#writinganovel

Using ‘passed’ and ‘past’ correctly #writingtips #amwriting

Following on from my post explaining the differences between ‘lying’ and ‘laying’, another very common issue I find when I’m editing is confusion when using ‘passed’ and ‘past’.

Passed is the past tense of the verb ‘to pass’. It’s used to describe things that have already happened. It’s also the past participle of ‘to pass’ so it’s used for the passive voice (the law was passed) and perfect tenses (thirty years have passed by so quickly).

The definitions of ‘to pass’ are:

  • To move or make something move (the cars passed along the street)
  • To go by someone or something (we passed the supermarket on the way to the meeting)
  • To give something to someone (he passed me the salt)
  • To go by (time has passed so quickly)
  • To be successful in something (I just passed my driving test)
  • To approve a law (the law was passed)

Passed is only ever a verb form.

Past, however, has lots of different functions – it is an adjective, a noun and a preposition.

As a noun:

  • The time before the present moment (we didn’t use that method in the past)
  • The history of a place or person (he never talks about his past)

As an adjective:

  • Gone by in time or no longer existing (his best years are past)
  • Happening before and leading up to the time of speaking or writing (he’s really grown in the past year)

As a preposition:

  • From one side of something to the other (he ran past her and into the house)
  • Telling the time (it’s past midnight)
  • Further than a specific point (I can see past the harbour and out over the sea)

As an adverb:

  • To move from one side so as to move from one side of something or someone to the other (she saw a car going past) 
  • time going by (a year went past before she saw him again) 

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

How to Write Dialogue #writingtips #amwriting

Dialogue is a hugely important part of writing fiction. It can move the action forward, reveal character, emotions and motivations, and can help show a reader a character’s back story. 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 done, 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 (I do often get funny looks from the dogs).

Leave out the boring bits

While dialogue needs to be realistic, it can’t be exactly the same as real speech. If you listen to an actual conversation, 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 story.

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, they 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

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 them 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.

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English.

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

WRITING TIP – LYING/LAYING #amwriting #writingtips

A very quick tip today – regarding one of the most common errors I see in the manuscripts I edit, confusion over the verbs ‘lie’ and ‘lay’.

These words are probably the ones that are used incorrectly the most in the writing projects I’ve worked on. If you get confused about the correct forms to use, it might be worth keeping a note close to your work space – even a post-it stuck to your computer screen.

It works like this:

‘Lie’ is an intransitive verb – it doesn’t require an object; it means ‘to recline’.

Its principal parts are:

‘lay’ (past tense – and probably the cause of most of the confusion)

‘Lain’ (past participle)

‘Lying’ (present participle)

Jane lay down on the bed for a nap half an hour ago.

She had lain in bed all day.

Jane was lying on the bed. She had been lying there all day long.

‘Lay’ is a transitive verb – it requires an object; it means ‘to place’ or ‘to put’.

Its principal parts are:

‘laid’ (past tense)

‘laid’ (past participle)

‘laying’ (present participle)

 The chicken laid an egg.

The chicken had laid an egg.

The chicken was laying an egg.

If you lay a book on a desk, it is now lying there NOT laying there.

When you go on holiday, you may spend time lying on the beach NOT laying on the beach (unless you are a chicken and you’re laying an egg on the beach).

If you lie down on the sofa to watch TV, you might spend the evening lying there – you DO NOT lay on the sofa and spend the evening laying there, unless, again, you are a chicken.

If there is an egg on the ground, it is lying there. If the chicken is involved, she may be laying the egg on the ground.

To add a bit more confusion, ‘lie’ also means to tell an untruth. Its past participle and past tense form is ‘lied’ and its present participle form is ‘lying’.

She had lied too often.

He lied to me.

Stop lying to me.

He was lying to me.

A word of caution – don’t always trust the spelling and grammar check – it sometimes gets confused too!

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

How to Handle Feedback #writingtips #writinganovel #amwriting

One of the most difficult things to deal with when writing a novel is getting feedback, whether this is from a friend, a beta reader or an editor. Honestly – it can be completely terrifying. I know this from experience having written two books myself. The first experience I had of getting feedback on a piece of fiction was when I began studying for a Masters in Creative Writing. A huge part of the course was the workshop. We took it in turns to send a few chapters of our WIPs to everyone in the group and then a week or so later we would gather (online) to discuss that writing. The first time it was my turn I actually felt physically sick. I was terrified that the other students would hate my work, that they would destroy it. So, as an editor, I do completely understand how nerve-wracking it is to get that feedback. And sometimes it’s not only terrifying, it’s also confusing, especially when two or more of your readers or editors have completely different opinions about your work. So how do you deal with feedback?

