Top Tips Tuesday; Dialogue!!

DISCLAIMER!! I am not an expert or a professional. I am sadly not a bestseller either. These tips are written from my own personal experience as a writer and as a reader. I hope you find them helpful if you are struggling with how to write convincing dialogue.

You see, dialogue is my thing. I love reading it and I love writing it. I am guilty of slightly cringing when I come across dialogue that does not convince. The prose might be beautiful, the descriptions breathtaking, the plot gripping and so on, but if the dialogue is stilted, stiff or unconvincing, it will annoy the hell out of me and make me want to stop reading…

Show not tell? As writers we hear this mantra all the time and it is an important one to understand. You do not want your narrator, whether first or third person, ‘telling’ the reader everything. There are many ways to avoid too much telling, and using dialogue is one of them. Let the characters do the talking. In short, let them speak! You don’t need to keep telling the reader that Brian said this and Lucy said that; let the people talk! If the characters are talking, they can do some of the ‘showing’ for you. Instead of using the narrative voice to tell the reader what is going on, allow the characters to talk and have conversations that put this information across. Conversation is fascinating if you think about it. Think about what people mean, but do not say. Think about whether they are lying or exaggerating for effect. Think about what their body language can convey to the other characters. Does Brian scratch his beard when he is thinking? Does Lucy tug at her lip when she is nervous? Don’t rely on reams and reams of pretty narrative to get your story told, or to move your plot along. What is a story without its characters? Use them and let them speak, let them do the telling for you, in their own way.

Visualize your characters. Every time you write dialogue, you should be able to see your characters in your head. Obviously you will know, or you should know, what they look like. Write down their general descriptions such as age, sex, hair colour and build so that you don’t forget. But more importantly than that, build them in your mind. See them completely. Know their face as you would know the face of someone in real life. Learn their mannerisms. Do they stammer or stutter? Do they bite their lip? Do they brush their hair behind their ears when they talk? When your characters start to speak, when you start to fill their mouths with words, see them in your mind. Know every little detail about their physical presentation, so as you start to write the words, it is like having a little movie playing inside your head.

Read dialogue out loud. As you write it, as you start to make the characters speak, read the words out loud. Become them. Become their mouthpiece. Don’t worry about accent, just say the words as they would say them. Let your face become their face, along with any nervous twitches, throat clearing or wiping of noses. Read it out loud as you write it down and it should become obvious if it sounds wrong. Personally I read it out as I am writing it, and then read it out loud again when I am going back over it. This usually points me in the right direction and helps me pick out any words or phrases that do not feel real.

Pay attention to people when they speak. Sounds obvious, but sadly not all of us are terribly good at listening these days. We are often good at talking, good at voicing our opinions, but how well do we stand back and really listen? Practice this craft and you will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of the way that people speak. People do not speak in long, flat, monotones of dialogue. They break their speech up with pauses….their voices go up and down, their body reacts as they speak, releasing sighs, laughs, coughs and eye rolling. All sorts of things go on when people speak. They frown, they make faces that convey their opinions on things they are hearing or seeing. They interrupt and talk over each other, they trail off, or get distracted and change the subject. Watch and listen and where possible take note. When people are talking around you, become a silent observer. Listen in on conversations on the train or the tube or the bus, or while in the shops, in the Doctor’s waiting room, in the school playground. People are everywhere and they are never quiet! You can learn so much about speech and will find it easier to apply all these quirks to your own characters.

Don’t force things on them. Okay, you want them to help you ‘show’ not ‘tell’ too much. But don’t use them like puppets either. Don’t force your opinions into their mouths and be careful that you are not making them say something that is not realistic, just because it helps you push the story forward. Know your characters inside out and know what they would say and what they would not say. Dialogue is all about personality. Yes you need to drive your plot forward, so you need to move the characters about and you need to be in control, but just not too much. Be subtle. Think about how your characters will react. Imagine they are real and exist in your life. They come to the shops with you, they eat meals with you, they go on walks with you. Now ask yourself, would they really say that? And in that way? Or are you just wanting them to?

