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Posts tagged ‘dialogue tags’

Get rid of filter words: Freshen your manuscript with this exercise

I’m a big fan of the online Lawson Writer’s Academy. When I earned my MFA, I was a poet learning how to write prose and put together a complete manuscript. Mission accomplished.

And now, through Margie Lawson’s academy, I’m learning writing craft I didn’t learn in my MFA program: How to develop deep point of view, what makes a scene click, the importance of MRUs (motivation response units) and having them in the right order, how to use dialogue cues (Margie’s term) that evoke emotion in the reader, how to use body language effectively and many other aspects of a well-written novel.

In a recent post, Margie writes about the importance of writing fresh and shares some great examples.

After reading her post, I found several places where I could freshen up my own writing. Here are some examples (I bolded the trouble spots):

Example 1:


“How are you getting home?” Noah frowned and I found my eyes tracing the outline of his lips. Lips I’d recently felt pressing against my own. Lips I’d recently tasted.

“I’ll get a ride from Lily…”


“How are you getting home?” Noah shot me his I-think-you’re-making-a-big-mistake scowl.

I loved the way his lips puckered. Lips that had recently pressed against my own. Lips that tasted of sea and mountains and home.

I cleared my throat, struggling to dial down my hormones. “I’ll get a ride from Lily…”

Comment: in the before example, “frowned” is boring and overused and doesn’t describe much. The following bolded phrases, “I found, I felt, I tasted” are all filter words…it’s much better to just give the reader the experience.

Filter words are words that remove the reader from the action and filter the character’s experience through the writer’s point of view.  Instead of seeing the action through the character’s eyes, the author is filtering it first. Examples from first person point of view: I saw, I thought, I felt, I heard, etc.  Read more

Dialogue tips: the fastest way to improve any manuscript

In this 30-minute video below, author Joanna Penn interviews author and writing teacher James Scott Bell about his book on dialogue, “How to Write Dazzling Dialogue: The Fastest Way to Improve Any Manuscript.”

Bell gives some great tips to make your dialogue sing and catch the eye of an agent, publisher and reader:

  1. Characters shouldn’t be feeding each other information they already know. Example: Brother to sister: “Look sis, our mom, Linda who is a school teacher is home.”
  2. Don’t hide exposition or backstory in dialogue. Readers are savvy, will pick up on it, and won’t be happy. Bell says if you must convey the information, try turning the exchange into a confrontation. More information tends to be exchanged when people are confrontational.
  3. How do you differentiate dialogue between characters? Bell suggests keeping a voice journal for each main character. For more on this, see my earlier post, “Use a voice journal to capture your character’s original voice.”
  4. When using an action beat instead of the dialogue tag “she said or he said,” make sure the action is integral to the story — otherwise you’ll wear out the reader over the course of a novel.
  5. Read your dialogue out loud. Make it snappy and vital. Make it sing. Also read dialogue out loud from other novels and screenplays.
  6. Think subtext—what are the characters really saying underneath the words they speak?

For many more great tips on using dialogue to quickly improve your manuscript, watch the video here:

For you Nanowrimo peeps, try this exercise to increase your word count: Dive deep and write some dialogue runs between characters down the page without any tags or actions. Just straight dialogue. See if you can get into a rhythm and keep going. You can clean it up and add actions and attributions later.

Dialogue tips: listening from the inside out

In the short video below, “Telling the Story: Making Your Characters Talk—Writing Great Dialogue,” Irish authors Carlo Gébler, Sinead Moriarty and Declan Hughes, share tips for creating great dialogue.

They suggest to try “putting on your character’s clothes” and really feeling what they feel inside. From that inside-out perspective, pay attention to how they speak. What are their rhythms or accents? And, think snappy dialogue. People don’t usually talk in long monologues or “info dump” blocks.

Before writing your character’s dialogue, you have to hear their voice in your head. And, most importantly, listen to people around you. Listen for the nuances in their speech.

The other night at dinner, we were seated next to a 60ish couple. During the 15-minutes before they paid and left, I listened to the man berate and belittle his date (it was obvious from their conversation that they weren’t married or lived together).

“Look at me, when I speak to you,” he said, his voice hard as the wooden chair supporting his lean, compact frame. “I don’t think you’re really listening to me. How could you be?” He wiped his puckered trout mouth with a napkin, as if the words sent in her direction left a putrid taste on his tongue. “Every time, I know what to expect. Every time. Three hours at your house. I know it’s a minimum of three hours. You’re so predictable. How can you be so predictable?”

I don’t remember the rest of his rant because at some point it was just too painful to listen to. She didn’t speak a single word, not even when they got up to leave, as if she knew any words would only feed his condemnation.

Can I imagine one of my characters speaking this way? Absolutely. I can even see amping it up a bit, making it larger than life. That’s the trick to good dialogue, too—making it sound like real dialogue but without the boring parts.

To watch more “Telling the Story” videos click on the above video’s sidebar.



Dialogue tips I learned from reading Elmore Leonard

My favorite books are fantasy, paranormal, some horror, and stories about anything strange or extraordinary. But I’ve also read many classics, crime stories, and mysteries. When another writer told me a few years ago that I should study Elmore Leonard’s novels to see how he writes dialogue, it took me awhile to pick up one of his books, but when I finally did, I was blown away.

My first foray into Leonard territory was the novel Road Dogs about bank robber Jack Foley and street-wise Cundo Rey who meet in prison and quickly become friends, referring to themselves as Road Dogs. Foley is released two weeks before Rey who insists that Foley stay at his home—but warning him not to mess with his girlfriend Dawn (who really just wants to milk Rey out of his money). Below is an excerpt early on in the book, before either man is released from prison. Read more