Has your character ever wandered through the woods, wondering about what tomorrow will bring? Or let their thoughts wander off about the wonder that is this world?
Yes, it's confusing.
No, you're not the only one who gets it wrong from time to time. That's why we're here with today's editing tip.
Wandering is like WAlking. It's an Action word. So it's W-A.
Wonder is like saying "WOw!" or "Ohhh" as you think about something. So it's W-O.
(I don't know about the rest of you, but I use a lot of mnemonic devices to remember things like this. And I mean a LOT.)
So you use wander if your character or their thoughts are taking an indirect path.
You use wonder if your character is thinking about something, or is awestruck (i.e. wonderful!).
Wondering if you might need an editor? Wander through the rest of the site to find out more about our editing services!
Have you ever received the feedback from a critique partner or an agent that they "just didn't connect with the character"? It's something most of us have heard, but it can be hard to understand how to use that feedback to approach revisions.
If agents aren't connecting, try adding emotional depth.
When someone says they didn't connect, it's often a symptom of rushed pacing. You need to let readers into your main character's emotional state if you want them to form a connection. You do that by showing their reaction to what's happening around them, to what is (and isn't) being said. If you rush through all the intense action scenes without giving the MC a chance to show us how they feel, then all the reader gets out of the scene is the action without the emotional connection. The action is vital and fun, but the emotional resonance is what makes it stick. Make sure you have a good balance of both.
Today we're bringing you another tip on how to improve your dialogue writing skills.
Remember who you're talking to, and what they know.
Have you ever read a passage of dialogue that started with something like, "As you know, Bob, first we had to disentangle the fragmabobulator from the zorgatron..." and then the dialogue goes on, listing all the info that person A (let's call him Fred) has about the situation.
Do you see the problem, though?
Why is Fred telling this to Bob, if Bob already knows it?
Obviously, Fred is telling Bob so that the reader can find out. But it's usually pretty boring and transparent. It's too much of an info dump and it tends to turn into a monologue.
There's a slightly better version, the "Do you remember the time we did X?" "Oh, yeah, and then Y happened?" This can work, if it's done well. But it needs to come up naturally; something should spark the memory organically.
I remember seeing one famous author pull this off with a scientist character talking possibilities over with another character; when she realizes he has no idea how the science works, she stops to explain. In that case, it worked well because the worldbuilding had already established the second character would not have had access to scientific education, but was intelligent enough to understand. And they had a good enough rapport that the dialogue was interesting. It felt genuine, like two friends, not like a lesson.
Think about how dialogue progresses between two people who know each other in real life situations the next time you want to use dialogue to drop some important info on your readers. Dialogue is a great tool, but you have to take into account what the characters already know, and what they need to know, for the conversation to proceed, and not just what you want your readers to learn.
Today's editing tip addresses a common problem we see at several different levels, within queries, scenes, acts, and manuscripts.
Make sure your stakes are clear.
Here's a simple formula I use with my own work as well as my critique partners. Hopefully you'll find it useful as well. If you aren't sure what your stakes are, or if you've laid them out clearly enough in your manuscript, try asking yourself these four questions:
1. Who is the main character?
2. What is their goal/what do they want?
3. What is preventing them from getting what they want?
4. What happens if they don't get it?
This is the heart of your story; who it's about, and why it matters. I recently had a 4th grade class I volunteer with do an exercise where they analyzed a novel they'd read as a class, using these questions. They answered these four questions for me, and we thought about what would happen if we removed any single one of those elements, or lessened the tension. They promptly realized the story would have been incredibly boring.
If your readers aren't connecting with your story overall, or a scene is lacking tension, or your query isn't getting any nibbles, see if it's answering these questions.(In the case of a query, it doesn't have to explain every goal and obstacle, but you do need a strong set for tension if you're going to hook an agent's interest.)
Is a character too vague or stereotypical? Is the goal clearly laid out? Avoid making obstacles too easy to solve, or completely insurmountable. And the last one is the one I most often see a problem with - does it matter? If the character goes on their quest, and could fail, learn nothing, and nothing would change, well, you've probably got a problem on your hands. Their action needs to make a difference, somehow, whether they succeed or not.
Today's editing tip is a twofer, so hang onto the seat of your pants. This one will help you deal with showing vs. telling, and it will also improve your dialogue. Are you ready?
