P.S. It's Time To Remove Those Adverbial Dialogue Tags

Do you pepper your dialogue tags with adverbs? Do you have to make your character’s tone clear, just in case the reader didn’t get it from the dialogue?

What is a dialogue tag?

Dialogue tags tell us when a character is speaking. They are every ‘he said’ and ‘she asked’ in the books you read and write. 

They are important, because they tell us who is speaking. Readers do not like to be confused and you do not want them to lose interest and stop reading. 

They are also useful when you want to:
  1. Break up long pieces of dialogue. 
  2. Create or cut tension. 
  3. Insert an action or a reaction. 
  4. Add body language. 
  5. Give us an idea of your character’s rhythm of speech.
Good writers make these tags disappear into the story. They do not litter their writing with detracting synonyms for 'said', like ‘urged’, ‘whispered’, 'uttered', 'exclaimed', and ‘grunted’. (I'm even cringing as I write them.) They do use these, but they do so sparingly. 

Just as importantly, they stick to ‘said’ and ‘asked’ without over-indulging in adverbial abuse. 

What is an adverbial dialogue tag?

Beginner writers love adverbs of manner. They especially love using them in dialogue tags. You’ve seen the trashy fiction filled with those ‘–ly’ adverbs that tell us how we should think or feel instead of allowing the words spoken by the characters, and their actions, to show us what is happening. 

An adverbial dialogue tag is when an adverb modifies the verb we use to denote dialogue. For example, 'he said hastily', 'she said gruffly', 'they asked groggily'.

When you tell us how somebody says something, you take the power away from their spoken words. If they say something ‘angrily’ or ‘gently’, their body language and emotions become less important because of these ‘telling’ words. 

We also tend to concentrate less with padded writing. And adverbs and adjectives are notorious for their ability to clutter up a page.

If we create vivid characters with distinct voices and clear motivations, we do not need that many adverbs in our dialogue tags. Our characters words and actions will show us what they mean. 


This does not mean we should avoid adverbial dialogue tags altogether. We can still use them if they offer us an effective way to show an action or an emotion without interrupting the flow of the story. For example, ‘she said curtly’ is better than adding a long sentence that includes actions and body language to show that she is being curt. 

So before you write your next ‘warily’, ‘guiltily’, or ‘harshly’, think about whether or not you need it to be there.

Happy writing.

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

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The 7 Critical Elements Of A Great Book

I used to do manuscript appraisals when I taught creative writing full time. I would never have been able to do it without teaching, though, because teaching taught me how to become a critical reader. I learnt to observe, to critique, and to improve my own writing. 

Appraising a writer’s unpublished manuscript can be difficult, but it became easier when I broke it down into what readers and publishers look for when they read. The key to making it easier was thinking about the market. What works? What sells and what doesn’t? Why doesn’t it sell? 

My appraisals were based on the seven basic elements of good novel writing, which are:

