More on Dialogue

People talk. So do characters in novels and other works of fiction. And one of the most important things you can do to make reading your fiction an enjoyable and realistic activity is to handle that dialogue properly. You have several options for this.

Formatting More Casually

“Casually” does not mean leaving out quotation marks (“”) like an author I know tends to do. In fact, it’s one of the worst things you can do. I gave up trying to discern dialogue from text about halfway through the first chapter (in all fairness, that wasn’t the only issue – crudity and, frankly, sloppy writing were an issue).

Formatting more casually means, among other things, leaving out some of the “dialogue tags,” as some call them, such as “he said,” “she demanded,” and so on. Just be sure that your dialogue clearly shows who is speaking.

With:

“What about this sale of the company?” demanded Sid.
“What about it?” asked Jim. “I own seventy-two percent of the stock.”
“I’ll be happy to buy thirty-one percent,” said Sid.
“Giving you control,” pointed out Jim.
“Well, yes, actually,” said Sid.
“I’d work for you,” stated Jim.
“If you want to stay on,” said Sid.

Without:

“What about this sale of the company?”
“What about it? I own seventy-two percent of the stock.”
“I’ll be happy to buy thirty-one percent.”
“Giving you control.”
“Well, yes, actually.”
“I’d work for you.”
“If you want to stay on.”

On the other hand, the above only works if you have no more than two people in that dialogue or if you don’t need to add in descriptions that add to the scene, like here where two people are speaking but their mood and manner need to be shown, and dialogue tags are used where needed for that purpose:

     “What are you planning to do with the land once you buy it?” asked Hal nonchalantly.
     “Well, this isn’t really about the land – or not entirely,” said Jim, a twinge of anxiety coming through in his voice. “It’s also something else, something that Rose has yet to learn.”
     “What?” asked Hal, staying nonchalant.
     “A couple things actually,” said Jim, not wanting to go into details.
     “Such as?”
     “Such as that whole business Carl cooked up,” said Jim, exasperated. “I’m hoping that my offer will soften the blow.”
     “You don’t know how strong-willed Rose is,” said Hal, suddenly sounding very serious.

Each line of dialogue should ideally start on a new line, but these days you can bend that rule a bit. In fact, sometimes I have a line of dialogue in the middle of the paragraph, as shown here:

He broke the silence and said to Jim in a tired, confidential voice, “The time has come. I’ll call you in the next couple of days. Now, if you’ll please excuse me.” He stood, shook Jim’s hand in appreciation, and went back into the house, assuming the role of party host again while Jim remained seated.

By keeping all this in one paragraph, the action is contained as well, not split by those paragraph breaks. You have to be careful, though, to keep things clear for the reader.

Another tip is that you can present the dialogue tags in either of these ways, as long as you are consistent throughout the work:

“Well, yes, actually,” said Sid.

“Well, yes, actually,” Sid said.

See also Getting the “Saids” Right.

Keeping Just Enough Realism

People’s actual speech is a bit too “real” for great dialogue. They use verbal pauses such as “um” and “uh” and trail off sentences, often changing subjects in the middle. You want to have just enough real speech to make it sound real. That includes not overdoing accents. Some “experts” say to avoid them in the dialogue and just say something like “he said in a strong French accent” to give the reader a clue. I decided to add in some accent, keeping it light, like this:

     “Mornin’, horses’re out to pasture,” he greeted her in his usual quiet, plainspoken manner.

Just as in real life, break up your dialogue with action. People often talk while doing things. Pacing, typing, dancing, eating, drinking, or a host of other activities are going on. Including these in your dialogue gives that additional touch of realism, but be sparing with it.

     “Let me have that muck fork,” said Rose, taking it from him. “You haven’t gotten these three stalls on the end yet.”

Presenting Information as Dialogue Instead of Text

All writing advice is to be taken with a grain of salt, as the saying goes, even this article. For example, “experts” advise that you should not use dialogue to present backstory. However, if properly done, you can. Dialogue is more active and tells the reader about your characters, so there’s no reason not to use it to introduce that bit of backstory. Just handle it carefully.

Getting into long chunks of dialogue is also pooh-poohed by “experts,” but again it’s a matter of how you handle it. I found that breaking up necessarily long chunks helps.