Use blocking instead of unnecessary dialogue tags.
Blocking, in case the term is unfamiliar, is how you describe the characters' movements within the scene, rather like stage directions in a play. Most people don't stand or sit completely still when they speak; they fidget, they move around. If someone were to stay motionless, rigid, that would probably indicate some sort of internal distress. Letting your characters move a bit can make them feel more natural.
You can try giving characters habits, like poker "tells", to indicate specific moods. But you don't want to overdo it, and use the exact same movement every time. Verb choice can also show a reader how your characters are feeling. Jogging, running, and fleeing all have different connotations, but describe similar movements.
Within dialogue, you can use blocking to show a character's mood, or the relationship between two or more individuals. Here's an example of what that might look like:
“Hush, baby girl, it’s all right, everything is all right,” I told her, reaching out to sweep her up in a hug.
She scurried back, away from me, pulling her blankets up tighter. “I want Mama." A steady stream of tears began carving their way down her dirty cheeks. "Want MAMA!"
Without any other information, just the blocking, a reader should be able to tell a lot about the dynamics between these two. Hopefully this mini-scene should also create an emotional response in the reader, and a lot of that labor depends on the blocking and not on the dialogue. (And notice there's only one dialogue tag.)
And we're back with our second live critique of 2018 and our first of February.
As before, we have the unedited version first, followed by that with our edits included. If you have any thoughts, leave your comment below.
I don’t work weekends. The mortuary has business on these days but the benefit of being the boss is letting the part-timers deal with grieving friends and hysterical families.
I had been reading about dissection before being called out.
My intern had vomited in the bushes and refused to go back in to the crime scene. I wasn’t paying him enough to brave it, either.
The Rods was the worst part of town. Full of government housing gone bad and whole tenements of crack heads and their dealers. Gangs roamed the streets in tattooed mobs and if there were bricks under some of the graffiti all over buildings, I’d never seen them. There’s an old adage that every day, someone dies. In the Rods, it felt like it. The city had fallen into disrepair and it was obvious here most of all.
Recession had hit hard, and these were the people who suffered. I’d gotten pretty good at navigating my motorcycle through the alleys and streets that ate at the heart of the Rods and I still didn’t like getting call-outs.
Raymond June had been calling on me almost daily for a month now, because we had a body almost every day for a month; at the rate it was going, it wouldn’t be long before the killer ran out of people.
The Rods was a ghost town; barely a car on the road, no one loitering on the sidewalks, just a few scared faces peering out from behind the safety of their windows.
I parked my bike beside a blue and white cop car and flashed my ID badge at the guy on perimeter. He waved me through and I nodded at a few of the familiar faces. The press weren’t here. A nice change from the last crime scene, but only a matter of time. I must have been June’s first call.
Raymond June was drinking coffee from a small cup, standing to one side, he noticed my approach and finished his cigarette in a few puffs, took a sip of his coffee and huddled over. He was tall, a little over six-foot, and well built. Twenty years ago he’d been drop-dead handsome and charming. Now, his face had a few scars from bad encounters and he walked with a slight limp under his worn woollen coat.
I brushed some hair behind my ear, conscious of my appearance whenever he gave me his full attention.
He’d gotten that limp from being stabbed by a troll with an umbrella and too much tequilla, “Sorry to have to break up your day off.”
“I don’t mind,” I stared at my feet, finally gathering the courage to indicate the crime scene, “I can smell the blood; is it…?”
I don’t work weekends. The mortuary has business on these days – add a comma after “days” as the subject in the clause following “but” is no longer the mortuary – but the benefit of being the boss is letting the part-timers deal with grieving friends and hysterical families. – This is a great opening paragraph. We immediately learn some interesting points about the character including their dark and dry sense of humor.
I had – Perhaps a contraction here for smoother flow? “I’d been reading…” – been reading about dissection before being called out. – Another great sentence. However, a reader could possibly find the jump from the more general first paragraph to this specific statement a little disjointed. Perhaps include a transitional sentence to show the character and their reaction to the phone call. Could they place down the receiver with a deep sigh, mark the page before closing their book with another sigh? Can you continue to build on their sense of humor by showing the conversation as it happens and incorporating the following sentence? Perhaps: “You’ve vomited, okay … in the bushes ...” I rubbed my eyes, knowing exactly where this was going. “Mm hm, and you simply can’t return to the crime scene.” I folded the corner of my page—Dissection Troubleshooting would have to wait—and closed the book with a sigh.” Or similar.
