Writing Tip: Dialogue Tag Overload

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I spend a lot of my time beta reading for other authors, and one thing that flags a new writer to me is their use of dialogue tags.

What is a dialogue tag? 

The most common one is the word “said.”

  • “I want to go to the park,” Timmy said.
  • Ariana said, “I can’t believe she wore that.”

But some writers are clever and vary the word “said” such as using words like… “added” “interjected” “asked” “yelled” “pleaded” “questioned” etc.

  • “I want to go to the park,” Timmy demanded.
  • Ariana sighed, “I can’t believe she wore that.”

This is great, here and there, but when you read pages of dialogue and every line has one of these tags, it slows down the pacing.

Dialogue tags do have a place. Using a fancy one, such as “yelled” definitely adds to the story, but here’s what would be better…

Show me how they say their words. Describe their actions and their feelings, rather than tell me with a dialogue tag.

  • “I want to go to the park!” Timmy stomped his foot and cross his arms. His eyebrows narrowed into a V above his nose.
  • Ariana glanced around the room, then leaned onto the table. She dropped her voice and rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe she wore that.”

Now, let’s return to that important concept called pacing. An entire conversation packed with descriptors as in the last examples would really slow down the reading. That’s where a nice combination of dialogue tags, description, and floating dialogue make a conversation between people flow.

Here’s an example from a short story I just wrote. Not perfect, but an example of using a dialogue tag (Devora asked) mixed with action descriptors and dialogue without any description at all:

Arriving home that night, Derek was already there. “Busy day?” Devora asked.

“Not at all. All the crime must be under control.” He sat on the couch in shorts and a t-shirt, watching some sports ball game.

She pulled her phone out. “Well, I had a busy day. I broke my phone.”

“Why’d you do that?”

She clenched her hands into fists. “I was trying to text you.”

“Was something wrong?”

“Just some type of drug crime going on.”

Derek turned away from the TV and arched an eyebrow at her. “And you didn’t let me know?”

“I told you I broke my phone.” She wiggled her phone’s shattered screen at him, then tossed it on the end table. “You can’t rely on me for everything! I have my own job to do. One that you seem to not take seriously, but I do a lot of good things too.”

When I write, I try to use the least amount of dialogue tags possible, and when I read something that’s littered with them, I find myself detached from the writing and distracted from the story. This is just another one of the many ways to shift your writing from telling the reader what’s going on to showing them.

**Of note: If you need to throw in a dialogue tag, I’ve read that you’re best to just use the old-fashioned “said” because it turns invisible to the reader–minimal slowing of the pace.

So next time you’re writing “said” or “interjected” take a look if it’s really needed to portray to your reader who’s speaking.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on dialogue tags, and when you read, what flags a story as coming from a new writer to you?

Writing Tip: Cutting Pesky Adverbs

WRITING TIP_

I love beta reading a good story, and I’ve done a lot of it in the past  year. From the first page of a story, I can tell a new writer from one that’s more experienced by a handful of things I read. One of them is adverb use.

I think everyone knows what an adverb is…but as a refresher, it’s a word used to modify a verb, adjective, or another adverb. Usually it is a descriptor clarifying How, How Often, When, or Where. What does that mean? Many adverbs don’t end in the hallmark -ly, but most of them do, like happily, softly, quickly, etc. that changes the meaning of the verb. Examples:

  • spoke softly
  • walked quietly
  • Easily avoided a punch
  • Quickly ran away
  • Deadly gaze

So, what’s wrong with adverbs? While I’m reading, these -ly adverbs makes my brain halt while I change my perception of the verb being modified. I lose imagery of the story while I wonder exactly what does the change mean. In the examples above:

  • spoke softly (I wonder what does it mean to speak softly. Is the character whispering? Did his/her voice drop an octave?)
  • walked quietly (How is that accomplished? Tiptoed? Sneaked? Took off shoes?)
  • Easily avoided a punch (I can’t picture this? Did the character sway out of the way? Drop to the floor? Blocked it some how?)
  • Quickly ran away (Doesn’t running mean quickly? Otherwise it’d be called walking. If it’s faster than a regular run, then sprinted away would work.)
  • Deadly gaze (What is a deadly gaze? Drool? Teeth barred? Wrinkled eyebrows? Piercing eyes?)

