Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Dialogue - Five Tips for Natural and Realistic Flow

There are times when, reading dialogue, I both recognize and sympathize with how hard it can be to make it sound right.  Conversations can so easily come out stilted and monotone. So I came up with a few tips that can help strengthen passages with dialogue.

1.  Adverbs describing speech - get rid of those -ly words.

Example: “Get out of this house,” she said angrily.
Solution:  “Get out. Now.” Her arm shook as she pointed to the door.
Or, if you prefer to describe the voice:
“Get out. Now.” The sting in her voice bit deeper than a rattlesnake’s fangs.

2.  Don’t show me an emotion or action IN the dialogue and/or action, then tell me.

Example:  “You feeling okay? You don’t look so good,” he said, studying his friend.
            (since he’s commented on how the guy looks, we already know he’s studied him.)
Solution: “You feeling okay? You don’t look so good.”

Example: At the loud report, he raced to the garage and threw open the door. “What happened?” he asked, concerned.
Solution: Let the dialogue say it all. Leave off that  “he asked, concerned”. And “threw open the door” isn’t needed, either. It’s implied when he races to the garage. It’s much stronger and keeps the reader in the action to simply say:
At the loud report, he raced to the garage. “What happened?”

3.  Don’t use dialogue tags where they aren’t needed. He said/she said are superfluous most of the time. I’d always been taught that he said/she said are invisible and should be used over more explanatory tags, but often these aren’t needed at all, unless it’s a conversation between more than two people.

Example: “What do you want for dinner?” he asked.
Solution: “What do you want for dinner?”

4. Do use action tags, but not on every line of dialogue. Here’s a brief conversation to show how a quick action tag will do so much more than a dialogue tag:

“What’s for dinner?”
She cocked an eyebrow. “I don’t know. What are you cooking?”
“Hmmm. I guess that means we’re eating out.”
“I like that idea.”
“Yeah, thought you might.” He grinned.

5.  And here’s the biggie: Does what you’ve written sound like your character would speak? There are nuances and accents we all try to infuse our characters with, but make certain it works. Read the dialogue out loud, without the tags. Does it sound like they are reading off a card or like natural conversation?

Dialogue is a huge way to show your reader what the character is thinking and to move their interactions forward (or backward, depending on what you have in store for them). So make it real, and make it count.

Laurie Temple is an editor at Champagne Books and writes under the pseudonym Laurie Ryan.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Guest blogger Rayne Hall: Body Language in Dialogue Scenes

Body language can add another dimension to your dialogue scene, because it reveals a person's intentions, feelings or mood.

The five main types of body language are gesture, posture, movement, facial expression and tone of voice.

Gesture Examples

She pointed to the orchard. “I saw him there.”
He slammed his fist on the table. “I've had enough.”
She scratched her chin. “Are you sure this will work?”
Welcome.” He pointed to the couch. “Why don't you make yourself comfortable?”

Posture Examples

She raised her chin. “You can't make me do this.”
He locked his arms across his chest. “No way.”
She leant away from him. “This isn't working between us.”
I consider this an insult.” He stood with his shoulders squared and his legs braced. “Take it back.”

Movement Examples

Maybe another time.” He turned to leave.
She walked faster. “I told you I don't want a date.”
All right.” He shuffled forward.
Follow me!” She leaped across the brook.

Facial Expression Examples

Her eyes narrowed. “You expect me to believe this?”
His cheeks turned tomato-red. “What do you mean?”
I'm sorry.” She stared at the floor. “I didn't want it to be this way.”
The corners of his eyes crinkled, and his lips twitched. “Really?”

Tone of Voice Examples

We will stand together in this.” His voice was deep and resonant like a church bell.

I've told you a hundred times, and I'm telling you again.” Her voice sounded like a dentist's drill, high-pitched and persistent. “Why don't you ever listen?”

You know that I'm going to kill you, don't you?” He sounded as casual as if he were discussing the weather. “Do you prefer a shot in the heart, or the head?”

You've been with that floozy again, you cheating bastard!” Her voice was loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood.

Body Language instead of Dialogue Tags

Using body language allows you to cut boring dialogue tags (he said, she asked, he answered) because it shows who's talking.

Tag versions:
What about the girl?” he asked.
Bastards!” she shouted. “I won't let you get away with this.”
What now?” he wondered aloud.

Body language versions:
He jerked his chin at her. “What about the girl?”
Bastards!” She slammed her fist on the table. “I won't let you get away with this.”
He scratched his head. “What now?”

Point of View

Most people aren't aware of their body language. Therefore, use body language for the character who is not the PoV.

If the body language is intentional, for example gestures, you can use it for PoV and non-PoV characters.

Lies and Secrets

Advanced writers can use body language to hint at secrets and lies. The characters' words say one thing, but their body language another.

