Today’s Writing Tip

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I don’t know about you, but my first drafts tend to be unbalanced. This, of course, depends on your natural style. There may have too much or too little of certain elements. My first drafts tend to be heavy on action and dialog. I’ve often envied screenwriters, who can do just that and let producers and directors worry about the rest.

However, for your story to be the best it can be, it needs to incorporate more. Don’t interrupt the creative flow by worrying about it during your first draft. For your second draft, however, one way to assess what you have is by checking how your IDEAS are presented.

As you’ve probably guessed, that’s an acronym for: Imagery; Dialog; Emotion; Action; Suspense.

Read each scene and check to make sure it has some of each. Imagery could have been established earlier, which is fine. Not every scene will have dialog, and that is fine, too. However, too much description or exposition gets boring, so if that’s the case see if you can convert any of it into a conversation. Emotion is essential. If there’s no feeling behind it, is it even necessary? Action goes without saying, even if it’s mental action, and of course suspense, without which your reader may not bother to turn the page.

Today’s Writing Tip

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I’ve posted blogs here before about the many different ways you can say “he said.” There are literally dozens of them, many of which help convey emotion and imagery that avoids dreaded adverbs. This is all well and good, but today I’m going in an entirely different direction and that is a way to avoid it entirely.

There are many ways to indicate who’s speaking without saying “he said” or one of its many synonyms. Describing a facial expression or gesture clearly associated with the speaker is often effective. This can integrate action with the conversation and make it come alive as opposed to sounding like your reading a screenplay.

Here’s a short example from my WIP:

When the echoes of his booming baritone faded, a tense silence remained. Someone rang the doorbell, all of them jumping in startled response. Sara exhaled hard through her nose, turned on her heel, and opened the door, finding herself face to face with Gretchen.

“Excuse me,” she muttered, and stomped down the steps to the driveway where she stared helplessly at Liz’s car. She rolled her eyes, wishing she’d listened to that prompting to drive her own.

Moments later, Liz was beside her, arm around her shoulders. “Are you alright, honey?” Sara nodded. “My goodness, you sure hit a nerve! Angela had mentioned that Bob can have an ugly temper, but I’ve never seen anything like that before!”

“Yeah. Sure wasn’t what I’d call Texas friendly, was it?”

Liz laughed. “I’ll say not! C’mon, I’ll take you home.”

See what I mean? In that entire scene I only used a “said” synonym (muttered) once.

Today’s Writing Tip

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You’ve probably already figured out that many of these tips derive from my finding just such an error in something I read. This is another example.

Occasionally you’re likely to have a character who speaks a different language. When using a foreign language that you do not speak, be cautious when using translation software because it often doesn’t reflect the correct syntax. If possible, find a native speaker to confirm whether or not it’s correct.

This is another situation where it may slip right past most readers. However, if they have any knowledge of the language, whether it be French or Klingon, it’s advisable to make sure it’s properly represented. If your character is trying to speak a language of which they are not a native, then you could get away with this, but not if they should know the proper way to say it.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Using correct punctuation in dialog is essential, yet it is one thing I see done incorrectly as much as anything. For example, when someone asks a question, be sure to punctuate with a “?” I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen dialog that was clearly a question, yet didn’t employ a question mark.

Admittedly, there are times when this is not 100% clear.  “He wondered whether the police had all the evidence” is a statement, but “Did the police have all the evidence?” is a question. One way to figure it out, if you’re in doubt, is to say it out loud.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are several ways to say “said”, but don’t overdo it; that gets annoying as well. In other words, if you get too creative, that’s another distraction. These should also be commonly used/familiar words such as “replied”, “answered”, “stated”, etc. Using a word like “opined”, while perhaps correct for the dialog, may be unfamiliar to your average reader. Depending on the story, there could be exceptions, but how many times have you seen that word at all, much less in a novel?

Using the correct synonym for “said” can also help you avoid adverbs. It’s much more efficient to say “he yelled” or “he hollered” or “he bellowed” than to say “he said loudly.”

Today’s Writing Tip

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You want your dialog to sound convincing. Think about how people actually talk. One thing most of us use on a regular basis is contractions. Not using them can make it sound stilted. For example, would you say “I am going to the store. Would you like to go along?” or “I’m going to the store. Want to go along?”

Saying it aloud helps. We don’t always pronounce all the letters in a word, either. Back to the previous example, how many would actually say, “I’m goin’ to the store. Wanna go along?” Using an apostrophe to indicate missing letters shows it’s not a misspelling.

If one or more characters have an accent, be sure to reflect that phonetically as well, even if your spell-checker gags a bit. This is another way to differentiate between speakers, if your characters have distinctive speech styles.

Today’s Writing Tip

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In long conversations, remind the reader who’s speaking from time to time. It annoys readers when they have to go back and figure it out. This is even more frustrating when you’re reading an ebook since flipping back is not as easy as with a print book. This is another thing that throws a reader out of the story, which IMHO is the #1 faux pas.

This is not to say that you should say “he said” or “she said” with every line of dialog. When there is a clear flow to the conversation such that it’s obvious who is saying what, then there’s little need for it. However, I’ve seen a page or two of dialog that wasn’t  attributed and left me entirely lost.

Using a variety of synonyms for “said” such as stated, commented, noted, and so forth, or answered or replied, helps break the monotony. Another trick is to occasionally insert the person’s name into the dialog itself. If you say “Listen, John, I told you that before” it’s clear that John isn’t the speaker. You can also break it up with some action, such as saying “John rolled his eyes”, again indicating who’s doing what.

