Dialogue Tags and Reading Culture

The greatest literary works are drowning in dialogue tags, but a lot of authors today are ditching them where ever they can. Why? Shouldn’t we follow the example of the greats?

It depends.

To really understand why this norm has changed, you really need to understand the changing culture of reading as a pasttime.

Books written during the literary classic time, such as Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, even JRR Tolkien were often read aloud as a communal past time, making dialogue tags essential for the audience to understand who is speaking in the story. It would be virtually impossible to follow along otherwise, unless the reader was a spot on voice actor.

Now it’s a lot different. With the rise of TV, internet, and video games, reading a book as a group pasttime is a thing of the past. Books are now usually read quietly and alone, which make dialogue tags cumbersome and annoying to the reader when the context explains itself.

Many children’s stories are meant to be read aloud, and younger minds may be challenged to understand how certain written phrases inherently follow a pattern of character interaction. So if you’re a children’s book author, lots of dialogue tags will likely still be an absolute must to include.

For young adult and adult books, however, consider carefully where you use them. If the context makes it clear which character is speaking already, maybe consider leaving them out to keep the story moving at an engaging pace.

Evolution of a Manuscript: Part 2 – Microsoft Word to PDF

In Evolution of a Manuscript part 1, we discussed scribbling your first draft on the go with gmail (or anything else handy), and then transferring it to your computer to beef it up in your designated writing space. Now, the next step is to take that piece and edit, edit, edit, and edit again.

In this article, I’m going to take you through my process of editing through Microsoft Word and Scrivener, and show you the final product in 6×9, 10 pt font pdf – the closest visually I’m going to get to printed book form. Which is psychologically very satisfying to see as an author–like a glimpse into the future (because my book (and yours) will be published).

Here it is in Word:

me_gadnor_pt2_1

Immediately we see squiggly lines indicating bad grammar or misspellings. After fixing these, I was still highly unsatisfied with this opening. It doesn’t put me there enough, it’s too wordy, and I don’t feel like I am Gadnor the way that I want, and visually there is too much white space, it looks unfinished and it reads the same. Also, there are some disjointed sentences about Lithaneva–the “reaction was rooted in something far more complex than surprised guests”–just doesn’t seem very relevant, too vague and wordy and honestly, it doesn’t add to the story much, it doesn’t tell me anything about her. So, I go back to Scrivener, tweak, and here is what I came up with:

me_gadnor_pt2_3

This is much better, less white space, there is more happening in the scene. Now, with the addition of audience actions I can get a sense of the room, whereas before I was only getting very wooden “she did, he said” type things and little substance. I still don’t like the first paragraph. “Perplexed” sounds complicated, too much to digest within the first two sentences, and I’m still not feeling as though I am Gadnor. There also seems to be a disjointed organization of people and paragraphs. So, back to Scrivener, and this is what I come up with:

me_gadnor_pt2_4

There, now I feel like I have conveyed the awkward feeling well, you know the one where everyone in the room is waiting on someone to say something and they just don’t. I feel like I have captured that now, and I feel like I really am Gadnor. I have also (hopefully) managed to give the reader the sense that Gadnor feels partial to the Princess in a way that is natural, without having to actually state that.

There are some things I still don’t like. There is too much happening in the second paragraph, too many actions by too many people, and the “reveling in it” and “gloried at the spectacle” are rehashes of the same vibe. So, I tweak that a bit and call it good, and now here it is, edited to the point where I’m comfortable with a peer review, in 6×9 10pt font.

me_gadnor_pt2_5

It’s very satisfying looking at how it might appear when published. Don’t you think? I encourage you to try this if you haven’t already. When you get your scene how you want it, format it like this and just see how it looks. Read it over, make a change if you feel it’s necessary, and then keep going with the next scene.

Use this visual as a reward for your hard work and a sneak peak at when it all pays off.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Feel free to post in the comments some of your own editing/motivational tricks.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 12 and Covid-19

Welp, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, my kid has been home because the daycare is closed, and even though I’ve been home a lot this week too, I haven’t been able to accomplish a whole lot story wise. I still haven’t met my last goal.