1. Plot 
  1. Does the novel have a plot? Without a plot it is difficult to keep a reader interested. A plot involves a protagonist with a worthy story goal. 
  2. Is this goal strong enough to sustain an 80 000-word long novel? We prefer to read about characters who have something to fight for and something to lose if they don’t. [Read The Story Goal - The Key To Creating A Solid Plot Structure]
  3. Is the plot introduced early enough? The story goal is usually set by an inciting moment that turns the protagonist's life upside down in a negative way.
  4. Is there too much backstory? Readers are not interested in the detailed biography of your character. For the most part, they do not enjoy prologues.
  5. Is there opposition for the protagonist? Conflict is created when an antagonist is introduced to stop the protagonist from achieving the goal. [Read 7 Essential Things To Remember About Very Important Characters]
  6. Does the plot make sense? If it does not, we tend to include things which seem to have no reason for being in the story. A good idea can turn into a maze of irritation if the author does not know where the story is headed.
  7. Has the author used the setting to advance the plot? Descriptions should not be static or incidental. [Read 5 Ways To Use Setting To Advance A Plot]
2. Characters 
  1. Do I care about what happens to the protagonist and the antagonist? If a reader fails to make me care for one of these characters, I will not carry on reading the book. Why should I? C.S Lewis said that we read to know we are not alone. If I feel no connection with a character, I am alone, lost, adrift in the story. I do not have to sympathise with a character, but I need to care. [Read Make Me Care - 9 Ways To Ensure An Unforgettable Read]
  2. Are the main characters believable? If the characters seem contrived or forced, we stop reading. I think a good way of looking at it is to ask: If I met these characters on the street (even if the story is set in a different universe) would they seem real?
  3. Are their motivations believable? Give readers good reasons to buy into their story goals. For example, most of us would not ruin our lives to wreak revenge without a great reason.
  4. Is the author masquerading as the protagonist? Many first time writers want to write their own stories, but don’t want to write a memoir. They try to turn their experience into a novel. This becomes problematic because they are too close to the story and they cannot see the character objectively.
  5. Does the name suit the character? Sometimes you read a book and you feel as if the author has not thought this through. The name may be out of date or too strange for the world the character inhabits. Here are 10 Things To Consider When Naming Characters
  6. Does their body language, clothing, hairstyle suit them? Sometimes it's a good thing to suggest that a writer completes a character questionnaire so that the characters seem authentic. How a character moves, how he or she reacts with non-verbal responses show that the writer has treated the character like a real person. This cheat sheet for writing body language will help you. 
  7. Do their emotions fit? A character may be happy, sad, or infuriated. A good writer knows how to show these emotions in the things the characters say and do. This needs to be filtered into the story in a believable way. [Read 37 Ways To Write About Anger]
  8. Do the characters fit into their surroundings? Alternatively, do they fail to fit in because of who they are? [Read Wherever I Lay My Hat - How Setting Affects Your Characters]
  9. Has the author used contrived ways to describe the characters? It is off-putting if a writer describes the character in detail. For example, ‘She had blue eyes, brown hair, stained teeth, and she weighed 60 kilos.’ A good writer will let this filter through and leave some of it to the reader’s imagination. 
3. Viewpoint
  1. Has the writer chosen a viewpoint that suits the story? Most stories are written in third person past tense. For example, ‘He cradled the baby as Freda screamed.’  Most genre novels are written in this viewpoint. Memoirs are often written in first person present tense to make the writing feel authentic and immediate. For example, 'I cradle the baby as Freda screams.' [Read 10 Ways To Tell A Story - All About Viewpoint]
  2. Has the author chosen the correct character to tell the story? This happens mostly when we choose to tell the story through the eyes of the protagonist’s friend. This often makes the story sound forced because the friend cannot know what the character is truly feeling or thinking. It distances the most important character from the reader and there is more telling than showing as a result.
  3. Has the author stayed in the viewpoint character’s head? Many beginner writers head-hop between the different characters in a scene, and confuse readers. As a rule, you should only use one viewpoint per scene. [Read 6 Simple Ways To Handle Viewpoint Changes]
  4. Has the character revealed something he or she could not have known? There has to be consistency and a sense of continuity in storytelling.
  5. If the author chooses a first person narrator, is the character strong enough to bear the weight of a 360-page book? This might seem like common sense, but it’s a tough ask for one character who has to be interesting enough not to bore a reader. The character could be compromised, which is fine if you are considering using an unreliable narrator
  6. Has the author chosen an omniscient narrator? This is so old-fashioned that it takes a truly exceptional writer to make this work. Modern readers prefer to be closer to the characters they are following in stories. 
4. Dialogue 
  1. Is there enough dialogue in the book? I believe the book should have at least 50% of its pages filled with characters communicating. Being stuck in a character’s thought processes is agonising for long periods of time. Many beginner writers make this mistake, thinking that we will be intrigued. But it actually turns out to be the author who is stuck, trying to work through the fact that he or she does not really have a plot.
  2. Is the dialogue appropriate for the characters? Are you giving the characters the correct vocabulary and tone? Do their words suit them? [Read 10 Dialogue Errors To Avoid At All Costs]
  3. Do the characters sound too similar? This is a common problem for beginners. They use sentence structures and lengths that are the same for each character. Real people have distinct voices when they speak.
  4. Does the dialogue serve a purpose? Writers who include unnecessary conversations also have problems with plotting. All the dialogue in a book should move the plot forward, introduce conflict, or show us something about a character. [Read 10 Ways to Introduce Conflict in Dialogue]
  5. Have they included body language with dialogue? Real people do things while they’re talking. Here are some examples: 60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think
  6. Are the dialogue tags good? ‘Said’ is the best tag you can use. The way characters say things and the words they choose should tell the reader how they say it. I am annoyed when characters hiss, spit, cajole, ejaculate and sputter. 
5. Pacing 
  1. Does the pace suit the story?  Books are made up of scenes and sequels. Scenes are faster than sequels and there are more of them. They are also longer. A good writer knows how to mix these up and how to get a rhythm that works for a story.
  2. Does the pace suit the genre? Thrillers will have more scenes. Literary novels are more leisurely and they will have more sequels.
  3. Is it too fast or too slow, and if it is, can it be fixed? Read The 4 Most Important Things To Remember About Pacing for excellent tips on how to improve problems with pacing. 
6. Style 
  1. Does the writer have a distinctive, engaging style? You can tell if a writer has this even if the grammar and spelling isn’t perfect. [Read 7 Choices That Affect A Writer's Style]
  2. Can the writer write? Sometimes there are real problems with sentence structure, punctuation, and a poor grasp of storytelling techniques.
  3. Is there too much passive voice in the story? This leads to telling instead of showing and drags a story down with it.
  4. Is the tone appropriate for the story? A sombre tone is inappropriate for a light-hearted romance and a flippant tone is unusual in literary fiction.
  5. Are the readability statistics acceptable for a novel? I work on the assumption that a good book will have an 80% readability value. Novelists need to learn how to write difficult things in the simplest way. [For more, read Why You Should Care About Readability Statistics]
  6. Does the writer have an engaging voice? The best way to find your voice and nurture your style is to write. If you are struggling, read this post for help: How do you find your writing voice? 
7. Beginnings, Middles, Endings 
  1. Does the story start at the beginning? A beginning is a delicate thing. There should be enough action combined with a touch of description, a hint of backstory, and dialogue – if necessary. Is the hook good enough to make the reader turn the page?
  2. Is there a great inciting moment? I want to be invested in the story from the moment I pick up the book. There should be something to make me care. [Read The Importance of Inciting Moments]
  3. Am I entertained through a muddle in the middle? Is there enough suspense, tension, and conflict to keep the story going? Good writers make the middle work by setting a deadline for a character. They force the character to change, throw in secrets, surprises and even add a dangerous twist. [Read A Tense Situation - Five Tips To Help You Write A Gripping Read]
  4. Does the ending satisfy me? A great ending always completes your story arc, shows a change in your main character, and leaves the reader wanting more. [For more help, read: The Sense Of An Ending - How To End Your Book]
  5. Does it fulfil the book’s promise? Avoid surprise endings and contrived twists. Rather go back and fix the parts of the book that should have been set up properly to support the ending you want. [Read How To Write A Beginning And An Ending That Readers Will Never Forget]
In the end... 

