Making Dialogue Work

Dialogue is one of the hardest working tools we have because we ask it to do so much. It has to convey information, develop and move the plot, increase tension and conflict all while sounding natural.

Perhaps most importantly, dialogue must engage the reader through revealing our characters. It brings them to life and shows their personalities, their quirks, their goals, and their fears.

The most effective and real dialogue comes when we know our characters as intimately as possible. Whether our story is plot-driven or character-driven, we have to invest the time in writing biographies, character analyses, Meyers-Briggs assessment, journals, interviewing them, and experimenting with how they speak, act, think, and feel. And they’ll still surprise us.

In my first novel, Journey to Riverbend, I had a problem with the story arc of my female protagonist, Rachel. She was a former prostitute who received Jesus. She was also striving to open a dress-making business in a town where many were hostile to her because of her past. It wasn’t until I interviewed her that I learned Rachel was a feisty, determined young woman with numerous questions about her new-found faith, anxieties about her future, and wondering if love could ever be part of her life.

And I discovered her voice changed depending on her situation. She had a business voice she used with customers and an almost child-like awe when she talked about her faith. At times her prostitute “don’t mess with me” voice came into play. When the mayor attempted to get too familiar, Rachel stopped him cold with the whispered line, “I’m making dresses for your wife. I can make her look like a laughing stock while convincing her she looks like Queen Victoria.”

With these new insights, Rachel’s dialogue became stronger, more connected to her emotions at the moment, more realistic. It revealed more of her personality, her dreams, her fears.

Rachel came to life through her dialogue.

Make the time to know your characters. They’ll reward you with stronger personalities and become people that readers will keep turning pages for.

How has dialogue allowed you to develop your characters even further? What have you learned about your characters through dialogue that surprised you?

Nuke the Slush Pile

Photo Credit: 02-11-04 © Maartje van Caspel / istockphoto.com

What is a slush pile?

Have you ever read a market listing for a book publisher that reads something like, “Receives 2,000 submissions a year; publishes 20?”

The 1,980 manuscripts that didn’t get published are the slush pile. They are the mountain of unsolicited—and largely unpublishable—manuscripts that land on editors’ desks every day.

The slush pile also represents your competition.

I’ve spoken to more than a few writers who became discouraged at the sheer numbers of manuscripts out there and gave up on ever getting published. That’s unfortunate because it’s possible to move that slush pile out of the way.

Here are three simple practices that will help you stand out from the competition.

1. Learn Your Craft.

Believe it or not, most wannabe writers never take the time to learn how to write well. If you will take the time to study, learn, and develop your craft, you will stand head and shoulders over 90% of the people out there who say they want to be writers. Thus, when you submit a query or manuscript, your writing will stand out as superior.

Trust me. Good writing gets noticed.

2. Be Professional.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to make a living at writing or if you just see writing as something to do on the side. If you want to be taken seriously, then you have to approach your craft as a professional. That means properly formatting your manuscript, proofreading it carefully, and following the publisher’s guidelines to the letter. It also means being courteous, not missing deadlines, accepting editing and critique. It means committing yourself to turning out the best product you can–every time you sit down at the keyboard.

If you adopt a professional approach, you will distinguish yourself from many writers who do not take the time to learn (or practice) the etiquette of the publishing industry.

Do this and you will move more of that slush pile out of the way.

3. Network, Network, Network!

Over the years, I’ve learned that personal networking with editors, agents, and other writers can greatly accelerate your journey to publication (assuming you’ve learned your craft and are acting like a professional). And the best place to network is at a writers conference.  Consider this: If you had the choice between sending a query to an agent or editor (who will probably have a stack of them piled on her desk) or sitting down with her for fifteen minutes and pitching your idea in person, which would you prefer? At a writers conference you can meet that agent or editor face to face. You might not be able to attend a conference every year, but try to make at least one. It’s an investment, but it’s one you won’t regret making.

Learn your craft. Adopt a professional approach. And network, network, network. Keep these three principles in focus—and persevere—and sooner or later you’ll find yourself in print.

Because you’ll not only move the slush pile out of the way, you’ll nuke it.

7 Tips for Self-Editing Your Novel

Before I signed with my awesome agent, Barbara Scott, I knew my novel needed another round of edits. I looked at several freelance editors, but I just couldn’t afford the cost. So, I rolled up my shirt sleeves, prayed, and decided to do it myself. Again.

At this point, I’d already gone through my book for grammatical errors, typos, etc. I’d had a published writer and several beta readers go through it. Three other agents expressed interest if I could go back and make my novel stronger.

Here are the tips I learned that pushed my book from a maybe to yes.

1. Print it out. I fought this (don’t ask me why, my frugalness I suppose, sounds better than stubbornness), but it truly makes a huge difference. Your eye will catch things on the printed page you won’t see on the computer screen.

2. Only edit one thing at a time. Go through your manuscript focusing on one thing at a time. Do a sweep for dialogue. Is there useless chatter? Talking that doesn’t move the story forward? Do you have too many tags? Then go back for description. And so forth.

3. Examine every character. Don’t waste time with cardboard characters or the stereotypical bad guy. I highly recommend Deb Dixon’s Goal Motivation and Conflict.

4. Setting. Regardless if you write historical or contemporary, you need to research your setting. Find some of the not so common places to set your characters in. For example, lots of scenes are in restaurants, change it up and put them on a picnic at some fantastic landmark.

5. Hooks and cliff-hangers. Check out the beginning of every chapter and the ending. What can you do to make it stronger? What could happen that would ensure the reader couldn’t put your book down because they have to know what happens next? Is your heroine being chased by a wolf? Then make it a pack of wolves and have her twist her ankle. Take it a step further and do this to every scene. I recommend James Scott Bell’s Revision and Self-Editing.

6. Description. Remember to include things beyond sight. Let us know how it smells, tastes, feels, and sounds. Is the rain splattering or pounding? Are the hero’s hands calloused or warm? See Frontierinternetservices.com.

7. Wrapping up all the ends. Make sure all the sub-plots and story lines are resolved. You can set things up for a sequel, but you can’t leave things undone. Readers will feel cheated if they have to buy the next book to find out what happens to the main storyline in book one.

What are some of your favorite non-fiction writing books? Do you have any tips or tricks you use when editing?