In fact, yesterday is the first day I’ve been able to sit down and revisit chap 7 sc 2. I made a few changes, beefed up one or two things, and since I was viewing it in word, I corrected a couple grammar issues it picked up for me. More on that in an upcoming post “Evolution of a Manuscript – part 2”.

With coronavirus having such a huge impact across the world, I’ve had to devote a lot of time this week to other things, but I’m ready to put my writing cap back on and get chap 7 completely knocked out!

So, my goal for this week is to get chap 7 sc 2 peer review ready, and complete the draft of chap 7 sc 3, which is still about 75% done.

Use the time you have at home in the coming weeks to your advantage. Start a blog, seek new inspiration, explore a different genre, or just capitalize on the time you have away from social activities to reinvigorate your muse.

As somber as it is, there are some truly eye opening things occurring around the globe. There are lots of photo galleries popping up on the web of before and after photos of normally crowded places. Take a moment to scan through some of them, or watch a couple youtube videos of people in seriously affected places, you may find something that inspires an idea.

Not to make light of the seriousness of our current time, but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how unique it is as well. There may just be something about it that will spark your muse. So take a moment to explore, not just the world we live in, but the time we’re living in.

2020 – Week 10 and Tailoring Chapter/Scene Length to your Audience

I met my goal this week and tweaked my latest scene, chapter 7 scene 2 which is the subject of my “Evolution of a Scene” series, which you can read about here, and I also have my first draft of the next scene about 75% completed.

I don’t know if I want to tack this latest scene onto chapter 7 or start a new chapter with it. I’ll have to see how it flows and what the final word count is after I finish it. I don’t like making chapters too long, but I also don’t like starting new chapters if it doesn’t feel like a natural place to stop. This scene shows my characters leaving a location where they’ve been for several chapters, so in my head it feels more natural as a conclusion to a chapter than a beginning.

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to how I want my book structured: Chapters comprised of multiple scenes; or a chapter per POV/GoT style?

V12 was structured into chapters with titles, and was sectioned off according to a word length/event type formula which really wasn’t very accurate. For example, I had a chapter titled Thellshun, where 2 scenes took place in the realm of Thellshun, but since those 2 scenes were short, I chucked in a scene from another POV which took place in the Shallinath realm so that the chapter length was a consistent range with the others. So the chapter title only fit 2/3 of the chapter. A little confusing for the reader.

For consistency’s sake for v19, I decided to remove chapter titles and just use numbers (chap 1, chap 2, etc), and then base the length off of word count, between 4000-5500 words, which is usually 2 or 3 scenes.

This is a common way to parcel out a novel, I’ve seen it quite a bit and I like it as a reader.

But I also like knowing exactly whose POV it is when I enter the chapter, and the current setup isn’t as friendly in that department as I’d like. I may start a chapter with Gonivein, but before I’m done I’m back to Gadnor. So what? Well, doing that means that the first paragraph of every scene requires another introduction, which wouldn’t be necessary if each chapter was a unique POV.

The problem I have with POV chapters is the potential for inconsistent chapter length. Kelric’s scene might be 4 pages, but when I switch over to Gadnor, he has two back to back which are 4 each, so do I combine them into one 8 page chapter? Have the same POV in back to back chapters? What if one scene is only 2 pages?

All of these are options I need to weigh carefully. And a lot will come down to the flow of the finished product. Hopefully, a beta reader can provide me a recommendation. I may decide to send out a word count multi-scene version and a POV version to beta readers with some type of rubric so I can get a standardized feedback response, and from there determine which chapter format works best to heighten interest.

Why is this so important, you ask? The story is still the same, right? Well, like it or not, chapter structure can make a huge difference in how your reader experiences your book. If there’s a 20 page chapter looming ahead, I may get overwhelmed and put it off for weeks, and maybe never come back to it if life gets too busy, even if the writing is engaging and the story is interesting. Smaller chapters could remedy this.