If these are covered, and if they work, I find that a book delivers. The author naturally shows me the story instead of telling me what I should think or feel. I also find that a theme is revealed naturally with great plotting and good characterisation.

If you want to critique a book, you can ask these questions and make notes. At the end you will have a better idea of why you did or did not enjoy it.

Happy reading and writing!

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

 by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

© Amanda Patterson

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Write Your Novel In A Year - Week 29: 3 Things To Remember About Dialogue

Welcome to week 29 of Anthony's series that aims to help you write a novel in a year. Read last week's post here 

Goal setting
  1. Continue writing the scenes or chapters of your novel.
Breaking it down

Dialogue is about character
When characters speak, readers listen. In fact, they probably pay more attention to dialogue than narrative. It’s a way for them to get information about the characters in your novel.

The other day, a friend of mine made some off-hand comment about photographers. ‘Photographers are always seeing the deeper meaning – it’s never just a picture of a cup of coffee.’

This got me thinking about Jenna, my main character. She is a photographer. Obsessed with getting the perfect shot to tell the perfect story. How does this inform her dialogue? She can be quite critical – probing, incisive, intelligent.

Here’s another example. For my antagonist, Monty, finding his speech patterns was a bit easier. He is a dreamer. So his dialogue is always about the future – about wish fulfilment. He very seldom tells the truth – he reinvents the past and the future is always ‘make believe’.  Knowing this about him has really helped me with his dialogue.
Dialogue is about moving the story forward – or back.
Readers are also looking to dialogue to give them information about the story or plot. They get to know this through a character’s intentions and decisions – what are they going to do next in the story? That’s why stating these decisions in dialogue is a great idea – they register with the reader. For example: ‘We’ll go to the police first thing in the morning.’ ‘Let’s ask my father for help – he’ll know what to do.’ ‘We have to stop him before he takes this too far.’

Dialogue is a great way to avoid using long passages of back story. In my novel, it’s important to introduce some information about a holiday Matt and Jenna took in the past.

Instead of writing it as a flashback, I have the two lovers reminiscing about the holiday in dialogue. I also have other characters speak about this holiday in the story.

By using snippets of the information about the holiday in dialogue, I’m not forced to reveal the whole truth about what happened on the holiday – only through the memories of my characters.

Dialogues is about contrasting words with actions
The reader is also looking for the promises one character makes to another character – and to see if they keep those promises. Do we believe what the character is saying? Do we trust them?

In my novel, Matt, Jenna’s boyfriend, is always making promises that he never seems to keep.

This gives the reader a heightened awareness of the ‘fault lines’ in the relationship between Matt and Jenna. I want them to ask: Why does she believe these promises?  The contrast between a character’s actions and their words is very often what creates tension in a story.

One of elements I love about writing my novel is finding the voices of my characters – I start to see them in my mind, the story becomes kinetic, and I’m able to move the story forward.
Timelock — 2.5 to 5 hours

Write for half an hour or an hour a day on your scenes or chapters.

5 Quick Hacks
  1. Download some movie scripts and read some published plays. Observe how dialogue moves the story forward.
  2. Act out or speak aloud the dialogue in your novel.  Write out a scene as a dialogue-only script and ask a friend to play one of the ‘parts’. How does it sound?
  3. Write some Facebook or Twitter posts for your characters. Does it capture the ‘personality’ of your character?
  4. Take a flashback (if you have one) and re-write it as a dialogue in a current scene.
  5. Imagine your character has lost their voice. How would they express themselves in body language?
Pin it, quote it, believe it:

‘Go ahead, make my day!’ — Dirty Harry

Look out for next week’s instalment of Write Your Novel In A Year!

 by Anthony Ehlers

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. 

