Two posts in one week! Editing, and Publishing

I completely forgot to share the link to my post on editing last Sunday, so this week you get two posts!

First: Editing: Enrich your story by showing, not telling

And Second: Publishing in South Africa and Abroad: Do I need an ISBN and where do I get it?

Have fun!

Tuesday Editing Tips on a Wednesday – Because what’s a schedule for if not to be broken?*

*And also because I started writing a post about Deep Point of View for yesterday’s post and realised that it was going way deeper (haha) than I’d anticipated and I needed more time to do it justice, so … that will be next week’s post.

This week you get … wait for it … drumroll please

Accents in Dialogue – Points to Consider.

(Shout out to Nthato for asking this question on our writing group and saving my life giving me the idea.)

The Question:

How do you guys feel about writing accents?
Like the typical “German/Swede” who pronounces “th” as “da”.

The Answer:

When writing accent in dialogue, there are first three criteria to consider:
  1. Does it enhance characterisation? Would the character be diminished if they spoke without an accent, or with the accent indicated in dialogue tags instead of speech?
  2. Will it engross the reader in the story? If the accent can be pulled off in speech without jarring the reader out of the story, then by all means, include it.
  3. Does it develop plot? If the accent is essential to the plot – for example, a German character who speaks with an accent at home, but in a volatile situation loses the accent, giving clues to the reader about secrets they may be hiding, the accent should be included.
Once those criteria are met, you then need to determine the following:
  1. Length of the story. In shorter stories, accents can be easily pulled off because there’s less room for dialogue, and readers are less likely to be annoyed by “Da” written instead of “The”.
  2. Is there a way to indicate accent in speech, without writing words differently? For example, the shift of “th” to “da” is actually a lisp. It’s an accent only because it’s created by the home language pronouncing letters and sounds differently in the mouth. In another language, the muscles of the tongue and jaw instinctively form recognised patterns, changing the airflow around certain letters and creating what we hear as an accent.
  3. Can you indicate the accent by changing only certain words, instead of the entire dialogue? In the case of a German accent, it’s more easily recognised by changing “th” to an “s” and “w” to a “v” as in the case of “with” becoming “vis”. This is less likely to jar a reader out of the story as they struggle to pronounce the misspelled English words.
  4. Does changing the spelling of the English word to show an accent, create a word that means something else? In the case of “the” becoming “da”, you have the problem of “da” meaning other things. “Yes” in Russian, for one, and a colloquial expression for father in English for another.
  5. Does the character’s situation require an accent? I’ve met Germans who have only been speaking English for a year, and the only way to tell they’re not native English speakers, is because occasionally they’ll mix up a tense or use the right word, in a different context. Likewise with other languages. It depends on the person, and their ability to hear sounds and mimic accents.
  6. Are you stereotyping a character based on your perception of their accent? This is a hard one to avoid, because stereotypes are easy to fall into in order to create recognisable characters. One way to avoid this is to search for videos of native speakers talking in a second language, and see how they actually feel about using a different language, and what they may have struggled with.

Regardless of what you choose to do with your character’s speech, the most important thing is to remain consistent!

How do you feel about accents in dialogue? Do you include them? Do you have a question about writing/editing that you’d like me to answer in a Tuesday Editing Tips post? Post it in the comments below!

Editing Tips Tuesday – Things you never thought need editing, but probably do.*

*FRIENDLY WARNING: This post is mostly perfectionist nitpicking. Read at peril of your sensitive souls.

The general consensus by writers is that editing is a pain in the *bleep* and they’d rather not. Just … not.

I get it. Editing is hard. It requires concentration, knowledge, and a certain skill in understanding complicated concepts such as the English language (if you’re writing in English that is).

As humans, we’re prone to making mistakes. It’s normal, common and even endearing. (When I eat all the chocolate without sharing it, that’s a cute mistake right?)

Anyway … moving on.

Not everyone is an editor by default. Spelling and grammar aren’t necessarily important to you, and while I may not always understand it, I can accept it. Mostly. (Every now and then I have to resist the twitches that occur.)

