Do Your Homework!

imagesDoes your manuscript have to be perfect?  If you’ve already written a best seller, your agent and editor may cut you some slack. If not, yes, that book better be pretty darn near  perfect, or nobody is going to look at it.  Agents receive hundreds of queries a week. They don’t have time to read everyone.  If your work is full of grammatical and structural errors, that’s all the excuse they need to toss it to the side and move on to the next one.

I sent my first manuscript out to five different agents.  I was very excited and a little anxious to hear what they had to say.  I expected some rejections but not all.  I had put  over a year into that novel.  It was my baby.

Well, two didn’t respond at all, one said no thanks, and another said it wasn’t what they were looking for. The fifth one responded with a rejection, but also included a why. There were numerous grammatical and structural errors, I was head hopping, and the dialogue dragged.

While I was disappointed, I did take her advice to heart and began the process of editing and correcting structural and grammatical errors.  I was one of those people that fell for the myth that it didn’t have to be perfect, they have editors to clean that up for you.

I also took on-line courses on writing dialogue that moves your story forward. I had never really thought about dialogue moving a story forward, but I see it now, and have a pretty good understanding of what the on-line instructors were trying to get across.

As far as the POV goes, I never heard  of ‘head hopping’.  I went to google and typed it in. It’s not a hard concept to grasp, but it can be tricky at times and sneak in when you least expect it 🙂

Truth be known, I was ashamed of myself for sending such poor work to an agent.  I never realized how bad it was until I began the arduous process of editing and revising. I definitely didn’t make a good first impression.

Do your homework. When you’re writing your first novel, there is so much you don’t know. You’ll figure that out along the way. It’s a lot more complicated than just putting pen to paper. And you probably thought anybody could do it. 

I hope my blogs help you to avoid some of the mistakes that I have made.

-Jan R

Do Your Homework!

Dialogue Vs. Conversation: They’re Not The Same!

good_dialogueWriting dialogue isn’t as straight forward as it would seem. It was one of the areas I was dinged on when I first submitted my manuscript. According to a literary agent, my dialogue dragged. Basically I wrote out conversations just like real people talk. After taking a few classes and looking at published authors’ work, I did get a grasp of what the literary agent was saying.  My dialogue was weighing the story down and offering unnecessary detail. It caused everything to come to a stop.

Fictional speech is more focused and coherent than real speech. It has a purpose. You can’t just rant and rave about the newest fashion with your friends, unless it’s an integral part of the story that provides information you are going to need later.

It should flow. If you can feel yourself reading, then stopping for a brief conversation, and then reading again, something isn’t quite right.

Conversation works best when combined with thoughts, actions and settings.  Don’t separate them, but interweave them. People don’t stop to talk. They keep doing what they are doing, unless it’s something really important that demands their full attention.


The day had been crazy, but it wasn’t over yet. Walking into the conference room, Mark  found Ellen sitting at the head of the table preparing packets for their upcoming meeting.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, walking over to offer assistance.

Handing him a few, she looked him in the eye, anger and disappointment written all over her face. “Isn’t that your norm?”

Mark grasped for something to say that would ease the tension between them and get him through this day. Staring at the packets he was at a loss. What she said was true, and he couldn’t explain why. At least not now.

Easing herself up, she walked by him without saying another word.

“Well that didn’t go well at all,” he said quietly to himself, as he continued to prepare for the meeting. He would attempt to smooth things over with his secretary later, but for now he had a business to save.

By interweaving thought, action, setting, and dialogue, the scene moved forward seamlessly, pulling your reader into the story 🙂

-Jan R


Dialogue Vs. Conversation: They’re Not The Same!

Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

BizarroDay-edDo your characters have their own voice or do they sound the same? I had a critique partner tell me that she couldn’t distinguish characters in my manuscript based on dialogue. They all sounded the same. If I hadn’t provided a dialogue tag, she would have had no idea which character was speaking. She was right.

This was something I definitely had to correct. So I did some research, watched a webinar, and took a class on dialogue. Distinguishing between characters is a lot easier than you would think.

One way to differentiate characters and determine who they are is through dialect.  We can learn a lot about a person based on their accent, grammar, and choice of words.