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      Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate.

      What Writers Can Learn From The Coolest Podcasts On The Web

      I love listening to podcasts and they are great for improving your writing. I have written about listening and using a series like Serial  before. It is a must-listen for crime writers. It’s fascinating to hear how she breaks down the investigation and pulls apart the old case.

      After I listened to Serial I was desperate for another podcast to keep me occupied and I came across The Black List Table Reads which “takes the best screenplays Hollywood hasn't yet made and turns them into movies... for your ears.” It’s as cool as it sounds. They use great sound effects and awesomely talented voice artists. 

      Now, why would you need to listen to movies as a fiction writer? 
      1. Show, don’t tell. Movies are the ultimate show, don’t tell. There is no internal thought for movie characters, their actions have to show us how they are feeling and why they act the way they do. When you listen to The Black List Table Reads you realise the importance of using strong verbs. When you listen to a movie there is no image to show you how the character walks and behaves. Words like saunter, stride and shuffle make all the difference. It is amazing how they can paint a picture. 
      2. Dialogue. The taped interviews in Serial are an amazing source of ‘raw’ dialogue and serves as an excellent example of why dialogue should not sound like real people talking, but should sound like well, dialogue. The Black List Table Reads however is an example of what dialogue should sound like. It’s amazing to compare the two. 
      3. Description. Once again, when a script is being read there is no image and the description can’t get in the way of the story. The writers use short, specific descriptions to get us in the scene as quickly as possible. Are your descriptions bogging down your story? Also, you should listen to the different voices and sounds, how would you describe it if you had to write that voice or sound. It opens up a whole new way of thinking about description. 
      Writing a movie and writing a book are two different things, but a story is a story and we can learn from all kinds of writers. The Black List Table Reads also interviews the writers about everything from the writing process to the business side of the writing. Lots to learn. 

      Happy listening and happy writing. 

      PS: I am looking for new podcasts to listen to, so if you know of one please leave a comment.

      If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

       by Mia Botha

      If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

      1. World-Building For Every Genre: The Ultimate Setting Checklist
      2. What Fantasy Writers Can Teach Us About Setting
      3. How To Convey Setting In Dialogue - Without Sounding Like A B&B Brochure


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        How To Convey Setting In Dialogue - Without Sounding Like A B&B Brochure

        I was on a bit of a dialogue spree a few months ago, but I decided to post this with the setting series to give you (and me) a bit of a break. As I have mentioned, I prefer dialogue to narrative. So much so, I actually skip blocks of description when I read. This is obviously not ideal, but then again neither is my wine habit. And I’m not giving that up either.

        As an author I need to find the balance between narrative and description. I have written about Talking Heads and how leaving details up to chance can create confusion or ambiguity.

        When I discussed layering, I worked hard to use body language and actions to help me fix my talking heads. Remember body language and internal thoughts are also considered part of dialogue. So, now I should have something like talking bodies. But, I still don’t have setting. 

        How do I include setting detail without inducing a coma with blocks of description? Remember, I love writing that shows. There are authors who excel at telling and who write brilliant, intoxicating descriptions. I don’t. I want stuff to happen.

        Let’s take a look at some examples. Using a line like “Please pass the salt” already tells us we are at a dinner table. It could be a restaurant or a home.

        Having your character say: “Grab your jacket, it’s freezing.” Tells me it is cold, without having to use the line: It was a cold and snowy day, just like the weatherman predicted.

        This is a skill that you will hone. The more you make a conscious effort, the better you will get. I just sounded like a motivational gym DVD, didn’t I? But it’s true.

