Category Archives: Dialogue

When To Delete {Editing Tips}

 

editing

All I can say is: be ruthless when it comes to anything that’s — clunky (awkward), redundant, superfluous, extraneous, clichéd, telling, overdone…

When it comes to having a nice fluidity to your narrative you have to ensure you remove things that simply don’t need to be there, simple! Take them out and if it still works then you are on the right track. Some writers think they have to say it in unique and interesting ways. While, to some extent, that might be true it can, if you work too hard, really feel forced. Then it simply doesn’t work! I have seen some wonderful metaphors and similes lost in a crowd of metaphors and similes! The trick is to use such devices sparingly and in just the right place. This gives them power. Got it?

 

Here are just a few things to ponder… I will talk about filler and the things you can lose from the actual story tomorrow!

  • Description — this is important for allowing the reader to really ‘see inside the moment’, to visualise it as you intended them to, but they don’t need every single detail drawn in for them — just enough and perhaps more importantly to create the right mood, or tone, perhaps, even, to create the right sense of danger if you are leading them to the edge of a cliff face, for example. Sparing, yet vivid wins the day! So it really does come down to how you use your words and which ones. And if in a moment of great tension then whatever you do don’t stop to admire the view, make the description an active part of the movement itself. Look at how other writers do it!

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  • Look at things like attributions; the ‘he said/she said’ in dialogue. You will find that a lot of the time you can remove these as long as you can stay with the flow of the conversation. Better to show some body language so we know who said it. And don’t write  ‘they paused’ — create the pause with an action! None of us stop and pause, well not really! Lose adverbs that are redundant if we can see how something is done or said. Lose different words for said when said is just fine (I have talked about this before!) Punchy and sharp!

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  • Lose clichés as these are considered to be lazy prose! The tears streamed down the face… ugh! How about she dabbed her cheeks or some other more interesting way to show she was crying!

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  • Telling tags: These tell why something is done or said when it’s usually obvious! She stopped the man to ask the time because she was worried she was late. Telling! If we see her rush and ask the time as she rushes we can see it, it’s shown! See what I mean?

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  • Lose ‘that’ and ‘very’ and ‘just’: a lot of the time … see some of my deliberate crossings out. Also see the use of italics when I think the word is more functional so I left it in…  The way that he said it made her smile; he was just so angry (more active?); she was very jealous (though better to show this through actions… right?) Also think about some of the adverbs we overuse! Like ‘suddenly‘… So often there is no other way to interpret the action so lose it and just show the action!

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  • Pleonasms: nodding the headshrugging the shoulders; thinking in the mind… Where else? Get the idea?!!!

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The message here is very simple: if you can lose it, lose it. That way the writing becomes sharper! 🙂 Only repeat expressions or use words that are less functional in a sentence when part of character voice and there is a difference as I will show you later in the week!

Happy Tuesdaying!

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Self Editing: Eveything you need to know

I had planned a post at some point similar to this, but when I read the talented Sharon Zink’s page I decided to share it.

Sharon is an amazing writer and I have had her on my blog. She also does the same job as me in that she offers manuscript appraisals; the same level of detail.

So I decided to share this link because it really is a masterclass in writing and everything on here is exactly the kind of thing I say to clients all the time when I assess their manuscripts…

Take heed fellow scribes!

I am now about to write the homecoming chapter on Pelicans… this is exciting, it’s the final chapter when we reveal the last of the missing pieces… and it’s raining so I am loving the sounds of rain on the roof as I write! The morning goes pitter patter… ❤

Have a wonderful day everyone!

http://sharonzink.com/writing-tips/all-first-drafts-are-sht-so-heres-a-masterclass-on-self-editing/

 

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Voice

Just a really quick post this morning about voice. Some of us think of voice as our own voice as a writer and that is indeed true. This is part of style — how we narrate, the type of words we use etc. but I like to think of the other voice and that’s character.

While there are still some who favour the all-seeing omniscient narrator who is, in essence, you sitting on the outside reporting on all, contemporary literature tends to favour the character viewpoint narrator.

When I was writing lots more short stories, one of the ways I experimented was in finding different voices. Even in a novel that uses multiple narrators; and even in third-person, you still wants to create distinct and individual voices for each narrator. Remember that voice is how that character viewpoint is heard: in thoughts, feelings, reactions as well as dialogue. It is how you connect to your reader.

Think about Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads if you want to think about character voice. While your own authorial voice is in there in how you create the magic; it’s the characters we hear, not you!

That is all. Have a wonderful Wednesday!