Feedback from Beta Readers

So you’ve sent out your manuscript to five beta readers and you have five conflicting opinions about it. What should you do?

First, step back and coolly asses your betas. Whose opinion do you really trust? If one of them is your mum, then she’s probably not the one to go with.

Then go with your gut – you know if someone’s comments ring true, if something makes you think, ‘Oh yeah. That’s a good point.’ You need to be honest with yourself.

Look for common threads. If three of your betas hate the same thing, but one loves it, then it’s probably safe to go with the majority.

Feedback from Editors

Again, take a step back. Yes, that’s difficult; your work is so personal to you, so much a part of you. But feedback is vital to improve your craft. So put the process into perspective. Your editor is (hopefully) trying to help you. Their criticisms (if they’re any good) should be constructive. Trust me, when I give feedback on a manuscript, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings, or upset you or belittle you. But it would do you no good whatsoever if I wasn’t honest. I want to help you. So bear that in mind and try to be objective when you look at feedback.

Make sure you understand what your editor is trying to tell you. If you don’t understand their comments or you need some clarification, then ask. Personally, I feel that if a writer comes back to me about a point I’ve raised, then it’s my job to address their concerns. Just because I’ve finished the edit, it doesn’t mean I can no longer answer questions or provide feedback. A caveat though – don’t take advantage of your editor’s good nature; ask a question, accept the answer, but don’t expect a long-running dialogue. And don’t argue either – you’ve asked me for my professional opinion, I’ve given it and I’ve given my reasons for that opinion. It serves no purpose if you don’t agree for us to have back and forth emails about it.

Remember – you own the story. You don’t have to do what your editor says. It’s entirely up to you. But do remember that your editor is not your enemy. We don’t sit there trying to pick faults – we want to help you make your manuscript the best it can be. So if we say something you don’t agree with, take a deep breath, read the criticism again and really think about it. Does your editor have a point?

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

BEATING WRITER’S BLOCK #writingtips #amwriting

Writer’s block – we’ve all heard of it, and lots of us have experienced it, whether it’s just that horrible half an hour of looking at a blank piece of paper or empty screen while our brains refuse to perform, or the more serious, crippling months or even years of inability to create that has afflicted some of the greatest writers. I know there have been times when I have tackled a huge pile of ironing, or walked the dog in the rain rather than face writing another chapter, or starting an article (or even a blog post), and the longer I’ve left it, the worse it has got.

Writer’s block can be caused by many things. For many, it often stems from a fear that their writing isn’t good enough, and that no one will want to read it anyway. Or perhaps you’re feeling guilty about devoting a day to working on your next novel rather than writing something you’re actually getting paid to produce. Then there are all the other little niggling responsibilities. But remember, writing is important because it’s important to you. So next time you’re faced with a blank page, rather than go for the usual avoidance tactics of cleaning the skirting boards or reading random articles online in the name of research, try one of these:

Write anything. Set a stopwatch for five minutes and make yourself write until the buzzer goes. It doesn’t matter what it is; just the physical action of writing something down can be enough to get your writing going again

Let yourself be terrible. Sometimes we can’t write because we feel our writing isn’t good enough. But when you are at the beginning of the writing process that doesn’t matter. Your first draft doesn’t have to be a prize-winner. Just write, whether or not it’s rubbish (chances are, some of it won’t be). You’ll be going back and re-drafting and editing over and over again. It doesn’t matter if what you write now actually is awful – it’s the finished manuscript that matters. As Margaret Attwood once said; ‘If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.’

Move on If you’re stuck in a scene or you can’t quite resolve something, move on to another scene. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t witting chronologically. You can write the ending first if you want to, or the middle, or a scene two thirds through. It doesn’t matter – no one’s watching! You can come back and fill in the gaps later. And writing a different scene might help ‘unblock’ whatever problem it was that you had previously.

Exercise your brain. There are literally hundreds of writing exercises and prompts available online. Use one to kick start your writing. Try Mslexia for lots of helpful writing advice and exercises. And there are plenty of prompts on the Writer’s Digest site.

Exercise your body. Walk the dog or go for a run. Sometimes being away from the house doing something physical can be enough to unblock your brain. Leave your phone behind and look and listen to what’s around you.

Plan your time. If you can, make sure you’re writing when you’re most creative and productive, whether it’s last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Try and keep an hour clear at those times to devote to your writing, even it if means getting up earlier or going to bed a bit later.