        Consider this example:
        “Why did you choose this place?” His nose is scrunched. His upper lip is pulled up at the corner. “It’s very dark in here.”
        “You said you didn’t mind where we ate.” She sighs, closing her eyes for a moment.  
        “Well, I mind now.” He tries to move his chair, but it catches on the thick carpet. “How do they expect you to move your chair?” He tugs it again.
        “Do you want to go somewhere else?”
        “I’ll survive I suppose,” he says and flicks open the menu. “When in Rome,” he mumbles, “although I suppose Rome would find the association rather insulting.”
        Fran folds her napkin in her lap. Paying careful attention to the errant corners and folds.
        “What are you going to have?” He leans forward, peering over the menu, and his reading glasses.
        “I haven’t looked yet.” She watches the people at the next table. Young, beautiful, in love. She traces the damask pattern on the white tablecloth. “These are like the ones we had for our wedding, can you remember? The tablecloths?”
        He peers again. “Why would I remember the tablecloths at our wedding?”
        “Because your Mother insisted on them and they blew half our budget?”
        “Mother, does have good taste. She wouldn’t think much of this place, though. Too flashy, very nouveau riche.” He pretends to shudder, and nods at the menu. “The show starts at nine.”
        “I know.” She glances at the glossy pages.
        “I don’t want to be late.” He says behind the menu.
        “Fine, what are you having?” She says, snapping her menu closed.  
        “I can’t decide.” He re-appears, perky eyebrows with black, piggy eyes. “What do you think I should have?”
        Her smile disappears, sucked into a thin, straight line. “For heaven’s sake, can you not make a single decision on your own?”
        “I was just making conversation, Fran. It’s date night, remember? Dr Benedict says, we should-”
        “No, you were not making conversation. You were waiting for me to choose so you could blame me if you didn’t like it.”
        “When have I ever done that?” He squints in the dim, dinner light.
        “Only at every session we’ve had with the good doctor.”
        “But Mother says therapy-“
        She signals the hovering waiter. “I’ll have the house salad, please.”
        The waiter turns, eyebrows raised, pen poised.
        “I haven’t decided yet.” Panic cracks his voice. He perches on the chair scouring the pages, jaw pumping. “Why did you do that? I haven’t decided.”
        “He’ll have the line fish, grilled, with a side salad.”
        He deflates. Disbelief floods the table, followed by an angry fist. “Why did you do that? You knew I wasn’t ready.”
        “You’re never ready, Frank.” Resting her hands on the rattling silverware. Her wedding ring glints, mocking her with its cheeriness.
        “Well, I didn’t want that.”
        “Yes, and now you’ll blame me. Your life is my fault.”
        “Why are you being like this?”
        “Like what? Like the woman you chose to marry, and then complained about for the next five years.”
        He stares at her. Mouth agape.
        “What? Honesty too nouveau riche for you?”
        Ok, I hope that helps to explain using setting in dialogue instead of writing it in big blocks at the beginning of the scene.

        Try it using the prompt: “Why is it so dark in here?” OR “Where the hell are we?”

        Happy writing. 

        If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg. Please email news@writerswrite.co.za for more details.

         by Mia Botha

        If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

        1. 7 Simple Things To Remember About Setting
        2. 7 Other Characters To Consider When You Write A Book
        3. The Role Of The Love Interest In Fiction


          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate

          60 Things For Your Characters To Do When They Talk Or Think

          One of the easiest ways to show and not tell is by making your characters do things while they are talking or thinking about something. It could be anything including a chore, a daily grooming ritual, a hobby, or a group activity.

          When you do this, you show who the character is by the things they choose to do or have to do. You also have to think about their body language, because the way a character does something says as much as the words they are speaking as they do it. [Read Cheat Sheets for Writing Body Language}

          Try to avoid the act of scrolling through cell phones. Even if many people do this, it is passive and does not allow for movement, thought, and changes in body language.

          Choose activities that fit naturally into your characters’ lifestyles. Do not force them to do things unless you mean to make them uncomfortable. [Read 5 Simple Ways To Describe Characters]

          If you are stuck for ideas about what your characters can do when they are thinking about something important or while they are having a conversation, I’ve put together a list of suggestions:
          1. Colouring in a book
          2. Shopping for groceries
          3. Working on a car or a motorbike 
          4. Trying on clothes – at home or in a shop
          5. Taking a dog for a walk
          6. Playing a board game
          7. Playing a game of cards
          8. Giving a dog a bath
          9. Cuddling a cat
          10. Feeding pets
          11. Walking through a museum or art gallery
          12. Knitting, sewing, needlework
          13. Having a bath
          14. Taking a shower
          15. Cleaning up after an accident – spilt glass of wine, 
          16. Cleaning up after a deliberate act – smashing a photo frame, throwing a wine glass
          17. Gardening – planting, weeding, cutting
          18. Doing the dishes
          19. Changing a baby’s nappy 
          20. Counting money
          21. Wrapping presents
          22. Buying a present for a friend or loved one
          23. Preparing a meal
          24. Baking 
          25. Setting a table
          26. Looking for something
          27. Browsing in a bookshop
          28. Catching the bus or train
          29. Decorating a room for a party
          30. Packing a suitcase
          31. Packing a box
          32. Unpacking a suitcase 
          33. Unpacking a box
          34. Sorting out old clothes
          35. Sorting through old papers
          36. Rearranging bookshelves
          37. Sorting through photo albums
          38. Ironing clothes
          39. Getting your hair styled or coloured
          40. Getting dressed or undressed
          41. Putting on makeup or removing makeup
          42. Dressing or undressing a child
          43. Putting a child to sleep
          44. Watching a child doing homework
          45. Tending to a wound
          46. Painting nails
          47. Playing a sport 
          48. Going for a run
          49. Hiking – alone or with somebody
          50. Sharpening knives
          51. Sorting medication for the week or month ahead
          52. Sitting in the doctor’s waiting room
          53. Making a shopping list
          54. Shaving
          55. Going to the gym
          56. Exercising
          57. Watering houseplants
          58. Watching a child play
          59. Saving a new contact on a phone
          60. Rearranging furniture
          These activities allow for different types of reactions. A character could stop in the middle of any of these after hearing shocking news or realising something. News could also spur characters into changing what they are doing or the way in which they are doing it.