Be realistic. Think about your characters before, during and after you make them speak. If they are a teenager and it’s been a long old time since you were one, are you really getting it right? Are you sure you know how young people speak now? What about regional aspects? Not just accent but regional phrases and cultures. Would they really say it the way you have written it? Think about gender. Think about every aspect of your character’s personality and life. Does their background effect the way they speak? Are they quiet and withdrawn? Do they mutter? Be consistent or it will come across as unconvincing. Use dialogue well and it will really help bring your characters to life and encourage the readers to fall in love with them. Make your characters individuals who speak differently to each other. One will speak one way, and one another. Some people say ‘um’ a lot, some people start sentences with ‘so’ or ‘like’. Some people have a favourite swear word…

Avoid cliches/predictable dialogue. Hard to avoid unless you are aware of what they are, or can be, but my advice would be to read, read, read. Only when you have read really bad, contrived and cliched dialogue will you know what it is! If you’re not sure, just think about things people would never say in real life, and imagine that. Over dramatic, over the top, overly wordy or descriptive, that kind of thing. Who talks like that in real life? Well I suppose some people do, and if you are writing about them, then fair enough. However, bear in mind that if things get too predictable every time your characters speak, then something is lost. Remember that one of the main reasons characters fall flat or fail to convince the reader, is poorly written dialogue. You want your readers to believe in your characters, fall in love with them or loathe them, want to be friends with them or wish they could take them to the pub for a drink. This is not going to happen if your characters to not speak like real people.

I think that is all! For now…!


Top Tips Tuesday ; Find The Time To Write!

‘I don’t have the time,’ is the number one thing people tell me when they say they would like to write. I can understand this and have been there myself. Or at least I thought I didn’t have the time. In reality, I just wasn’t organising my time that wisely. When I was a kid, writing was my number one priority. If I could have chosen one thing to do, above any other, it was writing. It meant more to me than just about anything else. When I was a kid, I imagined that when I grew up I would have all the time in the world to write to my heart’s content, but this is not what happened. It fizzled out when I went to University. At the time I told myself this was because I now had to study. But of course I wasn’t just studying! I was going out most nights, drinking and having fun, and then laying in the next day sleeping. There was plenty of time to write, I just didn’t look at it that way. The same thing applied when I had my first three children and worked from home as a childminder. Of course there was no time for writing! There wasn’t even enough time for reading! But if I look back now, I can see that there was time. I just chose to use that time sprawled out in front of the TV. When my third child went to school the itch to write again came back with a vengeance, and three years on from then, despite another baby, I have managed to hang onto it and have published three novels through an independent publisher. Here are my top tips on finding the time to write!!

1) Ditch the TV. I’m serious. You don’t need it! If there is a choice between reading and watching TV then choose reading for your leisure time. Reading helps you become a better writer. TV does not. I don’t watch hardly any TV any more. There are usually two or three programmes a week that I will watch, and that is it. No soaps, no reality TV, no wasting my time. If I still watched all the junk I used to watch, I would have zero time for my writing.

2) Get up early and go to bed late. Okay, within reason! Obviously if you have a family and/or another job, then you need a decent night’s sleep. But why lie in when you could be writing? Sneak down and get some done before everyone wakes up! Get up earlier than you have to and write before you go to work. No doubt the stories will buzz through you all day at work and by the time you come home you will be desperate to get back at it. As soon as the kids are in bed, or you are home from work, then write.

3) Stop making excuses. I used to do this all the time. I don’t have the time. I’m too tired. I can’t concentrate. There is no point. Believe me, I used to say all these things and I believed them too. Not any more. I do have the time if I use my time wisely and prioritize the writing. Don’t put it off and think tomorrow will give you more time, or more energy because it won’t. Tomorrow will be the same as today and you will use the same excuses if you let yourself. Break out of this mindset and accept that although you don’t have much time, you do have time.

4) Sneak writing into all parts of your life. Tap notes into your phone or your tablet when you are waiting, walking, or on a journey. Any time you are alone and can get away with writing, then write. Even if it is short notes, or lists of things you want to tackle, or brief disjointed ideas, or loose lost words. It doesn’t matter. It’s still writing, and you will be surprised how many sneaky bits you can do throughout the day if the mood takes you. These snatched moments will spur you on. They will feed the passion. They will lead you back to that story when there is more time later! You will become hooked again.