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Friday’s Editing Tips [Formatting]

While formatting will be changed for Kindle and the like, it is good practice to get into a submission-ready standardised way of formatting your work as you write. Then change fonts and spacing if required by whoever you are submitting it to but generally most follow the same basic guidelines.

Here are some tips from a handout I like to share:

A Few Simple Tips For Formatting

 

Always check the guidelines for submission with the publisher or agent. Likewise, always check the rules and the submission guidelines when submitting to a competition or anthology. They will have their own in-house styles and rules. However as a rule of thumb the most preferred formatting is:

  • Times New Roman (Ariel sometimes)
  • 12 point
  • Double Spaced (remove extra space between paragraphs)
  • Double speech marks – although some prefer single (some even say if they want straight or curly!)

(Just make sure you are consistent.)

  • Rugged right (justified leaves gaps in the text) and editors usually prefer this as it appears too uniform otherwise. This is using the ‘align left’ tab not the ‘justify’ tab.

 

Paragraphs

The default tabs in Word are usually fine (sometimes they might ask for certain indents but not usually), set for double spacing (sometimes 1.5) and click box – don’t add extra space between paragraphs for the whole document. Start the piece or a new section to the far left, then indent for new paragraphs. Look at books as this will give you the idea:

e.g.

And so it began.

It was the summer of 1974…

 

Use an indent for a new paragraph or speaker (also includes reaction by a speaker so the reader can easily follow the conversation).

If you change scene, extra line space – no indent.

For a large time gap or point of view change also consider using asterisks for a larger scene break.

 

… She never stayed to hear his reaction. She couldn’t watch the man she loved just walk away. Not today. Not ever.

***

Peter drank. Perhaps not always the best answer but today Peter drank to forget.

 

Here we changed point of view. The formatting tells the editor/reader the switch in point of view was intentional. Again look at the way books do it and be consistent in your text. You will find your own style.

 

Dialogue

Always indent when a new person speaks unless it’s after action:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. “What the hell was that?” he said.

Avoid hanging saids like:

Peter stood and looked along the line of bushes. He said,

“What the hell was that?”

(Move it up onto the same line.)

Again look at books. If you’re given another character’s reaction to what a speaker says start like a new paragraph.

e.g.

“It looks nothing like an alien or a lion,” said Joe blushing.

Peter dug his hands into his pockets and shook his head at Joe.

 

Thoughts are sometimes also expressed like dialogue. This is completely unnecessary for a single viewpoint character narrator when it’s clear it’s all his thoughts (so you can also lose expressions like he thought.) But excursions in a third person narrative to direct first person thoughts or with an omniscient third person narrator it is preferable to use italics. These make it clear it’s thoughts and differentiate from dialogue.

e.g.

He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound, like a bird maybe. It put him in mind of a parrot screeching but longer notes, more persistent. Whatever it was it wasn’t going away – (all character thought)

It’s going to get me – (switch to first person direct thought).

Rather than:

He heard it again. Only this time followed by a shrill sound. “Maybe it’s a bird,” he thought. “Maybe like a parrot but more persistent.” He stood back. “Whatever it was,” he thought, “it wasn’t going away. It’s going to get me.”

 

If you get into the habit of using the correct formatting it makes it easier when you submit and it also tells the editor you do know about writing – it’s far more professional. It also shows them you know how to follow rules which is essential if they decide to publish you. It’s surprising how many writers don’t read. Read as much as can not only do you then pick up the right way to format but you also see what works best.

 

Also make sure you use things like hyphens (-) to connect words and en dashes (–) to separate clauses and em dashes (—) for interruptions

Also for ellipses do not use three or more full stops control-alt-period (…) not (…).

 

Make sure you follow the guidelines, so if it says no identifying marks, remove your name from headers and footers. If it asks for page numbers at the bottom, insert them in the footer. If it asks for Ariel font, no indents (The Costa Prize does this!) and saved as a PDF, then do exactly as it asks.

 

Make sure you follow the rules of competitions: themes, word counts, previous submissions etc.

 

Have a great weekend everyone!

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What an editor does …

I love getting up close and personal to other people’s writing — but what I love the most is seeing how suggestions and comments are put into practice and when the final version comes back it is so much better. I feel then that my role is justified.

New writers often ask  what to expect from an editor. Do they change your work? What if you don’t agree? Can you keep it your way?