          If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

          Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

          © Amanda Patterson

          If you enjoyed this articleyou will love:


          Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa.Writers Write - Write to communicate.

          10 Dialogue Errors To Avoid At All Costs

          Writing good dialogue can be difficult. Here are some of the most common mistakes beginner writers make. 
          1. Stilted exchanges – Your dialogue may not sound natural. Read it aloud and see if it sounds like something your character would say. Have you included contractions? We say “I’ll” rather than “I will” when we speak to each other.
          2. Similar voices – Make sure that each character has a distinct voice. He or she should have a different pattern of speech and vocabulary. You can reveal interesting character details, including a level of education or self-awareness, with this technique.
          3. Small talk - This ‘filler’ dialogue does not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters. Sometimes we insert it because we haven’t let the characters speak for a while or we think we need ‘white space’. Have you made sure the characters are not just talking for the reader’s benefit? We should use dialogue to prompt action or to reveal characters’ emotions and motivations.
          4. Exposition - This is when a character explains the story in dialogue. This is one of the worst kinds of telling rather than showing. Sometimes an author feels the need to tell the reader something and uses a character to do it rather than weaving the information into the storyline.
          5. Using names in dialogue – It is unusual for us to say people’s name when we are speaking to them. We only do this if we are trying to attract their attention, for example, ‘Jack! We’re over here!’, or if we want to make a point, for example, ‘I’ve warned you to stop lying, Dylan.’ It is better not to use a character’s name to establish identity. Your character may end up sounding like a salesman at a convention.
          6. Too many modifiers – We seldom need to use verbs like shouted, stuttered, breathed, exclaimed, cried, mused, whispered, stammered, uttered, insinuated, or hesitated. Use these dialogue modifiers sparingly. Use the word ‘said’. It works. Your characters’ words and their actions should convey their mood. (You may find these body language cheat sheets useful.)
          7. Forgotten dialogue tags – A dialogue tag is when we attribute the speech with the words, 'he said' or 'she said'. If a reader has to stop because he or she cannot tell which character is speaking, you need to include more dialogue tags. It is just as important to make sure that you do not crowd the page with too many tags.
          8. Incorrect dialogue punctuation – Do not confuse your readers. Use quotation marks correctly. Decide on your dialogue format, for example, single or double quotation marks, and use them consistently.
          9. Unimportant conversations – These pieces are more than small talk, but are usually unnecessary as dialogue. If we need to know that a character will be back on Monday, we do not necessarily need two or more character to impart this information. A character might think about something like this. Most conversations should create friction or tension as well as add information. If they don't, leave them out.
          10. Too much talk – Sometimes silence can be more powerful than words. Often, the things we choose not to say are more important than those we do say. There are times when there are no words powerful enough to convey a character’s feelings and times when a character may be incapable of speaking. Use this technique sparingly to make it more effective.

          Five Exercises To Help You Avoid These Mistakes
          1. Eavesdrop. Record conversations to understand how differently we speak. Many of us speak in short statements or use fragments. Others only speak in laborious, grammatically correct, complete sentences.
          2. Ask five different people the same question. Compare their responses and note the different words they use to convey emotions.
          3. Write dialogue-only scenes. This reminds you to make the characters sound unique.
          4. Tell a story. Write a scene where one character tells somebody a story. Craft it so that the other character is engrossed and only interrupts to ask the odd question.
          5. Silence. Write a scene where one of the characters should speak, but can’t or won't.

          If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg.

          Amanda Patterson by Amanda Patterson. Follow her on  Facebook,  Tumblr,  Pinterest,  Google+,  LinkedIn,  and on Twitter:  @amandaonwriting

          © Amanda Patterson

          If you enjoyed this article, you will love:


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          Why Repeating Yourself In Dialogue Can Be A Good Thing

          I have been writing about dialogue these past few weeks. Today, I want to talk about why repetition is a powerful writing tool. Used correctly, it becomes a great literary device. Used incorrectly it is annoying, clumsy and points to a lazy writer. 

          Here is a list of all the kinds of repetition you can use as a rhetorical device, but because I am still on a dialogue spree, I’d like to talk about the use of repetition in dialogue. It’s awesome if you can use your character’s words again. It is so simple, yet so effective. 

          Three Examples:
          1.  In a movieToy story: (Spoiler Alert)

          In the beginning when Buzz shows off his wings and flies, Woody says: “That’s not flying, it’s falling with style.”
          In the end when Buzz uses his wings to glide them to safety, he uses Woody’s words: “It’s not flying, it is falling with style.”

          It ties up the story, shows the character growth as well the change in the relationship between Buzz and Woody.
          2.  In a song - In Cats in the Cradle, the father loves his son’s words at the beginning. After all, his son wants to emulate him.

          In the beginning, his son says:
          "I'm gonna be like you, Dad
          You know I'm gonna be like you"

          And in the end, the father is ignored by his son, and he has to admit the bitter truth:
          'And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me
          He'd grown up just like me
          My boy was just like me.'  