That being said, I feel it’s important that as writers/editors on social media we become aware of some things. Since I’m also a know-it-all, I’ve made it my job to share these things with you. You’re welcome.

Hermione Know it all

Things you never thought need editing, but probably do:

  • Your website. If you have one, and you’re a writer, a poorly edited website doesn’t really give readers a lot of confidence in your ability to write. I’m not talking about the design – I’m talking about the content on your webpages. When you create it, update it, or if you’ve been around for years and learnt a whole bunch of writing tricks you now decide to implement on your site, make sure to run it past an editor. Whether it’s your inner editor, a friend, or a professional you hire, making sure your website content is edited is what will help you stand out to readers.
  • Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For the most part, these sites are networking platforms where we get to let loose and have fun. It’s also where we get to reveal a little more of who we are to our followers. Again, if you’re posting a meme on one of these platforms as a writer/editor, make sure that words like you’re/your, they’re/their/there, and of/off are used in context, and that those sneaky apostrophes are in the right places. Mistakes slip in (I will admit that I’m slightly OTT about deleting posts if I can’t edit them to correct a typo – judge away; I do), but if you’ve downloaded a meme to share, run a quick check for errors in spelling. As a writer and editor, nothing irritates me more than a brilliant meme that’s ruined by a simple spelling error. I won’t share it. I won’t retweet it. I won’t like it.
  • Blog Posts. I’m a little bit more lenient here. It’s super easy to miss errors as you type up a post in a hurry in order to keep up with that hectic blogging schedule, and I have a ton of respect for people who succeed in regularly posting on their blogs. I barely manage to come up with posts according to the weekly schedule I’ve set myself, and you can just forget about it going out at a certain time. When I post it, you know I’ve generally just finished writing it. I’m not a planner, people! Still, it’s a blog. It has an edit function. If you spot a typo after you’ve hit “publish” please, my inner editor is begging you, please go and fix it! ESPECIALLY if you’re a writer/editor posting something about either of those topics.

Am I too much of a perfectionist? Yes! I’m trying to make this my career, dammit, and if I’m being a judgmental ass, it’s because I care about not twitching and those last two points make me twitchy. Very twitchy.


Disclaimer: I have mentioned before that I hold myself to extremely high standards, probably too much so. The tips above should be read with a pinch of salt, and recognition of the fact that I am aware that not everyone is as picky (or twitchy) as me. Nor do I expect you to be. I need people who aren’t to balance me out and remind me that the world does not revolve around correct spelling and grammar. Like these lovely people:

deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are


What do you think? IS it important to edit the sites I mentioned? Did I skip anything that you’ve discovered that you feel could use editing? Are you twitchy, or can you happily ignore mistakes?








Editing Tips Tuesday – NaNoWriMo is upon us, pack that editor away! TTT Post

Most of the time, editing is an essential aspect of writing. I often reiterate how important it is to develop a habit of editing your own work before expecting others to read it.

However, with NaNoWriMo starting tomorrow (I can cue the panic now, right?), it’s equally important to stop editing so that you can focus on writing.

Today, I’m linking up with The Broke and Bookish for their Top Ten Tuesday Hallowe’en Special with ten tips that will put the fear of the writer into your inner editor!

