Month: May 2014

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 1: Writing Dialogue

dialogue

Dialogue is a hugely important part of writing fiction. It can move the action forward, reveal character, emotions and motivations, and can help prevent exposition. Good dialogue will draw your reader into the story. The good news? It’s not that difficult to achieve.

Listen

Writing excellent, realistic and informative dialogue begins with listening.  Pay attention to how people actually speak to each other. Listen out for elements such as turn taking, pauses, figures of speech, contractions etc. This last one is really important. If you listen to people you will notice that hardly anyone says ‘would have’ or ‘did not’, for example. What they will say is ‘would’ve’ and ‘didn’t’. Make sure you use these contractions in your dialogue. Nothing sounds quite as unrealistic as someone saying:

‘I did not go for a walk. I could have but it was raining.’

What they will say is:

‘I didn’t go for a walk. I could’ve, but it was raining.’

(OK, so that’s not exactly the most enthralling thing I’ve ever written, but you get the point.)

Say it

Whenever you write dialogue read it out loud. If you can, get someone to read it with you. It’s not until you actually hear the words spoken, that you can tell how natural it is, if it flows, if it works. Incidentally, I tend to read all of my own writing out loud. This really helps to pick out errors, repetitions and sentence structure issues (it helps that there’s not usually anyone else in the house but the dog).

 Leave out the boring bits

I know I said dialogue needs to be realistic, but it can’t be exactly the same as real speech. If you listen to an actual conversations, you will notice lots of pauses, lots of sounds that aren’t actual words (ums and errs etc.) and lots of ‘fillers’ that are completely irrelevant. Your dialogue has a purpose, and while it should be ‘real’ it should also achieve something. Get rid of anything that doesn’t add to the plot.

Beware dialogue tags

In a previous life I worked in a school. I spent a lot of time teaching children to avoid using the word’ ‘said’ in their writing. In fact, I have spent whole sessions putting together lists of alternative dialogue tags. Now I spend a lot of time editing these same tags out of manuscripts. The problem is that exciting, exotic dialogue tags only draw your reader’s attention away from what is actually being said. They detract from the story. And, if your writing is peppered with words like ‘exclaimed’, ‘bellowed’, ‘croaked’ etc., it looks like you’re trying too hard to come up with something different each time. Which you probably are. Stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ for the most part. Your reader shouldn’t have to be ‘told’ how your character is speaking; she should gather that from the words, the actions, the situation etc.

Break it up

While dialogue is exciting and adds variety, you don’t want line after line of dialogue. Break it up with some action. Actions can also work in place of dreaded dialogue tags. For example:

 ‘Did Ted drop off the package?’ asked Linda.

‘I don’t know,’ said Sophie.

‘For goodness sake,’ Linda sighed. ‘I asked you to remind him.’

Can be transformed into:

 Linda burst into the office.

‘Did Ted drop off the package?’

‘I don’t know.’ Sophie glanced up from the screen, her lips pursed.

Linda flung her bag onto the desk.

‘For goodness sake! I asked you to remind him.’

It’s completely clear here who is talking. Also, there is a sense of where the action is taking place, an idea of what the characters are doing and how they’re feeling.

Avoid exposition

I know I said above that dialogue can help with exposition. However, you must be very careful to ensure that readers do not feel that dialogue is being used simply to let them (the reader) know certain facts. Let the reader ascertain things from what your character is saying. Trust your reader – don’t force feed him details.

Read

Anyone who is serious about writing needs to read. A lot. And reading someone else’s work can help a great deal when it comes to writing dialogue. When you come across dialogue that works really well, work out how the writer did that. And when dialogue doesn’t work, again, work out what went wrong. You’ll then know what to do and what not to do when it comes to your own work.

Got any great tips for writing dialogue? Do post them here.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be. You can contact me here.

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Why you should be voting in the UK today

‘It is our duty to make this world a better place for women.’

Christabel Pankhurst

Regular readers of this blog will have probably realised that I have fairly strong political views, particularly on the subject of women’s rights. However, I don’t want to use this blog to ram my political beliefs down people’s throats. However, I do want to make the point that voting today is crucial – particularly if you are a woman. Your hard won vote should not be thrown away. Because it really was hard won.

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst

It wasn’t until 1918 that voting rights were granted to some women in this country, and even then it was only women over thirty who met minimum property qualifications. It was 1928 before all women over the age of 21 could vote. 1928! That’s not even a century ago. Some of you reading this will have parents and grandparents that were alive then. It’s not that long ago. Can you imagine how that felt? How women must have truly felt like second class citizens? So worthless and unimportant that they weren’t even allowed to help choose who would have power over them? To choose who would make the decisions that would shape their lives?

I’m not going to go on about the suffragettes, except to remind anyone who is not voting today that these brave, selfless women were imprisoned, force-fed, beaten and sexually abused. And of course, Emily Wilding Davison was killed at the Epsom Derby on 4th June 1913, when she stepped in front of the King’s horse. These women were true heroes, willing to risk their liberty and put themselves in harm’s way in order to secure equality.

Emily Wilding Davison trampled by the King's horse

Emily Wilding Davison trampled by the King’s horse

I know it is easy to become disillusioned with politics and politicians, and you may feel that you genuinely don’t agree with any party or individual who is standing for election. If you think this, I would urge you to think again. Read the manifestos – most of them are online and it really won’t take long. I was surprised to find that I did agree with every single one of the policies in one manifesto I read – and it definitely wasn’t UKIP! It’ll take you about half an hour to make up your mind, and probably about half an hour to pop out to the polling station and vote. An hour of your day at the most. Surely you can spare that? After all, it’s a rather small sacrifice compared to the sacrifices these women made. Sacrifices made on your behalf, for you, so you could exercise your freedom. A freedom they didn’t have.