          Now this repetition isn’t as direct as the Toy Story example, but it works just as well. It shows how the story has come full circle, how the son grew up and what the father regrets 

          Fun fact: A recent study shows that the more the chorus is repeated in a song the more likely it is to become a hit.  
          Now, I’m not saying go write a chorus for your book, but it is interesting to note how we react to repetition.
          3. In a book: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Spoiler Alert)


          John Green used ‘okay’ as a way for Hazel and Gus to express their emotions. It is sweet and beautiful.This is what he had to say about using ‘okay’ and ‘always’ in an interview.

          Q. Why did you choose “okay” and “always”?

          A. Well, always is just an inherently ridiculous concept, but of course you want to say it to people you love, right? You want to promise them that you will always love them, that you will always take care of them, that they needn’t worry because you’re always going to be there. You won’t always be there, because at some point you’ll be dead or stuck in traffic or in love with someone else or whatever.
          Most of us (me included) don’t think about the ridiculousness of what we’re  saying when we say, “I’ll love you forever*,” or “I will always remember this day,” or, “I’ll never forget** you” or whatever. Like, I say those things all the time, like most people do. But Hazel and Augustus are both a lot more measured in the way they imagine themselves and their love for/responsibilities to other people, hence them adopting “okay” as the word that serves as an expression of their love for each other.
          * It’s important to note that forever is not a long time just as infinity is not a large number. Forever is infinite, and it’s a very bold to make declarative sentences about infinities.
          ** This seems to me a very fate-tempting thing to say. Like, what if you develop dementia? 

          He uses it several times during the novel and it makes you smile/bawl your eyes out every time. 
          However, think carefully before you repeat dialogue. Repeated conversations suck and that is not what I want you to do. Remember that dialogue must:
          1. Reveal character
          2. Move the story forward
          3. Add conflict and tension
          4. Give information
          5. Create white space. 
          And remember a thesaurus is evil. Don’t go adding big or fancy words, because you don’t want to repeat a plain one. The simpler the word, the stronger your writing will be. Think Hemingway… 

          Happy writing 

          Prompt: Use the line “Never is a long time.” Write a scene and try to turn the character’s own words against him. 

          Writing prompts are an excellent way to exercise the writing muscle. If you want to receive a free daily prompt from us, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the word DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list. 

          Why Adverbs Are The Tequila Of Writing Dialogue

          I have been writing about dialogue these past few weeks. Today, I want to talk about adverbs and why you should try to avoid them. 

          Adverbs tell us how something was done. You should rather try to show us how it was done. When I talk about adverbs I want you to be pay close attention to the words that end in –ly, namely adverbs of manner. Instead of using these, I want you to try to use verbs, but not any old verb will do. I want you to use strong verbs, for example, stride instead of walk, sprint or race instead of run.

          Knowing which verbs to use will be easier if you know your character well. Think of the difference between a woman who strides and a woman who shuffles. Each verb creates a different person or a different scene. 

          You don’t have to obliterate adverbs, but often they are redundant or could be replaced by a strong verb. Adverbs are the tequila of writing. There is no such thing as one tequila and there is no such thing as one adverb. Once you have used one, more will sneak in. Be careful.

          When all is said

          That said I want to talk about the word said. Said is awesome. Use it. Don’t replace it with words like admonished or exclaimed. Stephen King recommends using them only 10% of the time. It’s good advice. Said is invisible to a reader.  

          Below is an example of dialogue with adverbs and verbs other than said. I used the prompt: ‘Keep your morals away from me’.
          “Don’t do it.” Alice demanded angrily.
          “Keep your morals away from me.” Janet said snidely as she stood over John, tightly tied up in the corner.
          “You’ve never minded my morals before.” Alice retorted sarcastically.
          “Well, I mind them now.” Janet said irritably as she steadied the gun, the weight of it uncomfortably heavy in her inexperienced hand.
          “How inconvenient for you that I am here then.  Please, just drop the gun, Janet,” Alice said as seriously as possible. “We both know you are not going to shoot him.”
          “I am going to shoot him. I hate him.” Janet said bitterly. Her eyes narrowed dangerously.  
          John whimpered through his gag and pleaded with his eyes.
          “You don’t hate him, you love him. You always have.” Alice said, exasperated.  
          “No, you are wrong. I used to love him.” She said as she squeezed the trigger.
          Now the rewrite:

          I have removed adverbs and added action to show, instead of tell.
          “Don’t do it.” Alice grabbed Janet’s arm.
          “Keep your morals away from me.” Janet pulled away and stood in front of him, trussed up and pathetic in the corner.  She steadied the gun, the weight of it uncomfortable and heavy in her inexperienced hand.
          “You’ve never minded my morals before.” Alice said, folding her arms.
          “Well, I mind them now.” Janet said, as she levelled the weapon.
          “How inconvenient for you that I am here then. Just, drop the gun,” Alice stood in front of Janet and took a step closer so that the gun pressed against her breastbone. “We both know you are not going to shoot him.”
          “I am going to shoot him. I hate him.”  They watched him squirm. He whimpered through his gag.
          “You don’t hate him, you love him. You always have.”
          Alice shoved Janet out the way. “No, you are wrong. I used to love him,” she said as she stepped over her sister. She smiled as she squeezed the trigger.
          Using action makes the story immediate. It also stops you from creating unwieldly words that your reader will have to reread. Look at your last piece of dialogue and try using an action instead of an adverb. 