Set a target. Even if it’s only a couple of hundred words a day, or thirty minutes a day, make sure you write. Don’t worry how good or bad it is – just write for those minutes or write those many words. As Kingsley Amis once famously said: ‘The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of one’s pants to the seat of one’s chair.’

Give yourself a break. It may be that you’re trying to do too much, that you’re tired and stressed. It’s hard to be creative at times like these. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Take a week away from writing to catch up on all those other little nagging tasks that spring to mind when you’re trying to write. Guilt about spending time writing can cripple creativity, and its all very well telling yourself that writing is important too – we all have other things in our lives that can’t just be ignored. Get these done, and then you can sit down to write without worrying. And the time away may be enough to cure your writer’s block.

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

EXPOSITION – THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE BORING #writingtips #amwriting

Despite the fact that I quite often highlight great tracts of text and write ‘EXPOSITION’ over them in bold, (actually I’m much more polite than that about it) exposition is, in fact, extremely important. Indeed, exposition is part of every narrative; without it your reader would have no idea what was going on, where anything was, or who the characters were. Used wisely, used well and given the appropriate mode in which to inform, then it does have a valid part to play in a narrative. You can probably have no better example than the bard himself. The opening scene of Shakespeare’s Othello tells us a lot about Iago and Roderigo, their relationship and their status. And all in a few lines of dialogue.

ACT I
SCENE I. Venice. A street.
Enter RODERIGO and IAGO

RODERIGO: 

Tush! never tell me; I take it much unkindly

That thou, Iago, who hast had my purse

As if the strings were thine, shouldst know of this.

IAGO:

‘Sblood, but you will not hear me:

If ever I did dream of such a matter, Abhor me.

Without wanting to make this a lesson in literature and language, the opening lines tell us that Roderigo is socially superior to Iago; he says, ‘Tush!’ in other words, ‘Shut up.’ He must be Iago’s superior to speak to him like this. So, with one word, the audience is put in the picture.

Shakespeare knew that ‘showing’ the audience information about his characters and the setting, through actions and speech was far more entertaining and engaging than simply ‘telling’ them that information. And ‘telling’ is the form of exposition that we have all been guilty of using (yes, all of us, without exception; if you don’t think you haven’t done it then you don’t know what it is). But we do need to let our reader in on things, so how do we go about it without ‘telling’?

Let’s take a simple example. Your protagonist, Bill, is tetchy because he didn’t get much sleep. First of all ask yourself the question ‘Does it matter? Does my reader need to know this?’ If the answer is yes, then you could say this:

Bill was tetchy that morning as he hadn’t had enough sleep.

Now that’s really boring. And if you do this all the time then it’s really, really, really boring. So how can you give your reader this information without ‘telling’ them?

Use dialogue, and use action. These two things can help enormously and will bring interest, movement and life to your writing:

‘For god’s sake, woman, why is this coffee cold?’

The mug followed its contents into the sink, the clatter drowning out the cheery tones of the radio DJ.

Emily lowered the newspaper.

‘You could always make it yourself. That would be a refreshing change. Anyway, why are you so grumpy?’

Bill sat down opposite his wife and placed his head in his hands.

‘Did you not hear it?’

‘Hear what?’

‘That bloody noise from next door. All night that same scraping and bumping. Then they started screaming at each other. I didn’t get a wink of sleep.’

I know this isn’t exactly Pulitzer Prize winning stuff, but I hope it’s a bit more interesting than the first example. After all, here we have a scene not just a sentence. And we have also learned quite a lot – Bill likes coffee, but he expects his wife to make it (is he a sexist pig perhaps? Is there conflict in the marriage? Resentment? An impending divorce?). We also know that there are some pretty strange people living next door, who are up to all sorts of things in the night. And of course, we also know that Bill is grumpy because he didn’t get much sleep.

Exposition through dialogue can be very effective then, but do be careful. You need your dialogue to be realistic. Don’t use it as a way of dumping information. And make sure your characters never tell each other things they already know. For example:

Bill adjusted his tie in the mirror. Emily smiled and straightened it, patting him on the shoulder.

‘Don’t look so nervous. You’ll be fine.’

‘I know, but I have to make this work. I really need this job. If I don’t get it I don’t know what I’ll do. The mortgage is due next week and we’re already three months behind. They’ll be looking to repossess if we don’t pay up.’

Emily nodded.