Yes, tell me the rest of your life story, it's so exciting.” She glanced at her watch. “It's a pleasure to hear all about it.”
He hugged his arms around his chest. “I'm not frightened.”
His face paled. “That's all right, honey. It doesn't matter at all.”

If a character avoids eye-contact, this suggests that they're not telling the truth or are hiding a secret.

Don't wait with dinner for me tonight, darling. Arabella and I will have to work late again.” He did not meet Sue's eyes. “It's a bore, but the workload is getting heavier every day.”

Rayne Hall is an author and editor.
After writing and editing, her great love is teaching, and she teaches online classes for writers, which you can find out more about by visiting:
Follow her on Twitter: @Raynehall

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Be This - Not That!

Today, let's discuss author etiquette, both at conferences and in the online world. Here are just a few behaviors authors should avoid seriously avoid.

1. I'm sure you've heard the horror stories of authors pushing their manuscripts under the toilet stall to an editor or agent. Don't be that pushy person! Respect their space. Trust me - they-ll remember who you are and your chances of making a good impression at your pitch appointment will be ZERO, no matter how good your story is. Editors and agents share their horror stories with each other.

Instead, have your elevator pitch perfected and ready to go. You may meet an editor or agent in the hallway at a conference, in the dining room, or in the parking lot. Open a casual conversation first. Let them give you the opening to share your pitch.  

2. Recently, intentionally negative commentary on a large, well-read website forced an author to back off her book's release date. She was devastated. Don't be that negative person!   Other authors will know who you are and de-friend you faster than you can blink.

Instead, remember the adage, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all."  Think Thumper from the old Disney movie Bambi. 

3. At your pitch appointments, stick to your time limits. If you're in a group pitch with three minutes per person, don't go on and on about every minor character and trivial detail of your book. This leaves everyone else with no time to share and a serious desire to pummel you senseless. Don't be that inconsiderate person! This behavior will not earn you a request. 

Instead, have your presentation ready, whether it's memorized or on paper. If you have three minutes, yours should last two. Leave time for the editor or agent to ask you questions and - most important - request your business card or sample chapters.  This applies to one-on-one pitches as well. Be brief, be bright, and leave a good impression. Listen to what the agent or editor tells you. Ask them how they're doing! Thank them for their time. 

4. When you're on Facebook, Twitter, or other social websites, stay social. I see too many authors who only use these social networking tools to push their latest book, flooding you with invitations to their website or a book release party. Don't be that obnoxious person! 

Instead, be social! Share funny anecdotes, especially if it includes kittens or bacon. Be interested in other people's posts. Encourage people who seem to be having a rough time. Congratulate people on their successes. They'll remember that you're genuine and be more apt to like you. Then, when you share your accomplishments as an author, people will be more than happy to share and congratulate you. 

These are just a few examples, of course. Remember to be considerate and respectful of everyone around you, in every situation you encounter. Agents and editors will remember these traits. It shows them what kind of author you'll be to work with. Your behavior will help you sell your story. 

Don't be the person everyone avoids. Be the person everyone respects.

Monica Britt, editor
Twitter @mons1954

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Bring It Here, Take It There
Cranky Old Grammar Lady threw the newspaper across the room yesterday. The offending photo caption read (paraphrased to protect the guilty), “The car crashed into this convenience store and the victim was brought to Central Northern General Medical Center and Wallet Removal Service Inc.” (Disclaimer: no such hospital exists in this state.)

What’s wrong with it? The misuse of the verb bring. Or in this case its past form, brought. COGL has noticed a marked uptick recently in the confusion between bring and take, and will now clarify the difference. Pay attention, you there in the back row.

Ahem. To cite Merriam-Webster, bring means “to convey, lead, carry or cause to come along with one toward the place from which the action is being regarded.” Take means “to lead, carry, or cause to go along with one to another place.”

In other words, one can bring something here, or take something there.

Incorrect: “Did you bring the outgoing mail to the post office?” he asked, as we sat at home.
Correct: “No, dumkopf, I took it to the post office. But here, I brought home a letter from your mother.”

Mnemonic--If the person or item is going there, use take. If the person or item is coming here, use bring.

Getting back to the newspaper. The victim is “carried to another place” from the convenience store in the picture. In other words, the victim “went there.” If the photo showed the ER at Central Northern etc., then the caption could correctly say the victim was brought to it--“conveyed to the place from which the action is being regarded.”

So far, so good. This being English, there is an exception, which accounts for COGL’s chronic crankiness. Actually, if you pay attention to the definitions, it’s not so much an exception as a nuance. Suppose COGL contacts her son and invites herself for a visit. In return, she offers some genuine New Hampshire maple syrup, which the poor boy can’t get in Pennsylvania. “Would you like me to bring you some? I’ll bring a gallon for you,” she says. Huh? The syrup is going there. Why is bring the correct verb and not take?