You don’t have to ask a person if they are from the North or South-just listen to how they speak and note their word choices.  While this is one of the most obvious examples for me, you can also distinguish education level, social status, race, and ethnicity from the way a person speaks.

One thing you want to avoid is coming across offensive or stereotypical(racist).  Look at your word choice or variation of syntax as tools to differentiate your characters and suggest their ethnicity.

Use slang, nonstandard syntax, or grammar to suggest race, social class, education i.e. gonna vs. going to,  kinda vs kind of,  holler vs hollow, don’t matta vs It doesn’t matter. If you have a character from abroad throw in some regional slang ( Scottish say-aye for yes and bairns for children).

The next time you read a book take a close look at your characters and their dialect. You will learn a lot, and the fact that you didn’t even think about it while reading the novel is a plus for the author. It was woven seamlessly into the story.

Creating a characters speech pattern is less about reproducing dialect and more about knowing your character. If your character is……

  • terse                –   short burst of speech
  • angry               –   speaks through clinched teeth
  • nervous           –  stammers or rambles
  • domineering  –  silent and threatening or rages

If you’re writing science fiction you can develop you own language and your own rules. There is no limits. Just be consistent.

Hope this gives you something to think about when writing dialogue. Remember to differentiate using dialect, and the dialect should match your characters position in society. Also remember to be consistent with speech patterns, unless an evolution in speech pattern is an integral part of the story (Flowers for Algernon, My fair lady).

-Jan R


Distinguish Your Characters With Dialect

On The Nose Writing (Repost)

editing-tips-300x230What is on-the-nose writing? It’s prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story. No one chooses to write this way. It has nothing to do with your ability to put together a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Even pros have a hard time with it.

I’m a big fan or Jerry Jenkins and recommend his blog to anyone reading my posts. I have gained so much useful information from him and he writes in a way that anybody can understand. He’s a great teacher.  With this being said, I’m using an example that he gave to help you understand on-the-nose writing.

Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.       

“This is Paige,” she said.

“Hey, Paige.”

She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”

“Where are you, Babe?”

“Just got to the parking garage.”

“No more problems with the car then?”

“Oh, the guy at the gas station said he thinks it needs a wheel alignment.”

“Good. We still on for tonight?”

“Looking forward to it, Sweetie.”

“Did you hear about Alyson?”

“No, what about her?”



Here’s a good example of how that scene should be rendered:

Paige’s phone chirped. It was her fiancé, Jim, and he told her something about one of their best friends that made her forget where she was.

“Cancer?” she whispered, barely able to speak. “I didn’t even know Alyson was sick. Did you?”

We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is.  I think you’re getting the point.

This is a good example of dragging dialogue as well.  It’s not necessary and adds fluff without any real purpose. Don’t distract with minutia. Give the reader the adventure they signed up for when they chose to purchase your book. Take the reader with Paige when she says:

“I need to call her, Jim. I’ve got to cancel my meeting. And I don’t know about tonight…”

-Jan R

On The Nose Writing (Repost)

Eavesdropping 101

6359627662701758141159765676_6359627662640862281199997867_55150-coffee_shopI read an article today on the importance of eavesdropping. It reminded me of an online workshop I viewed several years ago.

At the time an agent had responded to a submission I made. One of her concerns was with my dialogue. It was dragging and not moving the story forward.

She was right of course. It was dragging, and doing a lot of other things that I will share in an upcoming blog, but for now I will focus on the importance of eavesdropping.

To write good dialogue, you have to understand the art of conversation. What better way to research and sharpen your skills, than to eavesdrop on conversations going on around you.

Some of the best places to eavesdrop are in restaurants and coffee shops. Take a pencil and pen, or computer, and be prepared to take notes.

The number one rule to eavesdropping, as you may guess, is to be inconspicuous. You may not want to sneak a peak of the conversationalists until after you’ve listened for a while.

Eavesdropping can provide inspiration for your character’s dialogue. Below is a list of things to pay attention to while eavesdropping.