     “It was the same for Katherine and me when we left Reno all those years ago. Yes, I wanted to get away from the orchestra grind, but other burdensome and destructive forces were also creeping into our lives. Inner city living was fine with us. Then it started changing for the worse. Everyone seemed to start hollering about not having enough city services for those who deserved them, whoever those deservers were. It seemed like the majority of city inhabitants started to feel they were entitled to something or other, anything they personally wanted, this or that, without any idea or concern about how it was paid for or by whom. Dog parks, skating rinks, subsidized food hubs, public fountains, bike trails. Then came the increasing maintenance fees for these things. It was all emotional demands, with no rhyme, reason, or rational basis behind these entitlements.”
     Katherine nodded in agreement.
     “Then,” continued Henry, “many of their political representatives, their elected elites who had the answers to everything but knew nothing, jumped at the chance to save the day. We felt like the mob was taking over. Only feelings drove policy. Taxes went up, money was thrown everywhere, but all we got were fewer services. There was no budget oversight or spending accountability in any government office. Just the excuse that they never had enough money to spend.”
     Jim shook his head, having seen the same thing happening in Los Angeles.
     Henry went on, “Then special groups yelled that they were losing their ‘civil liberties’, so as they gained more ‘liberties’, we started losing our own individual rights and freedoms. Finally, our private property meant nothing to the people around us. Out-of-control graffiti and looting ensued. It felt like some invisible societal ‘black plague’ slowly coating us with chained servitude. We were choking to death, but it wasn’t from smog. We had to leave, go somewhere to breathe again. Fortunately for us, my mother and father needed some help out here, and we used that as an opportunity to take a break from city life. We had no idea if this was going to work for us out here, but it was away from what Reno was becoming.”

Making It “Golden”

Train your “ear” for how people speak in real life by listening to people around you, and then apply a modified version to your prose. You can also read what others write and see what suits you. The best trick is to read your dialogue aloud and see how it sounds. If you’re tripping over places, edit and then reread.

Bottom Line

You’re competing for readers out there. Dialogue is a great way to make your work stand out.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Time to give my fingers a rest and refill my cocoa cup.

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Also see Some Thoughts on Dialogue.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

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Switching Genres

There are two times in your life as a writer when you will very possibly find yourself switching from one genre to another. Embrace the change!

The First Switch

You get an idea. You type up that first draft. You read back through it and discover that it has morphed from that cute little romance story into a mystery or even a horror story.

This can happen whether you’re a “plotter” (you outline your plot and follow it as you work on the draft) or a “pantser” (you have any idea where your story is going but want the freedom to write “by the seat of your pants,” that is, in flow with your ideas).

An example is my manuscript for Hammil Valley Rising, which was originally titled Hammil Valley Rose. The intent was a sweet romance between a widow rancher and a bachelor rancher in that valley. The story grew to involve so much more along with that romance that I had to make extensive rearrangements and edits, turning the manuscript into the literary fiction genre.

If you really want to keep to your original genre, be prepared to dump ideas along the way that don’t fit. That takes discipline (which I apparently lack) and a willingness to abandon those ideas (which I don’t want to do).

If you go along with the change, bear in mind that you might not be able to present it to the same literary agents or publishers. And if the manuscript is part of a series, you could throw things off.

The Second Switch

You finished the manuscript for that sweet romance. You have an idea burning in your brain for a horror story. What to do?

If you are known as a writer of sweet romances, you might give your reading public a shock. You could write out the idea and save it for some later date or publish under a pseudonym. Better yet, some experts recommend that you just alert readers that this book is of a different genre.

Having written almost 2.6 million words on The Freelan Series, I had an idea for a horror story. Typing it up was almost like taking a mental vacation. And then I saw it as the start of a series and am now working on the fourth story. Meanwhile, I revisited short stories from years ago in various states of completion, revamped some, and got ideas for others. Now I switch between working on The Freelan Series, the horror series that grew out of that first story, and those other short stories. I’ve redone the site a bit to reflect this. Nothing published so far, so I don’t have to worry about people getting confused or disappointed.

Bottom Line

Being open to switching genres can free up your creativity. Whether you want that or not is your choice. Either way, write what inspires you.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

My article on genres.

Write for Yourself or the Market

These days, writers face a choice. Do we write for ourselves or for the market? Only you can answer that. And a factor in making that decision is your goal for your writing. Are you hoping to make a lot of money? Then you have to hope that what you write for yourself appeals also to that market or you have to write something for that market. Both can be rather tricky, and one can be fulfilling while the other can be frustrating.

Writing for Yourself

Not a good route if your purpose in writing is to make a living from it.