Ten Tips to Frighten Your Inner Editor Away for NaNoWriMo

  1. Acknowledge that your draft can give ghouls nightmares. It needn’t be perfect, it needn’t be pretty. You just need to write it.
  2. Turn your screen to darkness. What you can’t see, may make your editor run screaming in horror, but it will stop you going back to edit. There are several apps that will allow you to do this. (See below list.)
  3. Make ghosts out of each day’s writing. Start each day with a blank document, or the very last line of the previous day’s words. You’ll stop editing what’s already written, and jump straight into writing.
  4. If your editor is shrieking in terror at a word or sentence, highlight/mark it in some way so you can edit it later.
  5. Turn your sentences to slow, rambling zombies. For this month you’re allowed to ramble pointlessly – while your editor hides in a corner whimpering.
  6. Remind yourself that your editor is a vampire – it sucks the creative life force out of your writer. Garlic won’t help, but hiding the red pens and delete button might.
  7. Join in the sprints. Learning to run away with your words will give you the tools you need to escape your vampiric editor.
  8. Stock up on apocalyptic survival supplies. If you have everything at hand while you write, you won’t need to scavenge for food, giving your editor time to sneak up on you.
  9. Rest often enough that you are confident in your ability to keep up the flow of words. When you’re tired, you can’t stop the editor taking control, and it wants to suck your words, not your blood.
  10. When all of the above fails, lock yourself in a room with nothing but pens and paper and write as if your life depends on it. With vampiric editors, ghoulish first drafts, and shuffling zombie sentences, it just might.

The following apps will help with writing in the dark:

BlindWrite – Set your topic, your timer and start writing. Once your time is up, the writing reappears, and you can copy it to a word document.

Earnest – Like BlindWrite, an online writing app, that basically disables backspace, highlight, delete, and turns your editor into a gibbering idiot.

ilys – A paid app that costs $11 monthly, it shows only the last letter you typed and only for a split second at a time. You get 3000 words for a trial run.

Write or Die – Can be used online, or you can purchase and download the app to use offline. Use typewriter mode to disable editing. Also really useful for those word sprint training sessions.

NaNoWriMo kicks off tomorrow! Are you ready?*

*This is a trick question, because how is anyone ever ready for the insanity that is 50 000 words in a month?!

Share your tips for NaNoWriMo in the comments! Do you edit? Do you escape the vampires? How do you feel about Hallowe’en? It’s a recent development in South Africa, but it seems to be catching on. 




Editing Tips Tuesday – Self-Editing (what is it, and why do I need it?)

What is self-editing you ask?

Well, it could mean one of two things:

  1. Editing your own writing.
  2. Editing yourself.

In this instance, I want to discuss the second meaning.

Here’s the thing. We’re busy hosting a treasure hunt across social media to market the upcoming release of Jozi Flash 2017. It’s a big deal for me, because I’m the publisher and editor of the anthology. I’m also a contributing author. Along with nine other extremely talented authors and one amazing artist, we’ve created a collection of flash fiction stories across eight genres and we’re going to be offering it as a FREE download.

In deciding how to market it, I had to consider the following:

  • What image do I want to give of Chasing Dreams Publishing?
  • What image do I want the contributing authors to give of themselves and their writing?
  • How do I ensure that in giving access to their individual social media sites, they maintain the high standard that I expect of myself (and therefore of others) on their sites?

The last was a major concern for me, because I am a perfectionist. I like everything to be pretty and neat and professional to a degree. But here’s the thing – that’s me. It’s not necessarily any of the other authors. And while I could potentially request that the authors edit themselves for the sake of fitting into the mould, that wouldn’t really be fair.

Which got me to thinking about how many authors, artists and other professionals who use social media intentionally hide aspects of their personalities in order to be more professional. It made me wonder how many people are forced to sign contracts that require editing aspects of themselves out of their social media.

I get it, I really do. There are levels of professionalism that need to be maintained when you’re trying to build a solid business as an author/blogger/artist/etc. The fact remains though, that these professionals are also, in most cases, individuals. Real people with real lives and their social media should be their responsibility to manage.

Which is why, when the Jozi Flash contributors and I had the discussion about branding themselves as authors, I didn’t ask them to censor themselves. I didn’t ask them to pretend to be people they’re not. I just asked that they be sure that the image they portray on their media, is one that they’re comfortable with.

So today, for self-editing, I’m going to give you some tips on what to do, and what not to do when you’re marketing yourself as a professional on social media.