  • Notice difference in speech patterns
  • Word repetitions
  • Voice inflection
  • Word choices
  • Differences in male and female conversation
  • Words that reflect mood
  • The lack of sentence structure, poor grammar, such as incomplete sentences

You can tell a lot about a person just by listening to how they talk. Are they educated? What part of the country do they come from? Are they depressed, manic, a busy body, positive, negative, happy, sad, rich, poor, . . .?

Keep in mind that dialogue isn’t conversation, but you could say that conversation is the rough draft of dialogue. Conversation includes ‘uhs’ and ‘you knows’, as you gather and consider your words. Dialogue is direct, to the point, and punchy.

-Jan R

Eavesdropping 101

Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

images8qwh4j5gWhat’s the deal with direct quotes? Why can’t I get the punctuation right? You would think after five years, I would know what I was doing.

The novel I’m revising has a lot of dialogue, which results in the use of quotation marks and commas following tags(I think).

I’m sure this is elementary to many of my readers, but I base most of my writing on concepts that I’m struggling with. I like to think that I’m not the only person who hesitates and second guesses when it comes to something as simple as writing dialogue.

During my research on this subject, something jumped out at me that I never really thought about before. The lights came on.

What was my biggest problem with quotes and the use of punctuation? I was treating quotes with tags and quotes without tags the same. I also wasn’t sure what to do when a quote ended with punctuation other than a comma.

When a quote ends in a comma and is followed by a dialogue tag, you use a comma.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, wishing he would just leave.

“I can’t go with you,” she said, “but I want to.” **The second part of the quote did not begin with capitalization because it follows a comma and is a continuation of the first quote.

When a quote ends with an exclamation point or question mark, the dialogue tag that follows ends with a period.

“I can’t go with you!” she said. She wished he would just leave.

“Who are you kidding?” he asked. “You can’t run.”

If the quote ends in an action/verbal phrase, it is not a dialogue tag and should not be treated as such. This was a concept I failed to grasp, and I would struggle trying to figure out were to put the comma.

“I can’t go with you.” She pushed past him and headed toward the door.

You have to focus when writing dialogue. You not only have to concentrate on the wording, to ensure it is moving your story forward, you also have to get the punctuation right. Slow down and take your time. Dialogue is complicated and can’t be rushed.

-Jan R






Writing Dialogue Is More Than Just Words/Why Can’t I Get The Punctuation Right?

They Are Only Tags-Really?

dialoguetagtotalsAt this point in the game, you probably know what a dialogue tag is. It is a phrase placed at the end of a quote to identify the speaker. It should mimic speech’s natural rhythm and make long dialogue-runs digestible.

When using dialogue tags, it is  recommended that you keep it simple. There is nothing wrong with the word ‘said’.  Don’t give in to the urge to use every big word you know. If you do, you will end up with a big clunky mess. The wrong tag can overshadow the words spoken and draw your reader out of the story.


  • “You hit my car!” she screamed.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he groaned.
  • “But you ran the red light!” She expostulated.
  • “I know-I’m sorry,” he stammered.

Sorry about the bullets, I just couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I think you get the point though. Could you imagine reading an entire book written this way? I would go nuts.

This example shows how tags can effect your story by slowing down the pace and overshadowing the dialogue. I was hesitating after every tag and imagining the characters going through the emotions.  I couldn’t help myself. And what was with expostulating? Somebody had their thesaurus open 🙂

When you use the words ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, they are so familiar to your reader that they blur into the background and become invisible. This allows the dialogue itself to come to the forefront. You can also drop tags entirely when it’s clear who’s speaking. Overuse of tags can be just as annoying as using the wrong tag.images9d0tdr1t


  • “You hit my car!” she said.
  • “It wasn’t my fault!” he said.
  • “But you ran the red light!”
  • “I know-I’m sorry.”

I hope you thought this example read much smoother than the first. It didn’t distract from what was being said, and you weren’t focusing on the dialogue tags themselves.

There is so much information on dialogue tags. I’m only scratching the surface with this blog.

I’m not saying that you can’t use emotion in a tag, sometimes it’s necessary. It helps the reader understand the character’s feelings or reactions to a situation.  I just wanted to emphasize the importance of balance and focus.

While they are only tags, they play an important role in the mechanics of your story and can lead to some major mistakes if not used appropriately.

-Jan R


They Are Only Tags-Really?