In simple terms, an editor doesn’t just change your work and write a whole other story the way they’d do it! If they do — sack them! They do offer constructive and useful comments. I would change grammar errors where there is a hard and fast rule ,and I would remove run-on or words I feel are redundant but ONLY in track changes so the author can reverse the change if they disagree. And occasionally, if I think it’s the best way to show it, I will change a sentence to demonstrate  a point — see how this sharpens it, for example — a more hands on approach if I think the writer needs that and more often for a critique than a copy-edit. I tend to favour making suggestions — this is overwritten, consider sharpening — and I might suggest what could be better but leave it to them.

By marking your MS and highlighting the weaknesses it really is the best and fastest way to identify weaknesses in style, plot, narrative etc. I had read a great many books on writing but just reading that you need to show not tell and even with examples you can not always see how that applies to your own writing. So you have to let an editor into that personal creative space.

There are various tell-tale signs of the new writer, and we all do this  when we start to write — head hopping mid scene (often because the writer hasn’t even thought about it), telling rather than showing, overwriting using ‘awkward’ or ‘clunky’ phrasing, adding too much back-story and lifting the reader out of the story, overly long descriptive passages that slow the story, too many adverbs especially after dialogue (it’s telling), telling what’s already shown and use of other forms of repetition to drum home a point (tell the reader only once) and using as any different words for said as they can find!

Now these will all be ironed out as you learn and get feedback and new writers who invest in a professional critique will most certainly find this is a short cut to identifying key weaknesses so by the time they start sending work out it’s good.

If it’s good enough to be accepted or publication another editor will be appointed and you need to trust their judgement.

In my opinion there is no room for divas! Luckily for me this is incredibly rare and by this point the writers know the importance of the editorial process and have long since shed their tiara and  learned to take constructive criticism. They will already know that a good editor or critiquer  is worth their weight in gold. Because, and this is very  much my philosophy,  a critique, a copy-edit, even a proof read is a teaching aid and if you get a good editor you will learn. It’s still you writing it — but an editor makes it stronger — and we all need that guidance. At the end of the day it’s about making your writing as good as it can be. And this should be the goal of the writer and the editor and it has to be the goal of the publisher as he needs to sell the book!

So can you argue with the editor? Insist on not changing things? Of course you can — it’s only one opinion but it has to be remembered it’s a professional and experienced opinion (or it should be if you pay for it) and so you need to think carefully about the advice. But if you did something a certain way for good reason and make a good argument an editor will listen to you and wants you to be happy too.

As someone who has straddled both sides of the proverbial fence, even when I wasn’t so sure there was something wrong with something my editor had questioned —  I looked at it very closely and nearly always made some kind of change to remove any trace of ambiguity. I trusted her and she did make great suggestions.

Don’t be a diva!

Have a great weekend all — out shopping for a new tiara!

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Style versus Voice in Writing

Today when I looked at the flashing cursor I reached for one of my many writing books for inspiration and flicked the pages imagining some invisible person said: STOP.

The book I picked up was: Larry Brooks  Story Engineering Mastering the 6 Core Competencies of Successful Writing. I STOPPED on page 221.

Two expressions  that jumped out at me were writing style and writing voice — both of these often get confused and I do discuss them separately when I critique work professionally. Even when I Googled it the two words are used interchangeably. I guess it’s down to pedantics.

I  see the Writing Style  as separate from Voice. 

Writing style, Brooks claims, in akin to the literary uniform that you — the writer– dons. It’s how you compose your narratives: long or short sentences. laden with similes and metaphors or simple sentences, poetic or more direct, descriptive or not — and so on.

I would also suggest that you could extend this to encompass how you build those sentences into creating your structures, hence how you move your plots: i.e. use  of flashbacks, exposition, where you switch narrators as you follow your story arc to its resolution and denouement.  So in other words what devices you use in your story telling to tell your story effectively. For the purposes of critique, I tend to talk about use of phrasing, clunky words, overuse of adverbs, dialogue, description, even formatting (if they do it wrong for dialogue for example) here, as well as how they use flashback, back story — all of these general overall points under the heading style, looking for the things they commonly get wrong or don’t do as well. 

I tend to look at structure more in my discussion of plot but in reality it’s all part of  overall style.

