Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Use Dialogue to Show Not Tell  

Dialogue that you are an amateur

"I am talking to you," he said. Then he continued, "Now I'm talking some more."

She replied, "I am responding to what you said."

"We're the only two people present in this scene," he communicated.

"Maybe the readers will get confused about who is speaking," she expounded.

He queried, "Don't the readers know what punctuation marks show?"

"Writers don't think about that," she pointed out.

"Where are we, anyway? What are we doing? Have you moved from your rigid position? How do you feel? I just don't know!" he agonized.

She harangued, "You expect the words we say to do too much. And telling the reader by using synonyms for said and asked is easier shorthand for the writer than using more words to show the reader the scene through description or character emotion through action and body language. Some writers haven't learned the subtleties of technique yet."

"Yes, it's sad," he agreed. "Our tags could do so much more."

You should be laughing by now. But our two speakers have three important points to make.

Allow your punctuation to do its job

First, allow your punctuation to SHOW what it is supposed to, that someone is speaking words aloud and whether those words are arranged into a statement or a question. Do you see an exclamation mark? The character must have raised his or her voice or spoken more forcefully. Does more quoted material appear after a brief non-quoted portion within the same paragraph? The reader knows the character has continued speaking.

Your dialogue tags don't need to make redundant statements regarding what the punctuation shows. Did the second speaker's words occur as a direct response to the first speaker's words? We can see he or she replied. "Yes" = agreement.

Who Said That? Dialogue Tags That Work 

A dialogue tag is the narrative information that labels a line of dialogue, applying the words to the speaker, usually within the same sentence. "He said" is an example of a basic dialogue tag.

In some situations, the reader will not need dialogue tags to know who is speaking. The above dialogue is one example, where we only have two characters speaking to each other. Proper paragraphing will show the reader when the speaker has switched. Once readers have been oriented to who starts the dialogue, they don't need a tag every time someone opens and shuts his or her mouth.

Even with two speakers, giving the reader a clue every third paragraph of dialogue to stay oriented is still good to do, especially with loquacious speakers, but writers have alternatives.

The second thing our speakers are showing us is "talking head syndrome," where characters talk and talk but the reader has nothing to visualize. One of the best writing instructors I ever had, Margie Lawson*, taught me about "action tags." What this means is you use the character's physical action to show the reader what the character is doing while saying this dialogue, which can reveal attitude and emotion as well as giving the reader something to picture.

What do the man and woman above look like? Where are they? What is their activity? Readers have no idea the way the dialogue is written.

When you have more than two speakers present in the scene, you will need to pay more careful attention to labeling each paragraph of dialogue to keep readers oriented, but keeping the "she said" and "he asked" to a minimum in favor of action and body language markers is preferable.

KISS: Keep it Simple, Stupid 

The third major point my two speakers are making is that synonyms for "said" and "asked" are excessive and rarely helpful to readers.

The words "said" and "asked" are invisible to readers. They're short and expected, allowing the reader's eyes to glide past, picking up the information about who spoke while not causing the brain to pause in the visualization of the scene.

Your goal as a writer should be to convey mental pictures of the action and emotion, not wow readers with your fantabulous vocabulary. Using tag words such as replied, conveyed, expounded, articulated, retorted, etc. can annoy readers rather than help the story move forward. Truly, using too many synonyms for "said" can make a writer look amateur.

Don't write like a newbie: allow your punctuation to show dialogue, use "said" or "asked" most (and only when strictly necessary), and use actions and body language between quotes to show what speakers are doing during the dialogue to express emotion.

 *link to Margie Lawson's teaching website:
Originally published on 2013. Revised 4/16/2019; can’t find anymore (I thought nothing disappears on the internet?), so I have republished on my own blog 3/18/2020

Monday, December 12, 2016

Hello again--time to announce something new. My newest short story, "I'll Always Hear You," available from Alban Lake Publishing's quarterly magazine Disturbed Digest, December 2016 issue HERE started as my one and only NaNoWriMo project a couple years ago. It took more than a year to finish polishing it and send it out, but I was more than pleased that the first place I sent it to bought it!