Tips for self-editing on social media:

  • Be yourself. Authentic and genuine. No one else can be who you are, so don’t try to be someone else.
  • Be positive. Negative comments about yourself or others tends to leave others with a negative perception of you. This includes running yourself or your work down for any reason. It’s not a pretty picture. Don’t do it.
  • Be respectful. Not everyone is going to agree with or like you, but the great thing about social media is, they don’t have to follow you, and you don’t have to respond to them. There are unfollow and unsubscribe buttons for a reason!
  • Be proud of yourself. I cannot stress this one enough! As creators, we tend to be cursed with insecurities and doubts about our work. We put it out there on social media, hoping for validation from complete strangers. It may never come. The only one who can truly validate your work, is you. So be proud of what you do.
  • Be open to growth and learning. Criticism, even when it’s constructive, can hurt a lot, but it’s an invaluable tool to improving your craft, and even yourself. If it hurts, it’s because there’s an aspect of truth in it, and that’s an opportunity to improve.
  • Be grateful. For opportunities, for people, for life. Gratitude inspires gratitude in others, and generally leads to all-round happiness.
  • Be opinionated. Opinions matter. They lead to critical thinking, which leads to discernment which is next on the list.
  • Be discerning. Ask yourself whether it’s necessary to post something, and if you’re following the above pointers by doing so. If you are, then hit that share button. If you’re not, perhaps you may want to reconsider why you want to share it.

At the end of the day, when social media is properly utilised, it becomes a super-power for individuals all around the world. It’s your responsibility to decide whether you’re going to be a hero or a villain. If you lean towards the latter, at least make sure that your villainy isn’t just a troll in a cape.

Are you a hero or villain? Do you ever edit out stuff you would like to say because it may not be professional? And finally, have you seen our #FindJoziFlash17 treasure hunt?* The second clue is up on Justin’s Twitter!**

*This is unabashed promotion of the hunt, I know. I would apologise, but I don’t feel guilty at all. I’m excited for this event! Share it across EVERYWHERE!

**Better go grab that clue! There’s a $20 Amazon Gift Card for the winner!





Editing Tips Tuesday – Editing plot based on a synopsis + a free printable!

This week, I want to look at editing plot. Making assumptions (again), I’m looking at completed first drafts. This will apply to any form of writing that requires a plot – flash fiction, short stories and novels.

Once you have your completed first draft, you should be able to create a synopsis. This is if you haven’t done that in your planning process, because – hands up – not all of us are planners. If you already have a synopsis, I commend (and secretly envy) your planning skills.

Flash fiction may not necessarily require a synopsis – let’s face it, it’s redundant in stories that short. However, it’s still vitally important that the story have a plot.

What is a synopsis?

  • It is a summary of all the events in your story.
  • It introduces all the important characters in the order they appear in the story.
  • It describes the main actions they take or events that happen to them.
  • It’s a giant spoiler of the entire plot.

What isn’t a synopsis?

  • It is not the story itself.
  • It is not the interactions between characters.
  • It doesn’t provide POV details about the actions or events.
  • It doesn’t spoil the experience of reading the final story.

Now that you know what it is and isn’t, it’s time to take your completed story and create the synopsis. For each chapter, or scene if you’re working with a shorter story, write a couple of sentences about what happens.

Once you’ve got the whole story in your written synopsis, it’s time to summarise it into bullet points. (I like bullet points because they’re quick and easy to refer to.)

Once that’s done, you’ll want to go back to your first draft and as you read, check off the bullet points of your synopsis. If important plot points don’t appear in your novel, you’ll need to decide whether you want to include them or if the story works better without them. Likewise, if plot points appear in your story, but not in the synopsis, you’ll need to decide whether to keep them or take them out.

As you’re checking your list, make a note about whether the plot point gets tied up at the end of the story, or if it remains a loose end. Unless you’re writing a series, you’ll generally want to ensure all loose ends are tied up once the story is finished.

Remember that this doesn’t have to happen all at once. Take time to rest between tasks or chapters. If you’re not a planner, this can feel overwhelming, and it’s easy to lose interest if you don’t give yourself permission to take a break when you start feeling your attention wandering.