Even if you have a story idea that you love and is burning inside you and you are sure that it is absolutely, positively going to appeal to a large number of people, your book might not even get published (Harry Potter got turned down right and left).

Don’t let this stop you. Type it up. You’ll feel great relief, as I do, for having the story down on your computer, mobile device, or even scribbled on paper. As for others seeing it, be ready for a real uphill battle and little or no payback. You’ll be badgered into hiring an editor (see Types of Editing for Your Work of Fiction) before you can present it to one of the literary world gatekeepers (literary agents and traditional publishers) who, if they like it, will then badger you to make more changes until you won’t recognize what you wrote. And if you decide to go the self-publishing route, you will need to pay not just for editing, but a copyright, an ISBN, and a cover design. You will recoup these costs in about fifty years, if lucky, at least from what I have seen authors posting (one said his royalties for 2022 so far were $2.56).

Writing for the Market

This is going to take a lot of homework on your part. But it may pay off in the end.

Go to the library and ask the clerks there which books are checked out the most and what feedback if any they get from readers (at our local library a lot of newer books get returned with comments like “total garbage,” “unreadable,” “disgusting and filthy – every other word was an obscenity”). Check out sites that show what books are selling, go to the authors’ websites, and see if they have excerpts posted or go back to your local library to find those books. Bestsellers will usually be on their shelves. Check out literary agents and publisher sites to see the kind of things they are seeking (they usually just say the genre – so it’s better to actually read books that are being published and that are selling – see Publisher & Agent Fiction Genres Defined). Once you’ve done all that, come up with a smashingly good idea that is entirely your own, not a copy of anything you’ve read. Of course, there’s still no guarantee that your book will sell – or even be published.

What It Means to You

No matter which of the above you choose, if you’re a new writer, getting published and then selling is going to be tough. I say that not to be discouraging, but to give you a realistic idea of what you’re facing. Be ready. The fun part will be the writing. The rest will be sloggingly hard, dogged work.

For one thing, Amazon is the elephant in the room when it comes to selling books, and they have some cards stacked against newbie writers.

One writer said that Amazon promotes only things that are selling and has lots of positive reviews, which is totally backwards from what was done when I worked in marketing for a large retail company. The slow movers got the heaviest promotion (the fast movers practically sold themselves, so no need to make the effort). Amazon instead practically guarantees that new stuff is buried by requiring lots of positive reviews to get promoted. Be ready to spend lots of time trying to garner enough reviews to meet this criteria (and losing friends and alienating family in the process). You have two methods, as far as I can tell:

  1. practically begging people who have read your book to post a review
  2. giving away enough free copies to fill a library shelf in the hope that enough readers will post a review

Hopefully, in either case the review will be a positive one.

A writer said that when he offers free copies of his books, people download them and post nasty reviews that show they didn’t even read the book (possibly competing writers trying to sink his book). Adding insult to injury, many e-books are returned for a refund after being read.

Also be ready for libraries to reject your book (some will, others will accept it, but be persistent).

Bottom Line

Don’t let all this get you down. Just approach writing as a personal experience. Write for yourself. You’ll feel more satisfied and enjoy the process more. And frankly, if you get the book published, avoid the pressure being applied these days to give out free copies or severely limit the number of free copies to five or ten. We have to face it, the system has been set up for people to abuse, and they do.

Of course, the choice is all yours.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my works in progress (WIPs). And thanks for reading.

Beware the “Experts”!

Lots of people are being touted these days as writing “experts.” And you can easily tell what their latest advice is by the posts you see from authors across social media who parrot that advice ad infinitum. The challenge is to determine who the real experts are (and I do not claim to be one) and assess their advice in a rational manner.

The Latest Trend

At present, writers are being advised to do two things:

  1. Put out a newsletter
  2. Offer a bit of free fiction in exchange for a person signing up for this newsletter

Nothing wrong with that, right? Well, to me there are three things wrong:

  1. Newsletters take time and are a distraction from your writing, especially if you are going to do one that will keep your subscribers from unsubscibing. (I currently subscribe to two just as a show of support to fellow authors but barely look at what they send.)
  2. People can sign up, get the freebie, and when your first newsletter arrives in the email inbox, they can unsubscribe (and will if there’s nothing in the newsletter worth their while).
  3. Giving away your writing for free cheapens it but also conditions readers to seek out such freebies instead of wanting to buy. (Yes, I posted a story on here for free, but the circumstances were exceptional. It had been posted by an online lit mag in a very improper way, so I wanted readers to see it properly.)