‘I know. Then there’s the money we owe your mum. It was nice of her to pay Tarquin’s school fees for the last two months, after all they were about to kick him out. But we can’t keep relying on her. Not now she’s got all those medical bills to pay. How awful that she should break her hip falling down the stairs on her birthday.’

Now I know this is an extreme example, but lots of writers do this. Bill doesn’t need to tell Emily how far behind their mortgage payments are – she knows. And Bill knows his mother paid Tarquin’s school fees, and everything else Emily tells him. If your reader needs to know this information, find different ways to show it – have a letter arrive from the bank just as Bill leaves for his interview, or have Emily visit her mother-in-law in hospital and be told that there is no more financial help.

And remember, as with most things in writing, and indeed in life unfortunately, less is more. Don’t bog down your narrative and bore your reader with unnecessary detail. Show them what they need to know and let them put the pieces together.

Happy writing!

I am an experienced editor, and have worked on more than five hundred projects in a variety of genres including dystopian, romance, memoir, erotica, YA, fantasy, short stories, poetry and business. I am happy to edit in either UK or US English. 

I have a first degree in English Language and Literature and a master’s degree in creative writing.

Read testimonials from clients.

Find out about my editing services.

Contact me.

Getting your writing off to a great start in 2022 #writingtips #amwriting

It’s been a tough couple of years, and goodness knows what 2022 will bring. COVID has shown us that we just don’t know what’s around the corner. But there’s something about January, despite what’s going on the world, that always feels full of hope. It’s like opening a fresh new notebook, full of blank pages just waiting to be filled. 

If you are planning on setting some writing goals in 2022, are beginning your first novel, or cracking on with your twentieth, thinking of self-publishing or are about to query agents, are a first-time author, or a seasoned pro, this is a great time to take the opportunity to brush up on your writing skills. Throughout January and February, I’ll be posting some writing and editing tips to help you on your writing journey.

From advice about the proper use of dialogue tags, to the problems with exposition, from commonly confused words, to managing transitions between scenes, the blog will be full of advice, quick tips and pointers to help get your writing on track.

Make 2022 the year your writing is the best it can be. 

And if you’re considering hiring an editor, do get in touch.

Do You Really Need an Editor? #writingtips #amwriting

The short answer is yes, you do.

If you’re reading this, the chances are you’re thinking of self-publishing. You’ve spent hours writing. You’re proud of your work, but nervous about how it will be received. You’ve spent time revising and polishing when you could have been doing other things. You’ve already paid out for a professionally designed book cover. You really need to start making some money on this project. So you don’t need the extra expense of an editor, do you? Well, yes, you probably do.

You’ve written your masterpiece. You’ve had family and friends read it; they’ve pointed out a few typos but have told you it’s wonderful and that you should publish. So that’s what you do next, right? Well, possibly, if your friends and family are completely impartial and will tell you the honest truth. And if you are completely sure that you’ve managed to catch every typo and grammatical error in your copy. And if you’re one hundred per cent sure that there’s nothing that can be improved, corrected and enhanced by a completely impartial, professional eye. By someone who edits as their job and whose reputation depends on how well they do that job.

You need an editor because, not only will you not see all the typos and grammatical errors but you will be too invested in your work to see it impartially. You know your characters and your plot inside out. You know the sequence of events and why and how things happen. And this is where the problem lies. You can’t ‘un-know’ all of that, so you can’t see the flaws in plot, in structure, in characterisation. You can’t read your book from beginning to end the way a reader will. And if there are flaws and inconsistencies, if there is more than the odd typo, then your readers, if you publish without having had a thorough edit, will be happy to point them out in reviews.

I understand how attached you are to your work. I know how horrible it is to send that work to someone else and have them criticise it, however constructively. However, I also know that this process is far less painful than sending your precious work out there, warts and all, to have those warts picked over by readers and reviewers.

So the question is not ‘can I afford to hire an editor?’ but ‘can I afford not to?’

If you’d like to discuss having your work edited, please do get in touch. You can use the contact form here, or email me at alisonewilliams@sky.com.

Saturday Writing Tips: Clarity #writingtips

clarity

‘Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 4.116

The Oxford dictionary defines clarity as:

 The quality of being clear, in particular:

The quality of being coherent and intelligible

The quality of being easy to see or hearsharpness of image or sound

In fiction writing, as in any other type of writing, you need to be clear – your words, your sentences, the pictures you build, must have clarity. Otherwise, who are you writing for? As an author, you have stories you want to share, so you must bear in mind your audience, your reader and what they will do with the words you choose to give them. This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever, that you can’t be creative, that you can’t build wonderful metaphors, use fabulous imagery and weave complex, intricate plots and storylines. But you must have clarity in all you write. What are those ingenious metaphors for? They are there to help your reader understand – to tell your story. What is that beautiful imagery for, if not to help your reader imagine your worlds, your characters, your visions? And if your plot makes no sense, then why should a reader waste time with your work? You are not writing in a vacuum, you are writing for a reader and your reader must know what you are conveying with those words.