On the flip side, it may be hard to keep track of placement in a novel if there are too many chapters. And varied length of chapters, personally, I find annoying. When I have a chapter that is 2 pages, and the next one is 11, I get a little bit twitchy. As a reader, there are certain things I would like to just expect ahead of time before I sit down to read, such as if I have time while I wait on my pizza to be ready to finish a chapter, consistency of length will give me that. Even though it doesn’t change the overall story much, it still can add or take away from the overall experience.

A good example of this is the last book I read, it was 140 pages in length, but there were NO chapter breaks. None. There were little squigglies to denote a change in scene, but it just wasn’t the same. I felt like I needed to read the whole thing in one sit down, which was just too much, and when I paused at a scene break I didn’t feel like it was a good stopping place. It just tilted my reading experience.

So. Moral of the story: chapter breaks matter. Scene breaks matter, chapter and scene length matter. So before you publish, consider carefully how your manuscript is structured, because regardless of how good your story is, how engaging your plot, how buttoned up your editing–your readers have lives outside of your book. Pauses and breaks should compliment your audience and the pacing of your plot.

My goal for this week is to go through the editing process for ch 7-2 and finish my ch 7-2/ch 8-1 scene and figure out where it needs to go.

Happy writing!

Evolution of a Manuscript: Part 1 – On-the-Go Scribble to Writing Space

I’d like to take you through my iterations of a draft, from first conception to final product.  I’ve chosen one paragraph to do this way and dissect–the opening of my latest scene as of 7 March 2020.  Hopefully, you will come to the determination that the final draft is a good one, and one that is as close as possible to being publish worthy.

Gmail draft:  Gmail is an excellent conduit for writing on the go.  When you’re not in front of your desk or designated writing area, gmail is at your fingertips anywhere and everywhere, and will save your muse’s life.  It’s accessibility from any device is a godsend.  Boring meetings?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Bad gas station sushi?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  On hold?  Pull up your draft in Gmail.  Listening to your boss drone on in a meeting?  You get the idea.

Here is the conception of my on-the-go draft in Gmail:

me_gadnor

Rough huh?  Yea…

Here it is again, copied into Scrivener and polished up a bit sitting in my designated writing area–my lovely desk in a room full of windows with a view at my lovely garden–this an important distinction for every writer:

me_gadnor2

This is less rigid, a little more sensory, and a bit less disjointed, but it still feels choppy.  There are several bits that don’t flow as smooth as I want.  Also, the POV, Gadnor, comes off too creepy in the first paragraph, and the sentence about Princess Lithaneva being wary doesn’t exactly seem to fit–wary of what?  There really isn’t anything mentioned yet that warrants that reaction.  The last sentence is also very wordy and redundant.

Also, this draft feels like it’s from the POV of an onlooker, and my goal is to transport the reader so they become the main character, and this doesn’t quite feel like I’ve done that.

So, with a few changes with those bits in mind, here is what I came up with:

me_gadnor3

It’s not at all ready, but it’s on it’s way to becoming something I feel good about showing to the world.  I’ll sleep on this and take another look tomorrow.  Stay tuned for part 2 of Evolution of a Manuscript.

2020 – Week 9 and Using Music to Invoke Imagery

I did not meet my writing goal this week! Grr! I got about half of the scene tweaked, but not all of it, and no editing. So I’ll be spending some time this week doing just that and hopefully moving on to the next scene.

I had a critique meetup this past weekend and we spent several minutes brainstorming on writing strategies. One writer shared that she creates music playlists to listen to when writing certain genres or scenes, and that it invokes her muse more naturally and easily.

Before she said it, I hadn’t realized that this is already a method that has proven itself successful for me. The last scene I wrote with all the action was 90% contrived during my commute to work and replaying I See Stars “Ten Thousand Feet” over and over. For some reason, that song invoked some very powerful imagery in my head that I had to put on paper, and thus, my scene was born.

That was by pure accident though. Now that using music as inspiration has been brought to my attention by another writer, I can spend some time purposely putting together soundtracks to help invoke my muse with different types of scenes.

This is another benefit of having a writing group. You never know what tips and strategies you will learn. Writer groups are so awesome! If you haven’t already, find one. You won’t regret it!