Other “Expert” Trends

Making matters even worse is the trend toward “simplifying” your writing to fit the extremely short attention span many people have attained thanks to TV, social media, and other influences. That means short sentences, short paragraphs, simplified language (“said” instead of “exclaimed” or other alternatives), and even simpler plot lines. This might be appropriate for some genres, but literary fiction (my genre), fantasy, science fiction, and historical fantasy need something more intriguing to the reader. Fantasy and historical fantasy genres seem to be growing in popularity, and this might be a reason for it, that is, readers want more.

Speaking of simpler plot lines, the “formula novel” is rampant these days. A romance novel contains these elements, a historical novel has those elements, and so on. Imagine authors like Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, and Ayn Rand getting their work published in today’s environment. Not hardly! In fact, I saw someone post the opening lines of Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and opine that they were poorly written. Now that’s chutzpah! Frankly, while I don’t accept all of Dickens’ ideas, his novels are a study in entrancing writing with a rhythm and flow that is totally lacking in what constituents modern fiction. (I recently read a flash fiction piece online that read like staccato machine gun fire. Ugh! I didn’t make it to the end despite the short length.)

Worst of all is the idea that you have to write only what literary agents say they are interested in. I actually saw a writer post that she was going to write a dystopian novel because some agents were asking for them. Another author said he had seen a lit agent say she didn’t want anymore COVID pandemic stories, so he was wondering when it would be okay to write them again (he might have meant that as sarcasm, but it didn’t seem so). Yikes! Write your story when and how you want.

That’s the biggest problem with these “experts” – a one-size-fits-all approach. But there is hope!

It’s Up to You

I encourage you to resist every little bit of “expert” advice that comes down the pike. And look into the person writing that advice. There are some legitimate experts, but they are few and far between. If you find one, stick with him or her.

As for your own efforts as an author, if your grammar, punctuation, spelling, and word usage are good enough for a reader to follow what you’re saying, then I encourage you by all means to start writing. As someone famous once said (I forgot who, but I saw it online recently), “you can’t edit a blank page.” Get your ideas down, and worry about the niceties later.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Revisiting Ghosts of Writings Past

Over the years, even published writers who are successful at selling their books build up “ghosts of writings past” – bits and pieces that they may not have pursued. These could be story ideas that came to them while working on a main novel, scenes cut from that novel (don’t ever ever throw those bits away!), or just something jotted on a notepad when the writer woke up in the middle of the night with an idea. I have an abundance of these “ghosts” and have come to regard them as a treasure trove of inspiration. Pay yours a visit. You might find that some are worthy of rejuvenation.

Recently, I revisited my ghosts. Some were embarrassingly bad, childish ideas that came pouring out of me in a moment of pique or the snatches of a nightmare that I scribbled when waking in a sweat, and that I have now shoved to the back of the stack, possibly to revisit at some future date. Others have been given a chance at a new life, something you as a writer can put to your advantage, especially if you’re experiencing “writers block.”

That scene (or even that whole chapter) you cut from your novel during the editing process, which can be brutal, should never hit the trashcan sitting on your laptop or on the floor beside your desk. File it away. You may have a new story or a whole novel in the making. As for that short story, I have several that were basically sound but overly long. After paring them down (in one case from over 3,400 words to fewer than 500), they came out pretty good – in fact, good enough in my own eyes at least to enter into contests, one with a site that specializes in fantasy fiction and the other that wanted eerie entries for their latest e-zine issue. I have incorporated another short story as an event in one of my current manuscripts.

So, give your old “ghosts” a gander. Some may be total stinkers and horrific in the worst way, but you may find a “Casper” – a ghost that’s not only friendly, but could prove to be a real gem.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

This article also appears on another site as a guest post.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

When a Minor Character Becomes Major

You’re typing along about a scene with a character that you intend to have a minor role in the story or novel and suddenly realize you’ve unearthed a real nugget of gold. Your minor character has become major! What do you do now?

Option 1: Rethink Your Plot

Finding a real nugget of gold (or winning millions in the lottery) can send your life in another direction. Realizing that a minor character has much more potential and could therefore be a major character can send your plot off into a different direction. You will need to decide if you want this redirection or not. If you do, you could find yourself discovering that nugget is part of a whole vein of gold, adding a whole new dimension to your story.

For example, one of my minor characters in the manuscript covering Year 14 of the Freelan Nation is a gang leader. His role in the manuscript grew from a brief mention to being a symbol of those who have been drawn in and destroyed by the false idea of utopia. I could, of course, change his fate so that he lives and becomes an inspiration to others also caught up in that idea and steering them away to reality. The decision on that is still in progress.

