Tag Archives: writing lessons

Self-Editing – character & dialogue

Hi,

Further to my blog post about how to manage editing and the stages, here are some specific things to review and correct. I have gleaned these through research, reading, and writing experience. Hope they help.

Character

Ensure your characters are active – they must : speak, act, think, decide, react
Not be passive or described through narrative alone. And limit that narrative.

Describe characters briefly through impressions / metaphors and pick out a few personal details relevant to the story.
Don’t ramble on for pages in narrative form about your character’s many attributes.

Each character should have their own voice, agenda and attitudes which come through in how they – speak, act, think, decide and react.
Avoid having each character appear identical in voice, actions, thoughts, agenda etc.

Major characters must have objectives, agendas, something they strive for and these must be made clear to the reader.
Correct and rewrite major characters who appear unfocused, bland, random in action.

Major characters need to develop as your story unfolds. This needs to be seen by the reader in how they change in: speaking, acting, thinking, deciding, reacting. Show the struggle, down points, their resolve, how they change, their actions to overcome, their elation / dejection at the outcomes.
Steer away from major characters who do not change during your story, especially your hero / protagonist and antagonist.

Dialogue

Keep it snappy, focused and get to the point. Less is more.
Avoid rambling dialogue with unnecessary words or topics.

Use dialogue to show key conflicts between characters & how they work things out (or not).
Don’t miss the opportunities to show how characters differ and want different things.

Written dialogue is not the same as real world dialogue, stay lean and pristine most of the time.
Only deviate when an effect is needed to show a reaction or character trait.

Minimize the use of speech attributions and stick to ‘said’ as much as possible. Often it is clear who is speaking without the label. Said becomes invisible to the reader, variations such as (replied, stammered, shouted, cried, retorted etc.) do not.
Steer clear of passages with lots of: he said, she said, he said, she said. It becomes wearing.

Ensure each character speaks in a way consistent with who they are, what they know and how they have behaved so far in your story.
Avoid making random speeches or having characters sound the same.

Use dialogue as a natural interaction between characters to further your plot.
Don’t have a character expose the entire back story or unexpected plot points through dialogue alone – exposition needs to be limited. Such as if characters are reflecting on a clue or next action or piece of information they have discovered.

Remember to leave gaps for the reader to figure things out for themselves. No one tells people everything they are thinking or feeling.
Avoid explaining every detail to tie up all the loose ends. Over reflection or over explanation can soon become dull and can spoil the plot.

 

Note – these are guidelines to improve the quality of what is left on the page. The ‘because’ is always – to polish and improve the quality of the book. There will be exceptions here and there to the above. However, from experience I find these guidelines to be pretty much on the money.

On a personal level, I seek to continually ‘sharpen the saw’ by reading, researching and writing / editing. These blog entries are from the coal face so to speak.

Hope this helps.

Happy writing.

D.M. Jarrett

www.SeanYeager.com

www.seanyeager.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

9 writing tips I learned while writing

I write books for middle grade and young adult readers. And every so often I pause to sharpen the saw and learn more about the craft. Recently I took a break while writing my third book and focused on the editing process. This led to some broader learnings from the web, an editing book and my own realisations.

Tip 1

Avoid speech attribution by being clever with context and implied speakers.

In plain English – keep to ‘X said’, ‘X asked’ and above all avoid the need for explaining who is speaking with paragraph character beats or actions, either before or after the first speech in a section.

Tip 2

Keep to a strict viewpoint per section or better still chapter.

Why? Because only experts can make head-hopping work. Also, it is a far better read if your reader can get to know a character’s viewpoint for a while. Plus, it gives the writer time to develop intimacy with a character.

Tip 3

Use character’s inner dialogue sparingly to show their feelings, thoughts and concerns, but only based on what they can actually see from their perspective.

This helps to engage the reader in who the character is and what they are striving for. Too much inner dialogue though can distract from the plot. Too little and the reader can not get to know the character.

Tip 4

Lose the italics and exclamation marks.

Because – if the dialogue is strong enough it can stand on its own merits without signposts. And vice versa.

Tip 5

Read a lot and make notes as you read.

This won’t help you become the authors you read, but it will help your subconscious absorb the tone, words, structures and flows. Your notes are crucial to retain what you notice. I recommend noting that which you would never imagine writing. And then using similar structures made your own. Never attempt to be someone else, but do try to develop your own voice / style / approach.

Tip 6

Variety matters.

Professionals vary word choice, sentence structures and use of verbs. Because if we repeat the same words or phrases over and again it becomes annoying.

Tip 7

Question arcs for the major characters.

Finding different ways to repeat the core themes of the story as questions posed by the protagonist, helps to drive both the hero’s chains of action and the reader’s perspective of what the story is really about. The context of the question will vary by story type – who did it?  how? where are they? how to survive? where is the prize? how to win? does she love him? etc.

Tip 8

The antagonist has to have a convincing motive to allow the protagonist to be convincing.

In other words, flesh out what the antagonist wants and why to properly define the converse for the protagonist. Too often action movies fail in this respect and suffer as a consequence. Why does your anti-hero do what they do? What do they really want? If you as the writer do not clearly define this, it is unlikely that your work will convey a convincing sense of what the hero / protagonist is struggling against.

For example –

Our hero wants to save the world and get the girl/boy – fine.

But why does the anti-hero want to threaten the world in the first place? What do they gain?  Their own certain demise?  Some weird rebirth from the ashes and a power kick?

What does Jason Bourne actually want?  To kill everyone in the CIA / FBI who made him a super-spy?  Or to figure out who he really is and live a happy life somewhere?  Otherwise he’s pretty much on a survivalist kick and a hiding to endless retreads.

Tip 9

Remove -ly words of all kinds – slowly, quickly, badly – gone… make them active in the verbs – He crawled along. In a split second she drew her gun. He was a terrible shot and he knew it. (Yes I cheated).

And cut out the droning on that gets in the way of the plot. Less is more. More or less. If you need filler (excessive – narrative, back story, inner voice, description or repetition) perhaps your plot or subplots are too thin. You do have a plot outline don’t you?  Read up on the 5 act plot or hero’s path if you don’t.

That’s all for now folks

Happy writing and reading

D.M. Jarrett

Author of Sean Yeager Adventures