Below is a printable that you can complete as you work through your draft:

Plot Edits Sheet

Have you got a tried and true method of editing plot? Do you write your story synopsis before or after the first draft? 

Editing Tips Tuesday – Repetition and when it’s not unnecessarily repetitive.

Last week, we looked at dialogue and some common mistakes to look out for and how to correct them.

This week, we explore repetition, how to use it effectively, and when too much is just enough.

The general rule of thumb while writing is to avoid repetition and a lot of the time, an editor will try to replace it. However, there are instances where repetition is necessary and even effective.

Repetition is redundant if it doesn’t add any value to the sentence, tension or atmosphere.

For example:

Mary came to see me yesterday and she was so mad, she kept going on and on about how mad she was.


Nothing actually happens in this sentence except you find out that Mary is mad and the narrator doesn’t seem to like her much.

Repetition has value when it creates, adds to or leads to tension.

When we edit the above example, we give value to the repetition:

Mary came to see me yesterday. She was so mad, and she kept going on and on about how mad she was. I tried to get a word in edgewise, but her madness insinuated itself into my mind and the handle of the butcher’s knife I was using to cleave chops for dinner became my sole link to my own brand of madness.

If you find yourself asking questions about the events that will happen next, based on the repetition, then it’s doing its job effectively.

It can also have comedic value by highlighting irony:

It was tradition, Ma always said. Keep the tradition alive, even though no one in the family really believed in it anymore. Never mind that the tradition was wearing underpants on your head to call the rain. It was tradition, and that was the important thing.

It can be a journey from one “place” to another:

She started her life innocent. She ended her life innocent. But somewhere in the forgotten middle, she lost that innocence, and that loss became the story of her life.

Or it can set the tone:

It could take forever or no time at all really. The important thing was that it was time. Time was all that mattered, and if it took seconds, minutes, or hours, the time would still pass and people would still age and eventually, life would take its toll and they would die. Time enough for all of that, no matter how long it took.


Essentially, repetition is a technique that should ideally be used consciously, rather than from habit. It’s easy for a reader to pick up the difference between the two, and to become annoyed with the latter.

When you’re editing your story, make use of the Find feature available in most writing software to search for words you know you use a lot. EditMinion is also a useful tool to run your draft through a check for repetition by noticing frequently used words. It works best with longer sections of text.

How do you deal with repetition? Does it bug you? Do you reach for your thesaurus regularly? Do you even own a thesaurus?

Editing Flash Fiction – What’s the point?

Flash fiction differs from short stories and novel writing, not just in length but in how you edit.

As writers, learning to self-edit is a huge asset in making the most of your talent, and in flash fiction, it becomes important because you have such a limited space in which to convey your message.

The first thing to look at when editing your flash fiction, is the purpose of the story. A lot of flash fiction stories seem to be snippets of a much bigger tale, and lack a sense of completeness. The reason for this is often because the writer starts with a random prompt, and doesn’t define the purpose of the story.

Purpose in flash fiction is singular – there is no room to tell the reader more than one story, and so it is essential that the purpose is apparent as soon as the story ends. If you find yourself wondering what the point was spending five minutes reading 500 words or less, then you need to edit for purpose.

Today we’re going to look at the difference between character-driven and plot-driven flash fiction, and aligning the story with the purpose.

Plot-driven stories differ from character-driven in that the action and external conflict that the characters are exposed to is what drives the story forward.

An example will illustrate the difference more clearly:

Max is a criminal defence attorney. He defends murderers.

In a character-driven story, Max will possibly start the story as an avid believer in the rights of his clients. As the story progresses, the reader will see Max questioning his reasons and beliefs, or he may even find himself defending someone whose case makes him doubt the validity of his arguments. By the end of the story, he may choose to leave his job, or he may choose to review cases more carefully before agreeing to defend them.

In a plot-driven story, Max will likely have the same beliefs at the start. But external plot – say a murderous client who takes Max’s family hostage in order to convince him to defend him, will determine how Max reacts. The outcome of the story may be the same, but the reader sees more of the external reasons, rather than Max’s internal thoughts.