Option 2: Spin Your Character Off

Rather than disrupt your plot flow, you can opt to spin the character off or grow his/her role in a sequel. Just like some popular supporting characters in TV series have been spun off over the years into their own series (Rhoda Morgenstern of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was spun off into the show Rhoda and Phyllis from that same show was spun off into Phyllis). Your formerly minor character might now get his own novel or story.

Think of Tiny Tim growing up and becoming Ebenezer Scrooge’s new clerk, replacing Tim’s father who is now retired. Or what about the pirate Smee in Peter Pan going ashore and buying a pub (inn or public house)?

Final Thoughts

Have fun with your characters and be open to them growing. You never know what treasure you’ll uncover.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

More About Characters

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Publisher & Agent Fiction Genres Defined

Genre can decide the fate of your work of fiction (short story, novella, novel, poetry), so paying a bit of attention to what it is and how publishers and agents see it will help you gain their attention. (Agents generally go by what publishers want, so that is the focus of this list.)

This PDF file took about a week to prepare and is being presented free. You can print a copy for yourself, but please don’t mass print it without my express permission. Copying text has been turned off.

Writing Tip Publisher Agent Fiction Genres Defined

And bear in mind that this information is currently accurate but could change fairly quickly.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links to other sites and/or products.

Point of View

In writing fiction, you’re telling a story from a particular perspective. That’s a point of view (POV). The point of view you use matters. It can be limiting in some ways but lends interest in other ways. Your genre can work better with one POV than with another. Choose carefully, and once you make your choice, follow its rules. It will have a substantial impact on your readers’ perception of your story.

Different POVs

The three types of POV are:

1. First Person

Your character, usually the protagonist, tells the story and uses “I”, “me”, “we”, “our”, etc. Great for stories that are deeply personal and emotional. Many stories using this POV are told as simply stories or as a narrator writing them down or talking to the reader. The narrator may not be the protagonist but instead an observer like in The Great Gatsby or Sherlock Holmes, in which case the narrator may not be heavily involved or may be relaying what he/she has heard of events.

Advantages: Your character’s personality can be fully shown in thought, feeling, and action. You can write in either present or past tense, and use straight English or an accent, if your character has one.

Limits: Your character can only narrate the scenes in which that character has actually been or pass along what other characters tell him/her. Also, long expository narrative is a bit of a problem. You have to completely know your character, not just appearance but childhood, past experiences shaping him/her now, and so on.

Autobiographies are obviously written in first person, but this POV can work for fictional writing, too. Think carefully before choosing it, though, and be sure that the advantages are worth the limitations.

2. Second Person

Using “you” and narrating the story from the reader’s point of view.

Advantage: Great for articles and other non-fiction work.

Limit: Rarely suitable for novels. Sounds instructional or like a tech manual.

3. Third Person (Subjective or Omniscient)

The most commonly used POV for modern day fiction. Usually written in past tense but can work with present tense, too. The author narrates the story and uses “he,” “she,” “we,” “they,” etc. Choose what works best for you.

SUBJECTIVE (LIMITED OR DEEP POV)

A safe and common option. A single character narrates the story, bringing the intimacy of the first person POV to third person. A lot of action happens out of narrator’s view. Dialogue tags and “tell” verbs are usually not used.

Example:

Rose sat at the kitchen table wondering about the future. Hopelessness overwhelmed her in the growing darkness as the sun set. Hearing the cuckoo clock on the kitchen wall sound the hour, she roused and felt renewed strength, knowing that she would persevere some way, somehow. (From Hammil Valley Rising.)

Advantage: Your character can convey his/her thoughts, feelings, emotions, and so on, and enables you to connect your readers to your main (narrating) character.

Limit: Can only narrate scenes which the character is present and only what he/she sees in those scenes. The character has to be interesting to hold the reader’s interest. Can get a bit wordy.

OMNISCIENT

Narration is not limited to one character. You are showing the reader different scenes and narrating through the characters in each.

Advantages: Has the most freedom for you, the writer.

Limit: Readers can’t get as close to your characters and their personality. You can make up for this with careful writing. You can also tell the reader things that a single character narrating wouldn’t know first-hand.

Mixing POVs

So you picked a POV and now find yourself needing to tell something that doesn’t fit that POV. Usually, this happens when you choose first person or limited third person. No problem. If you do it right, you can mix POVs in the same manuscript, and the longer your manuscript, the more likely you are to do this.