Some background to help your enjoyment of this story and explain how it is personal to me:

The name of the lingering visitor is derived from my family. My grandmother's older sister died of pneumonia (That was the explanation at the time; Grandma says there was some confusion about the actual cause of death) when she was a little girl, but older than the Arlene in my story. My great grandparents were Harley and Hazel Bates. The alliteration of their first names never occurred to me until I was naming characters in this story (45 years and this NEVER clicked?) and I decided that would be too precious, so I changed the wife's name to my other great-grandmother, Sarah. I chose Baker instead of Bates just to emphasize to family who may read the story that this is fiction.

The house I pictured when writing was the Victorian lady my friend and her husband lived in when they were first married, in Oregon City. She and I had been close friends since we were 11 years old, and we roomed together in college. I was fascinated by the old house they bought, its steep narrow stairs and turn of the century room layout. After their first baby they decided they'd had enough of that and sold it for a more modern construction home, but it stuck in my imagination.

Due to word count limitations for submission, I had to cut a scene I liked that involved a picture my mother used to draw in the steam on the bathroom mirror when I was little. A circle for a head, triangle hat, splayed fingers made loopy hair around the sides, then add eyes, nose, mouth--a clown smiling from the mirror. Since in the story the bathroom is on the opposite side of the wall from Arlene's room, I had my narrator draw this in the steam and it made facial expressions at her. I decided it didn't further the plot so could be cut for space.

Check out my latest short story and the other stories, poems and art to be found. They specialize in spooky, not gory--light horror and dark fantasy. If you enjoy it, let me know!

Oh--and the husband's name, Jence, was a random choice. I didn't start watching Supernatural on Netflix until after this story was accepted for publication, so while I am a Jensen Ackles fan now, he in no way influenced the naming of the narrator's husband.

Team Dean, all the way. Where's the pie?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

I Want to Publish NOW!

Self-published authors beware: instant gratification is not a virtue in publication. In my other daily life, I am a professional freelance editor of fiction. On rare occasions the queries I see for service include expected deadlines that are unrealistic. I offer this advice to the self-publishers among us:

Patience, Grasshopper. Publishing a book takes time to do right. Rushing your product to market does not often end well.

You have spent the last however many months/years writing your Great American Novel. It's done—hooray! You've looked into traditional publishing and all the other avenues and have decided that self-publishing is the direction you'd rather go. Thousands of other writers have made this same choice, even authors who have found prior success with traditional publishing. Self-publishing is the wave of the future.

Joining the self-publishing wave carries dangers to books that come to the venue unprepared. A predicted backlash against rushed, unpolished prose is building among readers; even Amazon reports dropping ebook sales numbers and is restricting the pricing authors may use. The chaff is being blown to the side so that readers can find the good books among the self-published heap. You want to be one of the good ones.

The edits have to be done ASAP—I want to post by the end of the month!

Start shopping for an editor well in advance of your hoped for release-date for your book. Asking for a deadline of next week for an edit that likely will take three weeks to do is unrealistic even if an editor is immediately available. While freelance service providers can have unpredictable booking schedules depending on the season, it is best to assume an editor is booked three months or more in advance and query accordingly. If your chosen expert is available earlier—jackpot!

Okay, I've had an editor evaluate my work and give suggestions for fixes or changes or what-not. I went through and changed what the editor said to. Now I can post it to the self-publishing website, right?

Hold your horses, cupcake. Not yet. Even the best editor cannot be held responsible for errors you may have introduced during your revisions. Some books will need more than one round of edits to be ready for Primetime; a developmental edit, revision, copy/line edits, more revision. Then you need to have a proofreader go over your final copy before it is ready to be published.

After that step, you must format the manuscript properly for the venue you will upload to. Many blogs and YouTube video tutorials can be found free online for assistance with this task, but to avoid the steep learning curve and hours/days/weeks of frustration you could employ an editor who also tackles formatting.