          Happy writing.  

          Writing prompts are an excellent way to exercise the writing muscle. If you want to receive a free daily prompt from us, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the word DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list. 

           by Mia Botha

          If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

          1. All You Need To Know About Punctuating And Formatting Dialogue
          2. 8 Important Things To Remember When You Rewrite Dialogue
          3. How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps


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            All You Need To Know About Punctuating And Formatting Dialogue

            This is the third step in my dialogue series, How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps.

            Step 3 – Keeping Up Appearances 

            I have been discussing dialogue for the last few weeks. This week I want to talk about formatting and punctuation. I’ve tried to keep this simple. Be careful of getting yourself and your reader confused. The simpler, the better. Remember reading it aloud should be your guide. 

            Punctuation in dialogue

            Quotation marks:

            1. The words spoken aloud are placed inside the quotation marks. Internal thoughts are not.
            2. These are not used for indirect dialogue, which is used in, for example, in a diary entry or by a narrator.
            3. We can use ‘single’ or “double” quotation marks. 
            4. A dash can also be used, or you can leave out the quotation marks completely, but think carefully why you would want to do that. Margaret Atwood is good at no quotations marks. 
            5. The most important thing is to remain consistent. 

            Full stops, commas, and capital letters:

            Yes, there are rules, but I would recommend that you read your dialogue aloud before deciding what goes where.

            “Yes, please,” said Alice. “I would love some.” 
            Take note: Open quotation, dialogue, comma, close quotation, verb and name, full stop. Open quotation, dialogue, full stop, close quotation. Both lines of dialogue start with caps.

            Once you have established who is speaking you don’t need a tagline. 
            “You are crazy.” 
            Take note: No tagline, no comma, use a full stop instead. 

            Ellipses and dashes:

            Use these for interrupted dialogue or unfinished sentences.
            “I never thought…” she closed her eyes and melted into his kiss.
            “I just wanted to—” he tried again.
            “Of course you wanted too. It’s always about what you want to do.”
            Question marks and exclamation marks:

            These always go inside the quotations.
            “What are you doing?” he asked.
            “I hate you!” she said.

            Don’t use an exclamation mark and then write exclaimed. 

            When action is involved:

            “You’re a goddess.” He kissed her back.  Take note: Full stop and capital letter.
            “You’re a goddess,” he said, kissing her back. Take note: Comma, no capital letter. 

            Once again, the golden rule is to read it aloud. Record yourself if you have to and listen to the rhythm. A great activity is to listen to radio dramas. Think Agatha Christie with sound effects and voiceover artists. 

            Format your dialogue: 

            1. Each speaker must be on a new line. Their actions should be in the same paragraph. If a character speaks for several lines, try to use the tag as soon as possible, after the first line if you can, to avoid confusion.  
            2. Insert quotation marks. I prefer double, but single quotations marks, a dash or even nothing is also accepted. 
            3. Only words spoken aloud go inside the quotation marks.
            4. Insert taglines. I use ‘said’ as often as needed. I try to avoid other verbs like admonished and exclaimed and adverbs(-ly) like angrily or happily. 
            5. Use correct punctuation. These go inside the quotation marks.
            6. Comma or full stop? If the verb is part of the sentence, use a comma. If not, use a full stop. 
            7. Indent dialogue. No spaces between lines. 
            8. Place tags and names at the appropriate place in the middle of a sentence.
            9. Check for viewpoint errors. Internal thoughts can get you into trouble.

            Another suggestion is to listen to the podcast of a programme like Serial. Pay attention to how they speak, especially during the interviews. Be careful of too many breaks and mmm and ahh-ing. It gets annoying. If you know of any awesome dramas or podcasts, please leave their names below. I would love to listen to some more.  

            And then there is my favourite, eavesdropping. I wrote this post  which I hope will inspire you. 

            Look out for Step 4: Just Add Verbs next week. 

            Happy writing. 

            Writing prompts are an excellent way to exercise the writing muscle. If you want to receive a free daily prompt from us, send an email to news@writerswrite.co.za with the word DAILY PROMPT in the subject line. We will add you to our mailing list. 

             by Mia Botha

            If you enjoyed this post, you will love:

            1. 8 Important Things To Remember When You Rewrite Dialogue
            2. How To Write Fabulous Dialogue In 5 Easy Steps
            3. January Writing Prompts


              Writers Write offers the best writing courses in South Africa. Writers Write - Write to communicate