My intern had vomited in the bushes and refused to go back in to the crime scene. I wasn’t paying him enough to brave it, either.
The Rods was the worst part of town. Full of government housing gone bad and whole tenements of crack heads and their dealers. Gangs roamed the streets in tattooed mobs and if there were bricks under some of the graffiti all over buildings, I’d never seen them. There’s an old adage that every day, someone dies. In the Rods, it felt like it. The city had fallen into disrepair and it was obvious here most of all. – A reader might feel the second part of this paragraph is a bit heavy-handed on the telling, especially since you just used a lot of details to show us in the first half. Trust your prose enough to get this type of subtext across without having to spell it out for the reader.
Recession had hit hard, and these were the people who suffered. – With this structural set-up (“Recession had hit hard”) we tend to expect a modifier in the second half (“and these were the people who suffered the most”). Otherwise, a reader might think you’re saying these are the only people who suffered because of the recession. – I’d gotten pretty good at navigating my motorcycle through the alleys and streets that ate at the heart of the Rods and – perhaps replace “and” with “but” – I still didn’t like getting call-outs.
Raymond June had been calling on – “calling on me” reads a little like old-fashioned courting. You could use something like “calling on my skills/services”, or “calling me out.” – me almost daily for a month now, – Perhaps use an em-dash here instead of the comma to emphasize the reason for the call outs – because we had a body almost every day for a month; at the rate it was going, it wouldn’t be long before the killer ran out of people. –You’ve created great tension and stakes here and it’s really intriguing, especially as it’s passed on via the character’s dry sense of humor. Perhaps to tighten this sentence and avoid any possible repetition of there being a murder every day, consider revising a little. Maybe simply: “Raymond June had been calling me out almost daily for a month now. At this rate, it wouldn’t be long before the killer ran out of people.” This should tell the reader all they need to know.
Perhaps add the time of day here, maybe the weather too to help ground the reader – The Rods was a ghost town; barely a car on the road, no one loitering on the sidewalks, just a few scared faces peering out from behind the safety of their windows.
I parked my bike beside a blue and white cop car and flashed my ID badge at the guy on perimeter. He waved me through – add a comma after “through” – and I nodded at a few – “a few” was used in the previous paragraph as well. Consider revising to avoid the repetition – of the familiar faces. The press weren’t here. A nice change from the last crime scene, but only a matter of time. I must have been June’s first call.
Raymond June – Could you tell us who June is here instead of using his name again like you have above? It will help build the world and relationships of the character – was drinking coffee from a small cup, standing to one side, – Replace the comma here with a period or a semi-colon – he noticed my approach and finished his cigarette in a few puffs, took a sip of his coffee and huddled over. – Try flipping this order around, so you have the finite action first, followed by the ongoing action. Perhaps: “Raymond stood to one side (maybe add here to the side of what exactly), drinking coffee from a small cup.” And then to follow: “When he noticed my approach, he finished his cigarette in a few puffs, took a sip of his coffee and huddled over.” This way is shorter, clearer, and keeps focus on Raymond. The coffee drinking is an unimportant afterthought. Also, what does he huddle over? This is rather an ambiguous action! – He was tall, a little over six-foot, and well built. Twenty years ago he’d been drop-dead handsome and charming. Now, his face had a few scars from bad encounters and he walked with a slight limp under his worn woollen coat.
I brushed some hair behind my ear, conscious of my appearance whenever he gave me his full attention. – Perhaps move this so it comes before the main character’s first piece of dialogue beginning “I don’t mind.”
He’d gotten that limp from being stabbed by a troll with an umbrella and too much tequilla, – one “l” in tequila – Replace this comma with a period as this is not a dialogue tag; it’s a completed action – “Sorry to have to break up your day off.” – Perhaps move these sentences to directly after the first mention of his limp earlier, so to follow “…under his worn woollen coat. He’d gotten that limp…”
“I don’t mind,” – Replace the comma with a period again, as what follows is a completed action and not a dialogue tag – I stared at my feet, finally gathering the courage to indicate the crime scene, – Again replace the comma with a period – Also, why exactly is the character having to gather courage? So far, they haven’t appeared to be particularly squeamish, in fact they seem very blasé about their job, dead people, hysterical families, and the run down part of town, so perhaps be a little clearer about why they need courage for looking at a crime scene – “I can smell the blood; is it…?” – We only know the character can smell blood because they specifically tell someone else here. Consider weaving in more sights, smells, sounds, etc. into the scene earlier to ground the reader in this world and continue the rather dark tone.