2020 – Week 8

I exceeded my goal this week, tweaking my dream sequence and not only drafted the first paragraph of the next scene, but completed the draft, adding another 1041 words to my running total. My manuscript is now over 32,000 words.

My goal for this week is to tweak the new scene, and run it through my editing process.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 7

I completed my goal this week to get my last scene ready for peer review and get my first draft of the dream sequence done. Yay!

Well, I decided the dream didn’t need to be a gigantic scene, it’s only a couple of paragraphs, and with a little tweaking to the previous scene, I was able to just tack it onto the beginning of that one. I think that will be much better than trying to make a small dream sequence unnecessarily large, although it does make this scene even heftier than it was before, but I think it will keep the reader from becoming bored, which is really important as I’m nearing the middle of the book.

So often, novels have a very engaging setup, but then the middle ceases to be interesting. I want to avoid that by making informational bits as concise as possible so the reader doesnt become bogged down.

My goal this week is to edit the new dream paragraph and get at least the first paragraph of the next scene drafted.

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 6 “To Cut or Not to Cut”

I’ve made some excellent progress this week and exceeded my goal to fill in the missing pieces of the scene. The pieces are in and I’ve started my editing process. I’m currently on step 5.

Every step reveals something that needs changing, something that doesn’t look or sound right, or something that’s still missing or would sound better restructured, cut, or moved somewhere else. I cannot stress the importance of self-editing enough.

The original v12 version had a dream sequence before this particular scene I’m writing happens, and I’m seriously debating putting it back in. It might be important for character development…not necessarily for the plot at this point though, which is why I wanted to cut it. It’s a bit of a dilemma, but I think I’m going to add it back in. It does reveal to the reader a little something about this character, and also throws a little mystery in there too.

So my goal for this week is to finish up editing this scene and get it sent off to a peer for review, and also get the first paragraph of the dream sequence written. I won’t have a chance to write much this weekend so hopefully I’ll be able to accomplish this!

Happy writing!

2020 – Week 5 and “Agent Killers”

I was able to get all 3 scenes edited and sent to a peer to review. I did add in a few more paragraphs to two of the scenes to add a bit more depth, and one of them now reminds the reader of a small detail in an earlier scene and hopefully makes it more cohesive overall.

One of the issues I’ve experienced in my writing journey is how disconnected later chapters can become from earlier ones, especially when it’s a book executed over several years. I’ve read many self-published books that have this problem, and as much as possible I want to avoid this. There’s nothing more frustrating than reading a novel from cover to cover and by the end there are one or two things that were never or poorly explained. While I’m trying to be proactive about this with my work, it’s inevitable that I won’t catch everything.

This is why a beta reader is a must when the draft is finished because they can identify inconsistencies and discrepencies from throughout the book that we as the writer will miss. Everything flows in our head at super high speed, especially stories that have been near and dear to us for years. A new person who knows nothing about it reading it through from start to finish is the only way to truly find these “agent killers.” Cause that’s what they are. If there’s confusion somewhere, an agent will kill your manuscript and throw it in the burn pile. Ruthless. But that’s the truth. Agents exist to make money, and a book that needs reworking is not in their acceptance criteria.

Peer reviews scene by scene are great, but without that cover to cover beta read (at least once), it is just not enough to polish your manuscript for an agent.

For my scene I needed to finish this week, I almost got a very rough draft done. I rushed through a lot just to get it down and have somewhere to work from this week, and I’m still missing a small part of the scene that’s pretty crucial, but it’s like 90%.

A lot is happening in this scene and it’s going to be quite a large one once I get it polished and fill in the blanks. There are some tragic things happening here and happening fast, and it’s going to be a hefty chapter when all is said and done, but hopefully it will be an exciting read.

This scene still needs a lot of work, so my goal for this week will be to finish the last missing piece, revise it, and get it ready for the editing process.

5/52 weeks of 2020 are gone, and I’ve completed one scene so far. I’m happy with how I’ve kept up with my goals, but I’m realizing that if I really want to be done by this year I need to pick up the pace a bit. There’s a lot left to tell between current scene and the end.

Happy Writing!

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