I did all that. Can I go now?

Along with the finished galley copy you will need a polished blurb to hook sales, keywords, genre categorization, a plan for distribution and pricing, professional-looking cover art, and a marketing plan. If you are publishing in print as well you must purchase your own ISBN code or accept the one offered with your publishing platform, if they do that. Do your homework to decide which is best for you.

At the publishing house I worked for, taking a book from newly-contracted manuscript to galley final proof was likely to take up to eight months. Then the finished product would be put on the schedule for release, which could add another year or more before the book could be sold to readers. Self-publishing will shorten the time from galleys to release date, but the pre-production work will still need time to do properly.

Rushing your book from manuscript to published is a bad idea. Ultimately your readers will be the judge; bad reviews = lower sales. Take your time; do it right.

[First published as Kelly Lynne at I">">I Want to Publish My Book NOW!!!
in May 2016

Sunday, February 23, 2014

It's finally here! You may have noticed Canyon Hearts has been for sale on the Kindle since January 23 or so, but as of February 22 it is also available in print. It's on sale until 2/25 to boot.

Patti and I began work on this book three years ago, on a whim. I had been assisting her as critique partner and editor on her prior works in the fictional town of Echo Falls, Texas since 2006. During one of our IM chat sessions (she lives halfway across the country from me) she asked if I'd like to write a story with her set in this town. Would I?! Over 4-6 months we hammered out a decent first draft.

Patti made the decision during this period to strike out on her own as an indie publishing venture with others in her family. She wanted to rework and reprint her first three novels from the Echo Falls series under her own label before we could produce Canyon Hearts, which while it is a "separate" series is still book # 4, essentially; by contract, we would have had to allow the publisher first crack at it. This meant we had to leave it on the shelf while the rights to her first three novels reverted to her hands. I was fine with this, in no hurry; I wrote Canyon Hearts with her for fun.

Once that reversion of rights goal had been reached, we dusted off the manuscript and began edits--but whoa! We had both grown in our abilities as writers and editor since the draft was completed, and we learned we'd left a lot of things until "later." From August to December we edited and revised, crafting a much stronger plot and cutting oodles of words--and whole scenes--only to replace them with more! If Patti will indulge me, I may post a few of our cut scenes to my website in the "Extras" page, the scenes set in the antagonist's POV, which we both felt weren't needed to tell the story. But they're still awesome.

This is a contemporary romance with sensually explicit love scenes, so expect some of it to be blush-worthy. It will be available on Nook and Kobo soon.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

New Website

You may have noticed my website has a new look! I'm loving the new header. The plaid pattern is the family tartan for the McCready Clan of lowland Scotland, which my family traces to a few generations back. My great-great-grandfather changed the spelling when he came to the U.S. for ease of pronunciation. I was pleased to include my heritage in the new site look. Stay tuned for content on the other tabs; we're under construction for a short bit. My wonderful friends Patti Ann Colt and Tiffany Aller are the masterminds behind the revision.

You may be wondering, are new books on the way, to go along with the new look? The answer is yes. Stay tuned later this fall for a contemporary romance collaboration novel set in Patti Ann Colt's Echo Falls, Texas. I'm so excited to put our work out there! In the meantime, you may want to check out the earlier stories in her series.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Signing

It occurs to me I should post news here of where I can be found in public.

November 11-13 I'll be at OryCon 33, an Oregon Science Fiction Convention, signing copies of my book in the dealer room, at the table for Jacobsen's Books. Admission to the convention is affordable for these sort of things and is being held at the Portland (Lloyd Center) Doubletree Hotel (ironically, this is the same hotel where I attended Epicon in 2008).

Yes, I'm bringing my camera for all the Trekkers, Battlestar Galactica, Browncoats, steampunkers, and all the cosmic weirdness a scifi con attracts--fun fun fun! I will be in geek heaven.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Pieces of Me

I'm guest blogging today at Faith V. Smith's blog about how I chose characteristics for my hero and heroine that were different from each other but all traits in me. Join me over there and comment!