So how do you ensure clarity in your writing?

Pronouns

pronouns

One common issue I deal with all the time when editing is confusion resulting from  the use of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘his’, ‘her’ etc. It’s crucial that the noun the pronoun is referring to is clear. For example:

The car hit the barrier but it wasn’t damaged.

What wasn’t damaged? What does ‘it’ refer to – the car or the barrier? In this sentence it could be either.

Similarly:

John gave Adam his money.

Whose money? Adam’s? Or John’s? Make sure it’s clear who the pronoun is referring to.

Passive voice

active passive

Passive voice can make your writing seem wordy and unnatural. Using active voice makes your words more immediate and gives them energy. Find out more about active vs. passive voice here.

Ditch the clichés

cliche

Clichés don’t work in fiction because they are stale and overused. They are phrases other people have made – your story and your characters deserve fresh, new words and phrases that are all their own. Again, think of your reader. If you fill your work with stale old clichés, you give the impression that you can’t be bothered; you can’t be bothered to think of exactly the right words to use, you can’t be bothered to think of something fresh and new, you can’t be bothered to create new phrases and sentences. So why should a reader be bothered with you?

Cut, cut and cut again

cutting words

One of the most common comments I use when I’m editing is ‘do you need?’ Writers should apply this to every word they write. Do you really, really, really need it? And if not, then cut it. For example:

When she went to the shops that morning, there were crowds of people thronging the streets.

Now if every word matters, what can be got rid of here?

It might be important that she went to the shops that morning, so we’ll leave that in, but you can cut ‘there were’. These two words are hardly ever needed.

When she went to the shops that morning, crowds of people thronged the streets.

So it’s only two words – but it’s two words you don’t need.

The same goes for ‘she felt’, ‘she saw’, ‘she knew’

As she walked to the shops, she saw two cyclists coming towards her.

Why not simply –

As she walked to the shops, two cyclists came towards her.

Another particular pet hate of mine is ‘she began’ or ‘she started’. Why write ‘she began to cough’ instead of ‘she coughed’? Or ‘she began to speak’ instead of ‘she spoke’?

and what about ‘Off’ or ‘off of’?

The short answer is ‘off’.

The long answer is:

You don’t need to say:

She pushed him off of the bridge.

Just

She pushed him off the bridge.

Other words that can often be cut are ‘seemed to’ or ‘appeared to’. Be firm and clear in your writing and your meaning.

She seemed to quiver at the sight of him.

is much better as:

She quivered at the sight of him.

These are just some examples of how you can bring clarity to your work. I’d love to hear other tips and advice.

 

Saturday Writing Tips : Contractions in dialogue #writingtips

dialoguepic

A very quick tip here for writers struggling with dialogue.

One of the issues that I find in a lot of the manuscripts I edit is that the dialogue can seem forced and contrived. Realistic, believable and authentic dialogue is a must for a good novel, and authors need to make sure they get it right. But many new writers think they have to write ‘properly’ and they think this means eschewing contractions.

Generally, if you want to make your dialogue flow and for readers to believe in it, then you need to use contractions (there are exceptions to this, in particular types of fiction). Think about it. How many people do you know (however posh they are and however ‘properly’ they speak) who say things like this:

‘Please do not walk on the grass.’

The answer is no one. No one ever (except perhaps the queen and probably not even her) speaks like that. It sounds horrible.

So remember:

‘Don’t’ not ‘do not’
‘They’ve’ not ‘they have’
‘Should’ve’ not ‘should have’ (and definitely NOT should of)
‘I’ll’ not ‘I will’
‘Can’t’ not ‘cannot’
You get the point.

There are three things you can do to improve your dialogue:

Listen – actually listen to people talking. This has the advantage of also often being very entertaining.
Read – when you’re reading, make a note of dialogue that really works, and why it works
Speak – read your dialogue out loud. Does it sound right?
Contrived, formal, awkward dialogue is, I’m afraid, the sign of a writer still learning their craft. Get it right, and your writing will be smooth and professional and your dialogue a pleasure to read.