Now that we know the difference, we can edit the story more effectively based on the type.

Character-driven Story

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is the character clearly defined? (This can be difficult to achieve in FF, and is best accomplished by showing who the character is through their actions.)
  2. Does the character have a valid reason for doing what he/she does in the story? (Note that valid doesn’t mean it needs to be logical. It just needs to make sense in the context of who the character appears to be, and who they turn out to actually be at the end of the story.)
  3. Is it necessary for the character to reach his/her objective in order to give the story a purpose? (Sometimes, the purpose of the story is that the character does not achieve their goal, or it’s unclear whether or not they’ve achieved it at the end of the story. This is okay, if the purpose of the story is unrelated to their final achievement. For example, a character whose goal is to win a tournament may not succeed, but the purpose of the story is to show that effort and hard work is not always rewarded in the way people may expect. This is a very moralistic example, but it illustrates the difference between the character vs. story purpose.)
  4. How does the character change during the story, so that by the end, the reader is left feeling satisfied with the tale? (Change does not always need to be positive – in some cases it can be negative, or if it doesn’t happen at all, it should be very clear that the reason for the change or lack thereof, is tied to the purpose of the story. Using the example from before, the character may not change, but there should be an implication that this will result in ultimate success, or he may change for the worse, and the implication thereof is that he will ultimately fail. Knowing the outcome is irrelevant. Implying it is essential to the purpose.)

Plot-driven Story

Earlier we said that identifying the purpose is essential. So when we’re dealing with a plot-driven FF, these are the questions we need to ask:

  1. Is the plot clearly defined? (There is seldom room for more than one plot in FF – any more can become confusing and leave loose ends. Decide on one plot and stick to it.)
  2. Is there a valid reason for the action to unfold in the order that it does? Would it work more effectively in a different order, or does it create additional conflict/confusion if shown differently?
  3. Is the pacing suited to the purpose? (One thing that a lot of FF lacks, is appropriate pacing. Events happen sooner or later than they should, or they don’t happen at all and the story loses its purpose because of that. Sometimes there are too many events happening all at once, because the author has several ideas they want to explore. In that case, the story is better suited to a short story, rather than FF. Genre will also determine pacing – a thriller might unfold the action more quickly than a romance, for example.)
  4. Is the action resolved by the end of the story? (Note that open ends are very different to loose ends. Open endings leave the reader satisfied with the outcome of the story, even if they still have questions. Loose ends leave them hanging and dissatisfied. They may want more, but if they know there isn’t any to come, it’s frustrating and taints the enjoyment of the story. Think of your favourite TV show that was cancelled mid-season. Don’t cancel your story mid-plot.)

When you’re editing your flash fiction, it’s a really good idea to ask for feedback from others so that you can check to see if the story you’re hearing in your head, matches the story readers hear.

Often, there will be elements that differ, but what you’re really trying to do is to make sure that the overall story makes sense in the way you intended it to.

Try to send the story to between five to ten readers, so you have a broader range of feedback to consider.

Here are some questions you should ask your beta readers:

  1. Does the story make sense?
  2. Does it feel like a complete story, even if you have unanswered questions?
  3. Does the story have a purpose, or does it seem like meaningless exposition?
  4. Are there parts you liked or didn’t like?

Once you get the feedback, you need to ask yourself the following:

  1. Did the story make sense to the majority of readers?
  2. If not, what confused them?
  3. Is there any way to edit that section without changing the inherent meaning of the story?
  4. Did it feel like a complete story to the majority?
  5. If not, what is lacking that I need to include to complete it?
  6. Did it have a purpose to the majority?
  7. Was it the purpose I intended it to have?
  8. If not, am I comfortable with the perceived purpose or do I need to edit it to refine it?
  9. Did the majority of readers like the parts I’d intended them to like, and vice versa?
  10. If not, have they given me feedback that I can work with? Do I want to edit according to that feedback?