Because “the place from which the action is being regarded” is the son’s house. If that confuses you, think of it this way--because COGL has called/written/emailed/contacted the son, she has in effect put herself beside him and is regarding her own action from his location. It’s a courtesy, if you like; putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Of course, if COGL were speaking with her husband, Cranky Old Car Guy, she would say, “I’m going to take a gallon of maple syrup to our son’s house.” To which COCG would say, “You’re gonna spoil that kid.”

Cranky Old Grammar Lady, aka Nikki Andrews, is an editor at Champagne Books and a writer of mysteries and scifi. Visit her blog here for more grammar fun.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Haven by Celia Breslin

Haven by Celia Breslin is today’s Taste of Champagne. Haven, Breslin’s debut novel, sits at the top of Champagne Books’ Bestseller List. A few pages in and it’s easy to see why. Check out the short excerpt that showcases Breslin’s storytelling/writing skill as Carina looks back on the morning and afternoon of her birthday.

“So, on my twenty-fifth birthday, a day meant for celebration, I found myself with family secrets to unravel, mysterious strangers to meet, and unknown dangers to avoid. Unease slithered up my spine and my head throbbed yet again. I was a pawn in a game I hadn’t even known I played. I didn’t like it one bit.”

Carina Tranquilli is a wealthy nightclub owner in San Francisco who endures a 25th birthday from hell. Her life is a twenty-something’s dream with parties at her own nightclub, friends and family who love her, and a to-die-for wardrobe. Until the morning of her 25th birthday when the witch attacked her, only the death of her parents and a twelve-year-long memory gap troubled her otherwise perfect life.

When vampires arrive claiming to be kin, she’s forced to delve deep into painful memories that she’d rather leave undisturbed. If your relatives are vampires, what does that make you—especially if you’re acquiring a taste for blood? She discovers that these same vampires have been hosting a private night at her nightclub where the only humans invited are those on the menu—willing feasts for vampires she didn’t even know existed.

When she meets Alexander, a gorgeous vampire as drawn to her as she is to him, the action moves from steamy to sizzling—even if it is forbidden by her newfound relatives. The same relatives demand the right to control her life to protect her from unidentified threats until she can protect herself with her vast powers. Those powers, whatever they are, fail to protect her and her friends when the really bad guys, also with fangs, show up.

Haven, the first installment in The Tranquili Bloodline series, is one of the best new stories I’ve read in a long time. The rich plot and compelling characters provide the set up for a long series run. I’m looking forward to the next one.

Click HERE to buy/read excerpt of Haven.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Eliminate Needless Adjectives and Adverbs

It's Wordy Wednesday, and that means...
...time for some reflections from the editor's desk!

This week I’m continuing the theme Graeme started last week – what to look for when perfecting your manuscript. I’m going to add to his list by declaring war on needless adjectives and adverbs. Too many of these words weaken your story and look amateurish. In the nineteenth century, I’ve heard, authors were paid by the word, hence the flowery prose of that era. In the twenty-first century, authors are usually paid a percentage of sales, and do not need to embellish quite so much. We also talk much more informally, and the excessive verbiage of two centuries ago becomes stilted and unnatural.

Does this mean to never use adjectives or adverbs? No, of course not. Sometimes they are absolutely necessary. But use them sparingly.

Consider the following paragraph:

Annette tossed back her curly reddish blonde hair and slammed her hand down on the dark oak desktop. She rose up on her red stiletto heels and glowered at Arthur, her dark-haired bearded protesting subordinate.

What if you wrote the following instead:

Annette tossed back her hair and slammed her hand on the desk. She stood up and glowered at Arthur, her protesting subordinate.

In which of these paragraphs does Annette come across as the powerful manager that she is? Sure, at some point you might want to insert a description of what Annette and Arthur look like, but not here, where the key point is the action. And let me also note that a manager would probably not wear red stiletto heels unless she worked in the fashion industry, or possibly publishing.

As for adverbs, many of the extraneous words Graeme posted can be used as adverbs. Words like just, some, somewhat, really, very, actually, quite, or still, are frequently unnecessary and often weaken what you’re saying. Note the difference between these two simple sentences:

She felt somewhat lonely that evening.


Her loneliness dragged at her.

The second sentence is a stronger statement.

Adverbs are frequently used when the verb is not precise enough. Whenever you see an adverb, double-check your verb. Often you’ll discover that a more powerful verb eliminates the need for the adverb.

Tom forcefully moved the papers across his desk.


Tom shoved the papers across his desk.

Be ruthless in weeding out unneeded adverbs and adjectives. Your prose will be the better for it.

Diane Breton
Content Editor
Champagne Book Group