The key to this mixing is to separate the different POV sections into chapters or sections of chapters. It can take some careful finessing but offers you more advantages and fewer limitations.

Purpose

Switching POVs helps you accomplish several things. First, you can overcome your character’s bias and provide a more complete view of the story by having parts portrayed by several narrators. Second, you can portray parts of your story that happen in different locations (the old “meanwhile, back at the ranch” ploy). Third, you can reveal information that the narrator doesn’t know, creating a more tense situation (the man entering a building, not knowing that an ambush is waiting but you, the reader, knows).

Implementation

Having multiple POVs can give you, the author, great flexibility and power over your story, but if you don’t implement them properly, the reader can get confused. One option is to balance out when one character narrates and then another. If you have more than two such narrators, some will need to narrate less than others. Think about which POV you will use for a particular scene, and keep that POV for that scene. Don’t switch POV until the next scene (chapter or section).

Final Thoughts

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links to other sites and/or products.

Types of Editing for Your Work of Fiction

Your hard work as a writer of a work of fiction deserves proper attention before you take it to the next level – publication. In this age of self-publishing, though, you might consider skipping the services of a professional editor because of cost or worry over the process. The good news is that there is an absolute ton of information online about fiction editing. Even better news is that there are various levels, some less expensive than others. And the even better news is that this article sums them up for you.

First, there is a lot of discrepancy between how many levels of editing there are and between the terms used for each. This article presents the key levels and terms. Individual editors out there may vary a little. You will want to clarify with them what they mean and what to expect from each level.

The order here is not cast in cement. Some of these are done simultaneously, depending on the editor.

See the list of articles at the bottom of this post with more information.

1. Editorial Assessment

Also called: Manuscript evaluation — Manuscript critique — Editorial report — Big-picture editing

Features:

  • Optional starting point for an early version of your manuscript that might be a bit messy.
  • Editor gives you broad and hopefully useful feedback on strengths and weaknesses in your plot, characters, or structure in a written report (2-3 pages usually).
  • No rewrites, no corrections for grammar, spelling, etc.
  • Just to give you a basic idea of the readability of your work and anything you might want to fix before sending to a beta reader or literary agent.
  • Generally more affordable than a full developmental edit.

2: Beta Reading

Also called: Advance copy read

Features:

  • For new writers wanting general feedback.
  • A good beta reader (and someone who might charge you) will give you a 2-3 page report.
  • If your budget’s really tight, as most are these days, consider a writing critique group.

Caution: There are people on social media who routinely offer their services as a beta reader. They might charge, or they might not. Check them out thoroughly, though, before sending off your masterpiece or you could find yourself trying to sue for them publishing under their name.

3. Structural

Also called: Developmental editing — Evaluation editing — Manuscript critique

Features:

  • Some combine with Developmental edit.
  • Begins when larger conceptual issues have been addressed and a draft is complete.
  • Editor focused big picture issues like overall story structure, logical flow, style, tone, general quality of writing
  • Editor will usually provide a short memo summarizing key points, areas of concern, and mark up manuscript at a high level, may shift paragraph or chapter order as well as make suggestions for new material or deletion of existing material.

If all goes well, you’re ready for copyediting and proofreading.

Otherwise, you might need a developmental editor for organization and structure issues or a line edit or content edit to address writing issues.

4. Developmental Editing

Also called: Content editing — Substantive editing — Conceptual editing — Manuscript appraisal

Features:

  • Most valuable to new and inexperienced authors.
  • Often the first step of editing a manuscript and the broadest level of editing.
  • Editor includes an editorial report as well as in-text comments.
  • Might be major changes – additions, deletions, items moved or completely rewritten – so this step should be done before any further editing.
  • Focus on: Starting point, First scene, Plot structure, Point of view, Pacing, Setting, Character development, Tension and intrigue, Images and metaphors, Narrative techniques, Themes
  • Goal is a more vibrant, engaging, and believable story.

5. Editing

Features:

  • Sharper focus than copyediting, looking at sentences (does each deal with one idea?) and paragraphs (does each discuss one topic?).
  • Editor checks for consistent and correct usage of terms and ideas; repetitive or redundant words, phrases, or sections; wordy phrases; excessive use of passive voice; shorter words that can be substituted for longer ones; page and word limit fit; and awkward phrases that disrupt the flow of your writing.

If all is well, your document will be ready for copyediting.