My writing tip: Cut adverbs whenever possible. If you can replace the verb with a more descriptive/powerful verb, your readers will thank you. Here’s some stronger verb ideas to replace the simple word “walked”: (For a bigger list of 195 different verbs to spice up your writing, check out Jerry Jenkin’s site HERE)

  • Strolled
  • Glided
  • Marched
  • Tromped
  • Wandered
  • Prowled

See how the words immediately give you a mental visual? A clearer one than “walked loudly” or “carefully walked” would?

Why do newer writers add excessive adverbs? I’m guilty of this too. Years ago, I remember thinking that to make a well-crafted story, I needed to add more descriptors to my writing. Adverbs are easy descriptors. Describing what happens in detail takes more skill. I still use them in my first draft or two, but before putting a final draft to beta readers, I spend the time and energy to remove as many of them as I can.

Two ways I fix my own writing:

  1. I use http://www.prowritingaid.com as a tool to identify adverb use. I find it works best when a 3000 word chunk of text is fed through it, rather than an entire document. (You may be under the limit of “acceptable adverbs” in an entire document, but still have sections that have too many adverbs in the same place.) Also, just because it says adverb use is within normal range, it doesn’t mean you still shouldn’t cut them more.
  2. I sometimes just search for -ly words and begin the painful task of deciding if it can be cut out without changing the meaning of the sentence or if I need a stronger verb. I also have a list of those other adverbs I use to much. “Just” is a BIG one for me.

Here’s a reference on adverbs, said much better than I could ever do from Stephen King.

I’m not a writing expert and still choose to use some adverbs in my writing. I do it all the time…I love saying truly, really, and actually to name a few. Honestly, I think there is a place for adverbs — sometime. (Did you notice my adverbs in that sentence?)

I challenge you to take a look at your words ending in -ly and cut them out. As many as possible. Your readers will thank you.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on adverbs, and when you read, what flags a story as coming from a new writer to you?

Is Your Book Done Yet? (Part 3)

Maybe the question should be, “Is this blog series done yet? Ha Ha! No. Not yet. There’s so much information I want to share. Check out PART 1 or PART 2 of this series if you’re just joining now.

The question I’ve been asking all week, “How long did it take you to write your most recent book(s)?” My official answer to that question is this:

I wrote Love, Lies, & Clones in 8 or 9 months, but I was also working on two other novels in that time that will come out in 2017 (“Blood & Holy Water” and “Superhero Wives”). I get tired of one project and need something else to take my mind off of it, so I can come back with a fresh eye.

But how long should it take me? What if I want to keep my “fans” happy? 

I’ve been overhearing that the best way to have people notice your novels is to write another…and another. Keep giving them new material to read. In this article HERE, it says many authors publish four books a year. Wow…but ouch!

I ask, what QUALITY were those books? I’m sure many authors are completely capable of producing four fantastic, well-written novels per year, but I am not. And that’s okay.

I say it’s a balancing act. Keep getting fresh material out in the world, however long it takes you, so that you don’t sacrifice quality. A fan will be happier waiting for a well written novel than reading the next hacked-together installment quickly. But that’s just my opinion–one I need to keep telling myself as I (slowly) plug away finishing my works-in-progress.

Now, if you’re looking to have writing be the method in which you earn your living, then four novels a year is probably a necessity. I imagine, the more you write, the easier they get.

Okay, here’s the fun part. Some authors speak out on how long it took to write their novel(s).

Today’s Spotlight: ROMANCE / WOMEN’S FICTION / ANTHOLOGIES Authors

Note: You can CLICK any book cover below to learn more. You may find your next novel to read!

QUESTION: How long did it take you to write your most recent book(s)?

Beneath

 

 Kyla Stone: I’ve had the idea bouncing around in my head for over a decade. From outlining/plotting, through the rough draft, revisions, final, editing, etc. took six months.

 

 

amnesiaRunaway Marissa Marchan: With this novel, My Runaway Bride, it took me a little over three months. But it actually took longer to edit the book than it did to write it. Even after I got it back from the editor, I still went through a round of self-edits until I finally satisfied. All in all, it took me eight months before I entered it to Kindle Scout.

Mask

 Laura Greenwood: My most recent published is What Lies Beneath the Mask, which I started in late January and published on the 1st December. It took me about 2 1/2 months to write the first draft, around my day job and other commitments. However, the last novel I wrote, Siren’s Storm, took just under a month (I had a slow start to NaNo!) So that’s pretty much the benchmark now!