Voice on the other hand is how  the story is told and you might think that also includes the things talked about above. And again it’s down to pedantics, labels. But I prefer to discuss voice with viewpoint. It’s WHO YOU HEAR. In the modern age where we shift away from the more old-fashioned, more prone to ‘telling’  voice of the omniscient narrator, the focus is a lot more on character viewpoint narrators. While it is your voice strictly speaking talking for your characters — it’s their voice we  hear.  So again, voice is who  the reader hears. So it could be you as the omniscient all-seeing narrator but more than likely it’s a character or in multiple viewpoint novels a succession of characters (but no head-hopping mid scene — new character narrators for chapter or  if needed scene but clearly formatted!). And as I have said before, even in a third person where we imagine it’s let’s say the author telling the reader Flo’s story — she thought —  the closer you get to her, the more intimate the connection and in essence it’s not really the author we hear — it’s Flo. We hear her dialect, her way of rambling in her own head i.e.  it’s her jumbled thoughts we’re privy to, no one else’s!  People struggle with that claiming the third person who’s narrating is you the author watching her and listening to her thoughts and therefore you organising those thoughts and translating them for the reader.  So your voice not theirs? Again partly true but have a look at how closely a Stephen King third person character is to first person? How invisible is the third person so all we really hear is the character? So you wouldn’t have the character even in third person say how they’ve gone pale or look tired unless they’re seeing themselves.  That’s what I’m talking about!

So for the purposes of a critique I would look at how the character narrates, quirks, odd phrases, first or third person, tense, their body language even — and this is why I tend to discuss with viewpoint.

So in a nutshell I would say Voice is how the character speaks (through you) and style is the technical stuff in terms of what words you choose and how you structure that.

It might be a game of labels, but so long as the author takes on board what works in their own writing and is receptive to improving weaknesses and working on both their style and their voice then that’s what matters.

I’ve found the more I read and the more I experiment with voice and technique my own distinctive signature style of writing and the voices I use, develop. After all, we are all unique — aren’t we?

Or are we?

More musings on all things writerly tomorrow. Got any nagging questions? Anything you want me to discuss — just ask away! I like a challenge — to stretch my writing muscle!

Writing 1

Happy Thursday!

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Saying too much …

Getting a first draft down is a voyage of discovery. You are learning about your characters and their desires and conflicts as they steer you through the course of their journeys. And so there is a tendency to tell too much, to use too much back story (or exposition) and what you do is not only pause the action, but you lose any intrigue.

When we first meet someone they don’t tend to tell you their whole life story in the first five minutes (well most don’t!). We learn, we make preliminary judgements (often wrong) and we start to work them out. And that’s what you want to do in your writing. Show the reader enough and then build on that slowly. It’s much more enjoyable for the reader that way. And when you do reveal something put as much of it in the subtext as you can, shown through their actions and words, rather than tell us Mr Graham was a quiet sort; probably because his first wife never let him get a word in but now he’s remarried to a quieter woman he seems to be coming out of his shell.  All of this can be shown and woven like an invisible thread through the story.

A lot of the saying too much comes in early drafts and that’s okay if it’s your way of finding your way, getting acquainted with your character. Later you need to take it out and only show what’s needed when it’s needed (and if the above detail about Mr Graham is completely irrelevant because he’s the butcher who we only meet in the story once then not at all!). When you know the characters inside out, that is often enough to allow you to subtly write only the key features that makes a character seem real without the extraneous detail — as I always say if it doesn’t reveal character, move plot or at some level explore theme — lose it! But knowing all the background is still important to allow you to create real characters. Even Mr Graham with his two-minute cameo when the protagonist goes in to buy meat for her boyfriend (even though she’s veggie and has been since she saw a chicken beheaded on the farm she visited one summer with a friend because their family were big on farms and after the son died by choking on a peanut the family really needed a holiday and since it was her best friend whose brother choked on said peanut she wanted to be supportive but has never eaten meat since she saw that headless chicken) PAUSE for breath, where was I? Oh yeah even if Mr Graham only has a cameo you can still splash him with enough colour to  make him seem real without ANY of his back story unless you want to foreground something needed for plot. Got that? Glad someone has! And while my little back story excursion there isn’t as bad as some I see — trust me I do see them!

So get it down in a first draft if you have to, but then lose it.

The more experienced a writer you become, the less you will do this, even in a first draft.

When I see it, okay not as bad as my example, but when I do, it says amateur. Now that’s fine when I am mentoring or critiquing for a client because that’s the point, I’m teaching and learning at the same time (it’s two-way) — but when I see it in submitted work when I have my publisher hat on, I know this writer needs to work more on developing their craft.

It’s okay — we are all somewhere along that learning line. But get it right when you submit if you are hoping to be accepted for publication, that’s all I’m saying.

Right, back to my new short story …

Have a great day all. Still working on some more In The Spotlights for the Autumn … so watch this space. I also saw some more potential covers for the novel yesterday, one I LOVE in particular — all I will say is it’s very bold. Watch this space as I will reveal it here first.

And the same with characters ...

And the same with characters …

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