters, so should the actions that they take while they’re speaking. When we read that a character folded his arms, we’ll naturally wonder why he’s doing that. What is it meant to convey about his attitude or emotional response to what’s happening? Don’t confuse your readers by inserting needless movement. Rather, include action only as long as it adds to the scene or enriches it. If the action doesn’t convey anything essential, drop it.

It is sometimes okay that the reader doesn’t see what the character is doing when speaking. If you find your character brushing his nose or repositioning his chair or crossing his legs and so forth for no other reason than to provide a respite from the dialogue, recast the scene.

Keep Characters’ Speech Consistent?

When I am at work, I talk differently to other teachers than do with students. When I am talking with elementary children, I speak with them differently than I speak with high school students. In addition, I treat my daughter differently than I treat my husband or sons. A character should not respond the same to every other character exactly the same.

Dialogue needs to be honest for each character in that situation. Don’t try to make your characters consistent in the sense of always sounding the same, but rather allow them to remain in character within each unique social context.

If one of my characters responses exactly the same to every other character, I need to consider rewriting. Each character’s history with  other characters affect the character’s tone, word choice, grammar, sentence structure, use of idioms, everything. Even his posture is likely to have changed.

So, if a character is highly educated and every time she speaks she’s using impressive words, it gets old. The character will seem one-dimensional. In addition, if she’s from the south and says “You’all all the time, she will become cllched.

Few people are always blunt, always angry, always helpful. We speak differently in different situations. Mood, goals, state of mind fluctuate. This ties in with character believability. Remember: status, context, intention.

Yes, we’ve gone over all of this before, but it really does improve your novel when you give characters a goal, a history and an attitude toward the other people in the conversation. And always strive for honest, believable responses rather than scripted ones. Don’t be afraid to play with your conversations within your scenes. The more human you can make your characters, the more your reader will identify with them.

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