Suffragette1913

Why you need an editor Part 2 : A writer’s view

edit

I recently edited a novel for a wonderful writer, Quil Carter. Quil very kindly offered to write a testimonial to use on this blog. When I received his testimonial, as well as being really thrilled and pleased with his kind words, I realised that he also had some extremely good advice for writers, whether considering self-publishing, or already published. I decided that, rather than writing another post about the necessity of an editor, it would be really useful for authors to see things from a fellow writer’s point of view. So here, in Quil’s words, is why you need an editor:

If you are on the fence about whether you need an editor or not, let me tell you… you do. You can have as many friends look over your manuscript as you want, but in the end, you need someone who knows what they’re doing and Alison is that person. Believe me when I say Google will not help you if you want to try and edit on your own. It’s full of confusing misinformation, frustrating contradictions and will most likely teach you bad and incorrect habits. The buddy you asked to proof-read your book will most likely make it worse too.

If you do say defiantly ‘nah, I’ve already read it over and so have several of my friends and it’s fine’, it isn’t, it really isn’t. Grammar, sentence structure, where colons go and more complicated things like awkward sentences or just parts that are not needed are all things that need a professional’s touch, not someone with an ‘okay’ understanding of editing and grammar.

Still on the fence? Let me paint a picture for you: You just spent over a year writing something that you’re proud of, something you consider your baby. You finally decide, after going over it many times, to self-publish and put your work out into the world.

Then the ratings come in, and even if they are good you start to notice people commenting on the editing. ‘Needs an editor’, ‘it was a great story but it had some grammar mistakes’, believe me… it will crush your soul. All of a sudden you will be pouring through the original manuscript trying to find these errors and when you do… you will be picking apart EVERYTHING and second guessing things you once thought perfect. You will become neurotic, it will stress you out and it will not be a fun experience. You want people to see your writing, your plot-lines, your character development… not errors.

You’re a writer, and you should be writing, not picking apart grammar, or forever googling ‘semi-colon’ in hopes that maybe you’ll finally understand just how to use one.

Solution? You need Alison! She is perfect for self-publishers; not only is she here to help you with issues with your manuscript she knows things that I guarantee you don’t. Not only did she send back my edits days before she said they would be done, she did a wonderful job and offered suggestions on my book that helped make it better. Alison is easy to work with, professional and I am eager to use her again for my future books.

Your book deserves to be perfect; after all the time you put into writing it you’re selling yourself short if you don’t use Alison as your editor. With her golden touch you can make a good book amazing and if you have an okay book she can give you the tools needed to make it amazing. She knows her stuff and she knows what she’s doing.

One of my favourite parts about using her was the report that she included in her edits. She pointed out areas of my writing, bad habits that continued throughout the book she was editing (and that I know are in my other books) that I never realized I was doing. So not only did she do a great job editing, she has also offered suggestions that I feel will make my future books even better. I appreciated that a lot. I have used her report as my own personal writer’s guide and have referred to it many times to remind myself of parts that I need to fix for my future work. That is actually something every writer needs. Chances are you are making the same mistakes throughout your book and having them pointed out and corrected has been a huge help for me personally.

All in all, save yourself the stress and get Alison. I couldn’t be more happy with her work, and she has my full recommendation.

Quil Carter, author of The Fallocaust Series

Mrs Blunden – a most unfortunate Basingstoke resident

basingstoke

Basingstoke. A town known for many things – its roundabouts, its housing estates, and, more recently, its not so contrite local MP, Maria Miller. These seem to be the things that spring to mind if you question those who don’t know the town. They don’t often mention the beautiful surrounding countryside, the historic old town or the subject of the town’s most horrible, yet most gripping tale, the unfortunate Mrs Blunden.

This poor lady lived in the town in the seventeenth century, the wife of a successful local malt merchant. During the hot summer of 1674, her husband was away on business in London. One evening Mrs Blunden, by all accounts a rather large lady, was feeling unwell.  For some reason, no-one seems to know exactly why, she drank a huge quantity of poppy water acquired from a local apothecary. One account blames her maid, who gave her the water accidently when she asked for wine; other reports suggest that Mrs Blunden took the water as a curative. Whatever the reason, having drunk the water, she apparently dropped dead.

Her body was laid out, and a messenger was sent to her husband. He requested that she not be buried until he had returned home. However, due to the size of the woman, and the heat, it was feared that she would soon begin to smell. She was, therefore, placed in a coffin that was nailed shut.  She was then buried at the Liten burial ground near to the Holy Ghost Chapel.

holy ghost - old

These burial grounds were used as a playground by boys attending the Queen’s school. Some of the boys thought they heard noises coming from the grave and went to tell the School Master. At first he didn’t believe them, but when other children also claimed to have heard noises, the grave was eventually opened. It was too late to do anything for the unfortunate woman. She had clearly been alive when she had been buried as her body was covered in self-inflicted wounds, caused by her struggles on regaining consciousness. This is terrible in itself, but the horror doesn’t stop there.

Mrs Blunden’s coffin was re-sealed and placed back in the grave to await the coroner who was due the following day. A guard was posted, but he must have been distracted, fallen asleep or left his post, for, when the grave was re-opened, poor Mrs Blunden was covered in fresh wounds. Her shroud was torn, her fingernails bloody and, some reports claim, her mouth bleeding, presumably from chewing at herself in her distress.

So the unlucky Mrs Blunden had the bad luck to be buried alive not once, but twice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The ruins of the Holy Ghost Chapel can still be visited today.