Today’s Writing Tip

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Proper copy editing is something that not every reader will notice. I do. One mistake I’ve noticed quite a bit in that department is the punctuation of dialog. Most people seem to know they need to use quotation marks. Amazingly, a few seem to miss that, but gratefully, it’s relatively rare. However, there are a couple goofs I’ve seen enough times to recognize that how to do it correctly is not common knowledge. After all, some of the best writers out there aren’t English majors.

Here’s one thing to watch for. When the same speaker continues speaking into the next paragraph, leave off the close quote. However, the next paragraph begins with a quote, so don’t forget that. This tells the reader that the same person is still speaking. Otherwise, they’ll expect someone else to pick up the dialog in the new paragraph.

Another thing I’ve seen quite a bit is using a period after a statement instead of a comma, when “he said” or “she said” is included. For example:

“I’m going to go to that Mexican place for lunch.” She said.  WRONG

“I’m going to go to that Mexican place for lunch,” she said. CORRECT

Another is using a common or period when in reality the character asked a question. A question is indicated with a question mark, n’est-ce pas?

Little things like this drive alert readers well-versed in proper English and writing skills up the proverbial wall and are what can earn your story less than 5-stars.

Today’s Writing Tip

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There are dozens of ways to say “said!” Here are 154 of them!

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away–in other words, back in 1977–my mom gave me a copy of the Readers Digest “Family Word Finder.” As you’ve probably figured out from its title, it’s a thesaurus and its age certainly a witness to how long I’ve been writing. I recently had that book out and discovered a typewritten (yes, typed, like in manual typewriter) list. It contained alternatives (but not quite synonyms) for using “said” in dialog. (BTW, I wrote my first novel on a manual typewriter.)

I remember having a lot of fun creating this list. However, there’s a caveat, especially if you’re addicted to words like myself. Granted, using these appropriately can contribute to imagery, emotion, and clarity. However, using them too frequently can be as grating as having “he said” or “she said” on every line.

In other words, like adding herbs and spices to a soup kettle, use them sparingly, as spicesflavor enhancers, if you will. Be subtle, not glaring, which makes them all the more powerful. Used improperly or excessively, you could wind up with the literary equivalent of adding cinnamon instead of cumin to your chili. Properly administered, they’ll help create dynamic and convincing dialog, a critical component of outstanding fiction.

Without further ado, here we go. Feel free to add any I missed in the comments!

  1. accused
  2. acknowledged
  3. added
  4. admitted
  5. advised
  6. affirmed
  7. agreed
  8. announced
  9. answered
  10. apologized
  11. argued
  12. asked
  13. asserted
  14. assured
  15. avowed
  16. babbled
  17. barked
  18. bellowed
  19. begged
  20. blubbered
  21. blurted out
  22. bragged
  23. breathed
  24. burst out
  25. cackled
  26. called
  27. cautioned
  28. challenged
  29. chattered
  30. chirped
  31. choked
  32. claimed
  33. chortled
  34. clipped
  35. coerced
  36. complained
  37. conceded
  38. concluded
  39. confessed
  40. confided
  41. consoled
  42. continued
  43. cooed
  44. corrected
  45. cried
  46. croaked
  47. decided
  48. declared
  49. demanded
  50. denied
  51. disclosed
  52. divulged
  53. drawled
  54. echoed
  55. emphasized
  56. estimated
  57. explained
  58. exploded
  59. figured
  60. gasped
  61. greeted
  62. groaned
  63. groused
  64. growled
  65. grumbled
  66. grunted
  67. guessed
  68. gulped
  69. hissed
  70. hinted
  71. hollered
  72. implied
  73. inquired
  74. intimated
  75. insisted
  76. instructed
  77. interjected
  78. interrupted
  79. iterated
  80. joked
  81. laughed
  82. lied
  83. maintained
  84. mentioned
  85. mimicked
  86. moaned
  87. mumbled
  88. murmured
  89. mused
  90. muttered
  91. offered
  92. ordered
  93. panted
  94. parroted
  95. pleaded
  96. pointed out
  97. pouted
  98. prayed
  99. probed
  100. proclaimed
  101. prodded
  102. promised
  103. proposed
  104. protested
  105. purred
  106. quipped
  107. rambled
  108. ranted
  109. recounted
  110. reiterated
  111. related
  112. relented
  113. retorted
  114. reminded
  115. repeated
  116. replied
  117. reported
  118. resolved
  119. returned
  120. revealed
  121. scoffed
  122. scowled
  123. screeched
  124. shouted
  125. shrugged
  126. sighed
  127. smirked
  128. snapped
  129. sneered
  130. sniffed
  131. snittered
  132. snorted
  133. sobbed
  134. speculated
  135. sputtered
  136. squeaked
  137. stammered
  138. stated
  139. stipulated
  140. suggested
  141. teased
  142. theorized
  143. threatened
  144. uttered
  145. vocalized
  146. volunteered
  147. vowed
  148. wailed
  149. warned
  150. whimpered
  151. whispered
  152. wished
  153. wondered
  154. yelled

Today’s Writing Tip

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Next on the list after typos for reasons why a story didn’t receive a 5-star review was too many “he said/she saids”. It’s obviously not necessarily to include who said what with every piece of dialog. Again, balance is the key. When it’s a clear “dialog” with one person speaking, then the other, you can go on for a while, as long as it’s reasonably apparent who’s speaking. Nonetheless, an occasional reminder is good, too. If a conversation goes on for a couple of pages, it never hurts to insert either a “s/he said” or perhaps some action, such as a facial expression or gesture, to indicate who’s speaking.

When readers have to go back and figure out who’s speaking, it interrupts the story flow and throws them out of the story, which is something a diligent author should avoid at all costs.