Overall this is a strong start and we are sure a reader will be eager to know more about the story and what’s going on with this serial killer on the loose. If you could sneak in just a tiny bit more detail, so the reader can picture the setting and characters more, if you can ground your readers and build in some sensory details, they will become more invested and this will elevate the opening page to hook anyone reading.
We see a lot of writers asking how to improve their dialogue. And let's face it, authentic-sounding dialogue is hard to write. There are a lot of different things that go into a good conversation between characters. Today we'll talk about one of the basics.
Don't go overboard with your dialogue tags.
A dialogue tag, for anyone not familiar with the term, is the part after the spoken words that informs the reader who was talking. "Let's go to the mall," she said. At first, many new authors end up trying to vary their dialogue tags each time. After all, we're always told not to use the same words over and over again, right? The problem is that then you end up with this:
"Let's go to the mall," she suggested.
"No," he replied. "We went there yesterday. I don't want to go again."
"Well, what would you suggest?" she asked.
"I don't know," he grumbled. "I just don't want to go to the mall."
"Why not?" she whined. "You never want to do anything fun."
Did you notice ALL THE DIALOGUE TAGS? When you attach one to every sentence, it becomes distracting. It interferes with the flow of conversation. This is one instance where using the boring word - said - is often better, because said becomes almost neutral in text. We're so used to it that it doesn't interrupt what's going on.
Also be aware that not every sentence needs a tag. You can skip several sentences in between tagging, as long as you don't have a large group talking all at once, and readers can keep up with the verbal ping-pong match and track who's talking.
A great way to reduce your number of dialogue tags is through your use of punctuation. If someone asks a question, you don't need to add "she asked." Or if they yell and you use an exclamation point, you don't need to repeat yourself by saying "he yelled." (And the reverse is true: if you want to get rid of a few exclamation points, cut them and use an emphatic dialogue tag or action to show the mood instead.)
Take a look at the dialogue in your manuscripts, and see if you could stand to chop out some said/asked/replied type words. Happy editing!
Today's Editing Tip is a quick example of how to switch telling to showing. (There will be lots of these posted sporadically throughout the year as we know it's something a lot of writers can find tricky!)
Jacob felt sad after he read the letter.
The letter fell from Jacob's fingertips, landing by his feet. He hunched over, head in hands, and closed his eyes; that way he wouldn't have to see any of those devastating words again.
Jacob shook his head, back and forth, over and over. "No, no, no no." This couldn't be right. He read the letter again, those last few words once more. A sob released from his throat, and he crumpled the paper in his fist, succumbing to the sadness.
Now you try!
Today's tip is about a simple mistake we see fairly often: when should you use the pronoun "I", and when should you use "me"?
Double-check if you're using the correct pronoun by dropping the other name from the sentence.
Not sure what we mean by that? Don't worry, here are some handy examples.
Me and Dad watched a movie;
Dad and I watched a movie.
If you aren't sure which one is right--or even if you think you know the answer but you'd like to double-check--try dropping the other person from the sentence, like so:
Me watched a movie vs I watched a movie
It suddenly becomes obvious that the second option is correct. (Dad and I watched a movie.)
Let's try a different construction.
Do you want to watch TV with Mom and I?
Do you want to watch TV with Mom and me?
This one is trickier, because we don't always use the right construction here in speech. But try dropping the other name again:
Do you want to watch TV with I? vs Do you want to watch TV with me?
Again, the second choice is correct here.
Now, if you'd like to know why this trick works, or what the rule is for figuring out when to use me/I, stay tuned for the grammar.
I functions as a subject noun in the sentence, and should be used just like any other proper noun. I wrote a book.
Me, on the other hand, functions as the object of a verb, either direct or indirect. Me is something that is acted upon. He gave me a book or He gave a book to me. Think of it this way, if it helps: I am active; Me is not.
Now go practice your name-dropping skills, and happy editing!
Every Wednesday and Saturday we bring you an edit tip of the day. Be sure to check out the archives for our popular summer series of SHOW DON'T TELL workshops!