5) Remember how it used to make you feel. Remember when writing was who you are and what you did. Remember when the stories filled your head all of the time, especially when you should have been concentrating on other things. The trouble is, adult life came along and convinced you that time is short and should be spent on more productive things. Not so. Don’t let it. Life is short and before you know it weeks, months and years have dragged you away from the last sentence you wrote. Go back to that sentence. Go back to that time. Go back to that you. Remember how it felt and what it meant to you and how exciting and breathtaking it really was. Find your inner child again and let them show you the way. I did, and I have not looked back since.

Top Tips Tuesday; Editing

In an ideal world us independent authors would all be able to afford an editor. And ideally of course, we all should employ an editor. But there is no way in this world that I can afford an editor, so I have had to employ other means to get my books to the best possible standard for publication. These are my top tips for editing the hell out of your book without paying for it.

1) First write your book. Write it like no one is watching and no one is ever going to read it. You can edit as you go if you like, but personally I don’t. I just get it all out. It’s one big messy splurge. It’s up and out and done. Then, breathe.

2) Go back to the beginning and do your first edit. Wherever possible amend your grammar, spellings and so on. This time you can imagine that a really good friend is going to read this manuscript at the end of this edit, so it needs to be reasonable enough for that. Check for plot holes, inconsistencies in characters, believable dialogue and so on. For me, this first edit is usually a bit like a read through. I remind myself of the whole story and get to experience reading it in one go.

3)Do your second edit. This one is more ruthless. Continue to check for typos and mistakes in formatting. Be ruthless and cut out anything that does not absolutely need to be there. Try to imagine someone else wrote it and this is your first experience of the story. Does it make sense? Does it waffle? Is every chapter gripping or do some wander? Does the narrative get repetitive? Do the characters sound flat or cliched? Imagine yourself with a huge knife and keep slashing until things are neater, faster and have a bigger impact.

4) Fourth edit. Repeat the steps above. Eliminate those typos, for you will continue to find them. Check your grammar and spelling. Change the story if you need to. Rewrite if you feel the need, but you should ideally be cutting out, not adding. Check for clunky, slow areas. Get rid of anything that does not propel the story forward.

5) Hand it to you first reader. This must be someone who reads a lot, someone educated to a higher standard than yourself if possible. You want this person to pick up grammatical mistakes and typos that you missed and will keep missing. They will make notes on each chapter, what works, what doesn’t, where it is slow, where it is good, what confused them, what excited them and so on. They should send each chapter back to you one at a time with their notes. Get them to give their honest overall opinion. This person must be someone who is not afraid to hurt your feelings and you must not be too precious about your work at this point. Lay yourself bare, put your pride to one side and listen to everything they have to say.

6) With notes to hand, go through every chapter one by one. Again, eliminate those pesky typos. Check it is formatted correctly. Check the plot holes are filled in. Loose ends are tied up. Every chapter grips the reader enough to make them want to read the next as fast as possible. This is the sixth edit and you will be sick of it by now.

7) Send it to someone else. In fact, even better, send one copy to the person who has already helped you and another copy to someone else. If you can rope in a few more beta readers, then great. They should all be prepared to be completely honest with you, and again they should all help eliminate typos and obvious mistakes.

8) Take a break from it at this point as it will inevitably be doing your head in! Work on another project until this one calls you back. Only go back when you are ready to. You need to want to do it.

9) With all the beta readers notes, criticisms, amendments and suggestions to hand, now do the eighth edit of your book. Make final changes if you feel the need. If not, just make it as tight as possible. Keep the pace and the flow and make sure from a readers point of view, there is nothing glaringly terrible in it that will let all your hard work down.

10) This is now your finished manuscript. If you are feeling brave you could send it to one more person to check. Hopefully they will not find anything to amend. Hopefully your gut feeling as an avid reader yourself, is that this is the best you can do and it is finished.

I am not saying that all of these steps can possibly replace the skills and experience of a professional editor. Of course not. Maybe one day you will be able to afford one, and what a great day that will be. But until then, these steps should at least make sure your indie manuscript is good enough to go out there and fly the flag for the indie cause. It won’t be perfect. No doubt it will be a bit raw, perhaps a bit rough around the edges. Perhaps every now and then you will feel the urge to pull it in once more, just to check it.