At the end of the day, remember that successful flash fiction won’t necessarily be liked/understood by everyone. What’s important is that the story fits into your intentions for it, and that you have edited it so that the purpose is clear to the majority, whether or not they actually end up liking the story.


Editing Tips Tuesday – Editing Dialogue

Today we’re going to look at editing dialogue. I’m making the assumption that you already know how to write dialogue, have written a fair amount of it, and now need to edit it.

Let’s first look at some common mistakes people make while writing dialogue:

  1. Assuming that every character is going to speak in the same way. We’ve all done it. Monotonous dialogue happens when you write it as though it is still the narrator speaking. If you can remove the dialogue tags and it sounds like a single person having a conversation with himself, you’ll need to edit this.
  2. Using dialogue tags instead of the dialogue itself to express the character’s emotions. Telling readers that a character is angry is far less effective than allowing them a few expletives in their dialogue.
  3. Talking heads. There are instances where reading dialogue is like watching a tennis match. You bounce back and forth between the characters talking, but at some point they lose who they are and become a pair of talking heads.Talking Heads
  4. No dialogue at all. Zip. Nada. Zilch. Unless it’s a flash fiction story or some scary experimental novel where no one talks, you ideally should have dialogue. It breaks up the big blocks of text and brings your characters to life.

There are plenty of others, but today I want to deal with how to edit for these particular mistakes.

  1. Define your characters. Know how they speak, why they speak that way and then change the dialogue to reflect their personalities. A teenager won’t use the same words as their grandparents for example. Their dialogue should reflect their age and culture. Be careful that you don’t overdo it though – one or two “dudes” in a sentence is more effective than incomprehensible abbreviations and acronyms.Misrepresented Dialogue
  2. If you have a lot of dialogue tags, try to replace them with actions/dialogue that expresses the emotion. For example:

“I’m so mad right now.” She said to him.

Can become:

“Screw you!” she balled her hands into fists, resisting the urge to punch the smirk off his face.

Bear in mind that the above example needs to reflect the personality of the characters as defined in point 1. It doesn’t help to have a character described as timid and placid if she’s running around getting violent with other characters.

  1. I’ve written short stories completely in dialogue. Some of them have been extremely effective. Others have been complete flops. A novel that has pages of dialogue without tags or exposition, needs to be edited. If you can delete dialogue without losing the story, you don’t need it and could probably replace it with exposition.
  2. This mistake most commonly occurs because people are scared of dialogue and is the reverse of point 3. It’s a tricky thing for a lot of writers, but is an essential skill to cultivate. When you have endless exposition, check whether some of it involves dialogue without actual dialogue. In other words you’re looking for something like this:

John told Mary that he’d had a really long day at work and didn’t really want to go to dinner with their friends Jenny and Chris. Mary sighed and thought to herself that it was always going to be this way. He would never want to do anything with her friends.

This can be changed to dialogue very easily:

“Work was exhausting.” John put his briefcase down and leaned over to kiss Mary where she sat at the table. “Janice made a complete mess of the accounts and I spent all day trying to fix it.”

“I don’t know why you don’t just fire her. She’s always making mistakes which you have to fix.”

“I feel bad. She’s going through a hard time with her divorce.”

“I guess.” Mary hesitated. “You haven’t forgotten about our dinner with Jenny and Chris?”

“Is that tonight?” he sighed. “I suppose it’s too late to cancel? You can go by yourself, can’t you? They really only want to see you anyway.”

“That’s not true. They want to see both of us.” She looked at his tired face and felt a pang of sympathy. “I guess I can go alone, if you want to get an early night.”

“You’re the best. I’m gonna go shower.” He left the room, and Mary picked up her phone to let Jenny know they’d be a party of three. Again.

Remember when you’re writing dialogue, you’re giving your characters an opportunity to express their feelings about the story you’re telling. Have fun with it – after all, you speak to people every day. Why shouldn’t your characters?

How do you feel about dialogue? Do you enjoy writing it, or is it a nightmare exercise? Do you find editing it easier than the initial writing process?