6. Substantive

Also called: Developmental editing — Line editing — Content editing — Full editing

Features:

  • Some lump with Developmental Editing, others with Copyediting.
  • Takes place at the beginning of the publishing process.
  • Not as detailed as a line edit. In-between high-level developmental/evaluation edit and ground-level a line editor takes.
  • Editor will look at the big picture and address paragraph and sentence clarity, coherence, and flow, ensuring that your content is compelling and suitable for your intended audience, medium, and purpose.
  • Editor will note directly in your file, using the change tracking and comments features, things for you to consider, recommend changes, delete sections, and/or suggest additions.
  • Sometimes, editor rewrites sections. You could see substantial changes, including new content. Be very clear when requesting this service if you want such rewriting to be done.
  • Editor will not rewrite stories but only change what is necessary while maintaining the author’s personal voice and style.

7. Copyediting

Also called: Line editing — Stylistic editing — Light Copyediting

Features:

  • Happens midway through publishing.
  • Making corrections to spelling and punctuation.
  • Editor generally focuses more on grammar, word choice, enhancing overall writing quality (active vs. passive voice, overly long or awkward phrasing), basic factual correctness, and ensures that the tone and style of a piece are consistent and appropriate for the target audience.
  • Experienced editors ensure your original tone remains intact and use a revision-tracking system so you can see changes and quickly accept or reject them with the click of a button. They may create a style sheet documenting hyphenation style, capitalization style, and other items. Keep it handy for the proofreader and feel free to add to it.
  • Expect noticeable changes to your original document and review them carefully. Never feel obligated to accept those changes, though. It’s your book.
  • A good copy editor collaborates with you and will put your vision first.

8. Fact-checking

Features:

  • Particularly crucial for nonfiction but helpful for works of historical fiction and hard sci-fi, too, or even fiction books that deal with a lot of current events.
  • Can be part of copyediting, substantive editing, or developmental editing.

9. Line editing

Also called: Copyediting — Stylistic editing — Medium copyediting — Comprehensive editing

Features:

  • For manuscripts and scripts that are in final draft.
  • Editor goes through your writing “line by line,” focuses on the words you use to communicate with your reader, things like clarity, examining word choice and impact, making sure your writing is clear and eloquent, pointing out clichéd phrasing and jargon, suggesting fixes for run-on sentences.

Some editors will do both copyediting and line editing together if you specify it up front.

10. Proofreading

Also called: Light copyediting — Mechanical editing — Baseline editing

Features:

  • Final, most technical edit to seek and correct remaining errors, often done just before book is published.
  • Hire someone who did not do the copyedit, so he/she sees your text with fresh eyes.
  • Traditional publishing: a proofreader edits after the book has been designed and formatted, and works on page proofs.
  • Indie publishing: a proofreader often edits after the editor and work on a Word document. He/she serves as a second pair of eyes on the manuscript. The proofreader also does his/her job before the book is designed and formatted for publication to save the cost of inputting changes into the program used for generating the book (InDesign, etc.)
  • Proofreader will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, verb-tense consistency, pronouns, spacing, editorial style, and formatting consistency.
  • Don’t expect radical changes to your sentences or words.
  • Furnish that style sheet mentioned earlier.
  • Proofreader will return a marked-up document for your review.
  • After you make changes, you should be ready to send your manuscript into production.

Bottom Line

Again, I stress that this is a general guide. And I also stress the need for some level of editing for your work, even if it’s a check for typos, which are rampant in both traditional and indie publishing.

Personally as the author, I do a “deep read,” combining most of the above, of manuscripts that have sat and cooled awhile. The changes I saw needed in my first three manuscripts were significant – chapters realigned or combined, parts moved to other chapters, heavy copyediting, tons of line editing.

Communication between you and the editor is vital. Be sure you’re both speaking the same language! Go to the editor’s site to see how they divide the different editing levels and what they charge for each.

A few articles presented as a starting point:

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.

Some Thoughts on Dialogue

Whether you’re writing a novel, novella, short story, or screenplay, dialogue is an important feature. In fact, it can make or break you. Stiff dialogue is a killer. Scintillating dialogue can make up for plot flaws. So paying close attention to your dialogue is critical.

It’s also a great chance to show your characters’ well, uh, character.

Do the Hard Work

Human conversation has a natural cadence of language and reflexive dynamic. If you can get that right, you’re halfway there. But don’t make the mistake of avoiding dialogue or putting in a lot of useless exchanges. Dialogue must be used to enhance your storytelling. Don’t worry. It’s very doable.