And one more thing before I go. My biggest tip to anyone when it comes to writing, editing or proofreading your own book? Read. Read a lot. Read every day, whenever you can, as much as you can. Read good stuff and terrible stuff as this is the only way you will be able to recognise what is good and terrible about your own writing. Writers, in my opinion, should be readers first and foremost. The more you read, the more you will be able to do justice to the craft of writing.

Top Tips Tuesday-A Better Facebook Author Page

This is my first Top Tips Tuesday blog and I hope you find it useful. When I first started my Facebook author page, I really had no clue what I was doing. It was a frustrating endeavor a lot of the time, as well as one that often felt rather pointless. However, my attitude has really changed and although my following is still small, it is growing. Here are three tips to help yours do the same.

1) PATIENCE is key! You might look around and see other author’s with thousands and thousands of likes while yours is still hovering around 100 or so. They might be doing something right, they might be selling loads of books or they might have paid for them. Of course, you can pay for Facebook likes and Twitter followers, but personally I don’t see the point. They are just faceless numbers and are not likely to result in book sales. It took me ages to get to 100 likes, and even longer to get to 200. In the early days it felt like I was just talking to myself, but I kept it going. You can also pay Facebook to promote your page, but again, this does not guarantee book sales. Or you can work at it. A blog and website with Facebook Like buttons are a must. Joining the big free social media sites like Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads is another must do. You can link all these sites to each other which means if you post a blog it will get sent to Twitter and Facebook, and so on. Connecting with other authors and/or readers is another way to grow your page. But don’t just follow people and then message them asking them to like your Facebook page or buy your book. That’s spamming and it annoys people. Instead try to foster genuine connections. If someone follows you on Twitter and seems like someone who would enjoy your page, message them to thank them and ask if they would like to connect on Facebook. Note; this means you like their page as well! It works both ways. Keep the conversation going, maybe buy their book and review it. You might never hear from them again, or they might be really touched and do the same for you. Remember that writers are readers too! Be patient and keep working at it and it will grow in time.

2) ATTITUDE! You’ve got to put the right attitude across. This is not your personal page. This is your professional author page, and so you must start acting like a professional. Don’t rant and rave on there. Don’t complain about not having enough likes, or being ignored. Do this in private messages to people who are feeling the same! If you went to see your child’s teacher and they moaned about how much the children annoy them, you wouldn’t be very happy would you? If you went to see the bank manager and he reeled off a load of negative things that had happened in his day, you would think about going elsewhere. Be professional now that you are in the public eye. Moan in private, celebrate in public! Thank people for their likes and engage with them when they comment or post. These likers are your potential readers! They want to feel good when they go to your page. They want to feel inspired when your posts come up on their feed.

3) ACTIVITY! I cannot stress enough how important this is. Keep your page active. Don’t just post on there when you have a new book out. Don’t save it just for posting new reviews. Try to post three or four times a day and keep it interesting. Yes, it should be a platform to shout about your achievements. By all means share your good reviews, but it needs to be much more than that. Share your blog posts, and help other authors by reblogging their posts. Think of your page like your own mini magazine. You are the editor. What will interest your readers? What will keep them coming back for more? Engage them in conversations and debates. I recently had a lot of activity when I discussed the subject of authors giving their books away for free. And that is the key; activity. Remember that if people do not engage with your page, then Facebook will think they have lost interest and will stop showing it to them. You need to keep them liking, commenting and sharing. Tell them your progress, give them updates and teasers. If you are editing, post snippets from your work to get them interested. Asking for help naming characters always goes down well on my page! People love to get involved! Have contests and giveaways. Post interesting articles from other pages. There are so many great pages on Facebook for authors, and you will find a constant stream of advice, top tips, personal stories and blogs, and information that the readers and writers on your page will get something from too. Pay it forward and help out other authors! Read and review their books or share their pages. Think about the times of day you are posting and don’t forget that people in other parts of the world may be going to bed when you are waking up. Try to post throughout the day so that people don’t miss things. Tell people about useful promo sites you have found. Share your experiences.

Don’t give up!