Lil

 

 

 Ruth White: The time actually spent writing was about six months. Planning it in my head and researching took a few years.

home whit 

L. Virally: It took me several years, and I don’t even know the exact count. I had to stop and start many times due to some difficult life events.

 

 

Ideal Girl

 Unhappyhttps://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B01G2NVJJY/ Paris 

Jenny O’Brien: Englishwoman in Paris, which was released three weeks ago took four months from the germ of the idea to publication. 

What are your thoughts on multi-part blog series, like this one, and spotlighting Q&A with indie authors?

 

Other Spectacular Novels to Check Out!

Winter Christmas Merely Players Blackwelder Whyte Love From Mars flowers

Would You Keep Reading?

I’m moving right along for Camp NaNoWriMo with editing Love, Lies, & Clones.  One of the first items on my novel editing checklist is to share the first page with someone to see if they would continue to read the story.  If not, then I need to rewrite it.  So…  Here’s the first page, if you could help me by giving me your feedback, I’d really appreciate it.

There is a poll on the bottom of the page, please vote and fell free to offer me any suggestions you have.  Thanks in advance!

I almost spilled my second cup of coffee when Thursday sprang off my bed and rushed to the front door with his tail wagging.

I put the coffee down and followed him. “What is it?” I asked, trying to further excite him. I loved seeing his energy. His entire hind end swayed in rhythm to his tail and his ears perked up. I watched the man approach my door though he digital intercom display while I wondered who would visit me. Someone must be looking for my neighbor.

Crap! The chocolate brown eyes and round face gave him away. My father found me. I fought my instinct to crawl back in bed and bury myself under the covers and go back to sleep.

Instead, I took a minute and gathered my courage while Thursday bounded beside me with his tail wagging and letting out a few excited barks.

I cracked the old wooden door open. “What do you want?” the words were harsher than I expected. “It’s been three years.”

“Can I come in?” He was polite, yet his voice held an edge to it I didn’t remember.

“This is not a good time.” It will never be a good time for him to visit. “I have to go to work in an hour and I still need to get ready.” I didn’t back away from the door, but Thursday tried to push his nose through the gap to get a good sniff of the guest.

My father looked at me, one eyebrow raised and head cocked – the way only a father could do. I let out a heavy sigh and stepped away from the door, allowing him to enter. He strolled across my living room and into my kitchen, finally sitting down at the round pine table. Nothing like making yourself at home.

He looked younger than I remember. Sure, he may have a few more gray hairs and a couple extra crow’s feet wrinkles, but he looked good. Maybe it was because the last time I saw him he was drowning in a bottle of cheap whisky. I examined him for bloodshot eyes, glazed expression, and thought back to our interactions so far. No signs of intoxication.

I didn’t join him at the table. Instead, I distanced myself as much as I could from him, tucking my body in the corner of the kitchen. The lower unit of the duplex I rented was small and despite my attempt, I was still too close to him.

I rubbed my finger on a wear spot on the laminate countertops, waiting for him to speak. Eventually, I gave in to the silence, hoping to get him out of here. “How did you find me?”

“I have my ways,” he said with a sly smile.

“You called James, didn’t you?” Of course he’d call my ex. I had changed all my contact information when I left James, trying to avoid his apologies and pleas, but I ended up giving him my information anyway because we had a house to sell.

Thursday had laid his head on my father’s lap. He avoided my question. “Who’s this?” he said ruffling the light reddish brown fur behind his ears.

I also ignored his question. “Let’s just get to the point. Why are you here?”

“There’s no easy way to say this.” He wrung his hands together. “You need to get out of town.”

I laughed. “You can’t be serious?” Though, he had always been a serious man. “What’s going on?”

“Sit down,” he said eyeing up the kitchen chair across from him.

“Really dad, I don’t have time for this right now. Can you just call me later? I’m sure James gave you all my contact information.”

“Yeah, I have all of it, but this is too important to do over a call.” His voice was firm and, like always, his gaze averted my face. “Sit down.”

I felt like a child again, obeying his command by pulling out a kitchen chair to plop myself down on the blue checkered cushion.

He still looked at his hands. “I’ve been asked to help with another cloning project.”

“And why does this make me need to leave town?”

“I turned them down and am afraid of what they’ll do to make me help them.”

 

Clone Cover

(Version 2 of the cover is above.  I’m happy my daughter posed for the photo.)