The Goals of Dialogue

  • Develops your characters (gives the reader insight into how the character feels and what motivates him or her to act, reveals the relationship between the characters)
  • Moves your plot forward (gets the reader a step closer to either the climax or the conclusion of your story)
  • Helps you establish the back-story
  • Reveals important plot details that the reader may not know yet
  • Ratchets up tension between characters (there is tension in what is spoken, and especially in what is not spoken)
  • Establishes the mood
  • Sets an atmosphere for each scene

Tips for Good Dialogue

Remember, these are tips. Your own writing style may justify variations.

  • Keep it natural. People rarely speak in whole sentences and tend to use contractions a lot (we’re vs. we are).
  • Be brief. Avoid a dialogue that goes on for pages (yes, even in screenplays). Don’t wear out the reader. You can accomplish the above goals in short exchanges.
  • Stay on point. That means avoiding chitchat that doesn’t achieve the above goals. “Great weather.” “Yeah, really good.” Doesn’t achieve a thing overall unless you make it seem to fit in. “Well, I asked you here on this lovely day to…” Small talk has its place, filling in awkward silences, for example, but in your writing, another tactic is needed unless you’re revealing something necessary to the reader about your character or the plot.
  • Make your exchanges capture the essence of the moment. “You? I thought I’d seen the last of your ugly face.” “Ha! Fat chance.”
  • Save the info dump for paragraphs. Putting long diatribes in dialogue can be very tedious. This is a general observation, though. Sometimes it’s necessary, but be judicious. You can get away with one or two in your novel (80k words or more), but keep them to a page or two. Some articles on writing suggest that you spread out this information across your fictional work.
  • Use speech mannerisms and keep them consistent. This is a way to subtly support and reinforce characterization. Forceful, passive, direct, indirect, simple words, more complex verbiage, accents, regionalisms, and word choices are some areas where you can achieve this. One person might reply to a question with “Yep” and another with “Absolutely.” Both reveal very different characters or a different context. (The same character could use both in different situations.)
  • Avoid telling. Don’t use your dialogue as a way to tell how a character is feeling. If he/she is angry, tell how they look (eyes narrowed, breathing deeply, tightened lips). If happy, he/she will be smiling, eyes shining, bouncing around, etc.

Dialogue as Part of the Plot

Rather than just having a ping-pong game with characters volleying back and forth, use your dialogue as part of the plot.

Here’s a suspenseful example from Hammil Valley Rising, the first book of my Freelan series:

“Here’s the one you want,” said Sid, chuckling, his generous girth shaking with glee.

“I thought when I moved up here almost thirteen years ago I was done dealing with slime like you,” Jim said in a voice filled with loathing, still looking out at the rain.

Sid chuckled. “Now, Jim, must we lose all sense of civility in this matter?”

Jim snorted with disgust and turned to him. “I’m not going to help you pretend that any of this is civil.”

“However you want it,” said Sid, “just as long as you sign. Then you get this.” He showed it to Jim and then folded it and put it in the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket.

Achieve suspense with these:

  • Show one character having the upper hand in the scene
  • Show the other character seething just under the surface
  • Reveal something important to the reader

Remember the context. Jim is speaking to someone he detests. Jim would never speak that way to the woman he loves, the people who work for him, his friends, and others in general. Your dialogue must hold this sacred. Don’t have a character speaking to his mother in a way that is not in line with their relationship. If he hates her, he speaks one way. If he reveres her, he speaks another. Your characters will be more real and have more depth as a consequence. The best way to do this is to get into their heads, know who they are as people, and keep it in mind as you type.

A Few More Tips

  • Watch the “saids.” See my article here. There are 100k+ words in the English language. Plenty of alternatives. And they will help reveal the mood.
  • Minimize hellos and goodbyes. Manners are one thing in life, but in fiction, hellos and goodbyes can bog down things for your reader. If you need them as part of the character, fine. Otherwise, leave them out and show a character entering or leaving.
  • Use interruptions. Rarely do people get to speak without interruptions. Use them to show something about your characters or to break up a long speech. But be sure you are not making your hero look rude.

Final Thought

When in doubt, read aloud. If you can get someone to read with you, all the better. It will make flaws stand out or, even better, assure that your dialogue is realistic and flows.

Hope you found this helpful and have been inspired to start and/or continue writing!

Please check out my WIPs. And thanks for reading.

Disclaimer: I get no compensation for links in this post or on my site to other sites and/or products.