Monday, March 16, 2015

5 Tips to Writing Dialogue


“What do you mean we need to know how to write dialogue? Isn’t that simply people talking? It’s simple.”

But no, it isn’t always the simplest thing to write. There are things you need to consider as you write dialogue.  Sometimes we need to pay closer attention to how we write dialogue so that it doesn’t come out sounding like all our characters are the same people or so that our characters don’t sound stilted.  Here are five quick tips to try or to keep in mind as you write dialogue.

1.      Always read your dialogue to yourself as you write it or after you write it. Why would you need to do that? You can hear it in your head as you write it, correct? Well, yes, but if you don’t read it aloud or even with someone else reading the other lines, you might not write the words as dialogue at all. You might simply be writing what you think sounds right. But can someone actually say those words? Speak them, read them and find out.  I actually read my dialogue out loud as I write it.

2.      Remember no two people talk exactly alike.  You might have pet words that you personally use all the time. You might even put them into the mouth of your main character. But don’t put them in everyone’s mouth or all your characters will end up sounding alike. Too many times I have seen characters all taking alike, speaking in the author’s voice, not their own. Let your characters have their own pet words. Or their own way of speaking. A teenager won’t talk like an adult and a child often won’t talk like a teen. But don’t over exaggerate either. No one wants to read a book with “Excellent!” written on every page.

3.      Listen to others around you speak to pick up cadences and get ideas for writing dialogue. I’ve heard from so many authors that they love to eavesdrop on others’ conversations just to get ideas for ways to write dialogue or to study different cadences. That can be very helpful next time you sit down to write a scene.

4.      Remember different professions may speak in different ways. I remember going to meeting with educational leaders and becoming aware of much more correct and stilted language. I’d always worked in a quick moving profession where simple words worked best and we didn’t speak of cumulative scores or clientele safeguards or demonstrative  demographics. Okay, I just put all those words together, but I wasn’t certain what I was listening to either. I just wanted the facts, straight and simple. But sometimes you might have an academic in a book who speaks that way.  

5.      Don’t overuse dialect.  Yes, you want to get the point across that perhaps your heroine speaks with a Scottish accent or your detective is Hispanic and tosses in Spanish words every so often, but don’t overdo it to the point that the reader gets distracted or loses sight of the main story.

 As you write dialogue remember you are speaking for your characters. Let’s make them sound like the individuals they are.

Monday, March 9, 2015

5 Tips to Promotion

These days so many authors get bogged down with how to prmote themselves.  Promotion has become the name of the game.  I don’t know about you, but I have never been overly excited about promotion, especially having to promote myself.  I can promote campaigns or even news stories since I did that job for many years as a TV producer and public relations writer.  But having to say great thing about me as an author, well, sometimes I fear it comes off as bragging.

Still it must be done. So how can you do it without sounding too phony?

1.    Try using a blog. These have been around for a while and a good many writers are now blogging, either personally or with other writers. Blogs are great because you can be very folksy with them and write about your life, or one of your interests or interesting things you learn as you work on your story. Use historical or useful information you learned while researching a story as a basis for a blog. I see some of the most successful blogs for getting comments is when someone lists their top movies, songs or books of all time and then they start a discussion of what others think or what their lists might be. But if you’re going to have a blog, try to make it as consistent as possible. Decide if you are going to blog once or twice a month  or set up a schedule and stick to it as closely as possible.

2.      Answer or comment on other people’s blogs. As I just mentioned, some writers will do those  blogs where they mention their favorite books and movies. What about your own? Why not list those for the group. The more people commenting the better and you might just get noticed. I’ve heard agents and publishers suggest getting your name out by commenting on other blogs as a good way of letting possible readers know you are ut there.

3.      Create your own website. Like blogging websites have been around for a long time and you are advised to have one as an author so that readers can learn about you and about your other books. The best thing about having your own website that you build is that you can do it as a third person, or someone else talking about you, so you can promote yourself without sounding like you’re bragging. Unlike a blog, websites can be static so that you don’t need to update them often.

4.      Be on Social media. That means getting a Facebook account or on Twitter and then making certain you at least join in a few conversations so that it doesn’t look like every time you post it is about your book. It’s also a good way to let readers get to know you better.  I like using Pinterest too because it lets me show off some of my pictures while looking around for other pictures f things that interest me. Again, it can help readers to get to know you.

5.      Check with other writers  on their promotion. See what others are doing and what works for them and why.  It can save you a lot of time. Some authors are betting at various forms of promotion and if you ask enough people, you can come up with a variety of ideas so that you can decide which one works best for you.

Finally, though, I would say remember your main goal is to write. If you spend too much time on promotion, you will find you don’t have time to write. Don’t let promotion overwhelm you. Be a writer first!

Monday, March 2, 2015

5 Tips to Editing

This month I have been teaching a class on short stories as well as working on edits for two projects. While I thorough enjoy letting go with my writing and just letting it take me wherever the muse wants to go, editing is work. Hard work. When it comes to editing, I always find myself looking for easy answers and there really aren't any. There are so many different things to consider when editing so I went through to find a list of things that sometimes get forgotten, but are easy to do to begin the process or when you feel like editing is getting you down. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind as you begin the process or if you get stuck in the middle of the process:

1. Look for your "weak" words.  This might also be called your crutch words. We all have them -- things like

usually
just
really
often
always

On your first editing pass, throw your crutch words into search or find and track them down. If you can do without them, then do it.

2. Look for filter words or phrases. This is something I had not thought about when I first started writing, but why use extra words or put more room between the reader and the characters.  Instead of saying She saw the man get into the car, simply say: The man got into the car. If we are in her head, seeing things from her viewpoint already, then just let her tell the readers what she sees.

3. Watch for padded words.  Just like filter words, these are words that aren't necessary.

Sit down
stand up
drop down
follow behind
rise up
dash quickly

If you sit, you are down, if you stand, you are up.  There are probably more words you can find to add to this list. They might even be crutch words for you. Look for them and get rid of them.

4. Check your opening and your ending.  You should re-read them over before you consider your editing completed, but it is also a good way to start the process.  Make certain that the idea you started with makes sense with how you are ending your story. Do you fulfill the promise of the beginning?  Is your character changed, but still believable?  Is there a scene you need to add or delete as a result of what you wrote at the beginning but now that the story is finishing you find you don't need that. Go back and get rid of it.

5.  Read your story aloud.  This is my favorite editing tip.  Maybe it's because I spent so many years in television newsrooms where so many of us were reading our stories aloud as we wrote them. If you write for TV news you want to know how it's going to sound when the words are read. You want to make certain they work together and the thought is not so complicated that the reader (or listener) will get lost in the middle.  Reading a story aloud can really help you see problem areas.  It can be an absolute must when writing dialogue. If you can't read the dialogue aloud, then I doubt people can speak it.

Most of all as you edit, don't let it get you down. The story is written and you have words on the page. Simply make certain they're the right words. (I was about to write Just make certain -- then I edited it out -- that is one of my crutch words)


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